Open Access Policy Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is an “open access policy”?

The Columbia open access policy provides a basis for Columbia to preserve the work of its scholars in its online repository, Academic Commons, and to provide access to that work to anyone who seeks it.

Open access policies are part of a rapidly growing movement in academia to develop new modes of scholarly publication. Faculties of universities, schools, and departments are establishing open access policies to make their research and scholarship more accessible to scholars, educators, policymakers, and citizens worldwide.

2. What are the benefits of the policy?

Increasing access to scholarship

Academic Commons is a globally accessible repository that facilitates the free exchange of scholarly information. Scholars at Columbia and other major universities have long enjoyed the benefit of access to most (although not all) research publications, but few other institutions can provide comparable access. This open access policy ensures maximum access to the work being done at Columbia no matter the location of those interested in the work. To aid in discoverability, materials in the repository are assigned accurate metadata and optimized for discovery via search engines.

Aiding preservation

Academic Commons provides a persistent URL for each deposited object and secure replicated storage (both onsite and offsite), ensuring that its contents will continue to be available to readers in the future.

Aiding retention of rights

The open access policy can enable Columbia to negotiate directly with publishers on behalf of its authors, helping to simplify and expedite the process of publication and deposit. The terms of the policy may also allow Columbia to simplify the process of complying with any open access research funder policies that apply to Columbia publications.

3. Why make this a blanket policy?

As the author of a work, you could take steps on your own to make your work freely accessible. Many authors based at Columbia are in fact doing so. However, a blanket policy provides the benefit of unified action; individual authors do not need to negotiate distribution rights with their publishers, and the work of the entire unit is made available to the world.

4. Have other universities done this?

Yes. Open access policies have been adopted at a number of prominent research universities, including Duke, Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. The Registry of Open Access Repository Material Archiving Policies (ROARMAP) lists over 200 open access policies adopted by academic institutions, departments, and research funders worldwide.

5. How have publishers responded to open access policies?

Many academic publishers have become supporters of university repositories. Their publication agreements often allow authors to deposit a draft or sometimes even the final published version of the article. For example, the Columbia Libraries have identified the top 20 journals in which articles by faculty and staff at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have appeared most often in recent years. Of those 20 journals, 19 of them include in their standard agreement a provision allowing deposit of some version of the article with a university repository.

6. How does the open access policy relate to the public access policies of some research funders?

The open access policy complements policies such as the National Institutes of Health Public Access Policy, which requires the published results of NIH-funded research be made publicly available through PubMed Central. The Columbia policy accepts deposit with PubMed Central and other open repositories as satisfying the commitment to open access. Thus, an author would not have to deposit the same article twice.

The proposed Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), currently before Congress, would implement similar mandates at a number of federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation.

7. How does the policy work?

Authors grant Columbia University a nonexclusive license that allows the university to make available a version of their published, peer-reviewed journal articles in Columbia's online repository, Academic Commons.

8. Is Columbia trying to take the rights to my scholarship?

No. You, as the author of the article, own the copyright unless and until you assign it to someone else, most commonly a publisher. The license granted to Columbia under the policy is not an assignment or transfer of copyright. It is just permission from you, as the copyright holder, to Columbia to make a certain use of your work. You still retain ownership and complete control of the copyright in your writings, subject only to this prior license.

9. What works are affected by this resolution?

The open access policy applies to scholarly journal articles authored or co-authored while the author is an officer of instruction, research, or administration at Columbia schools, departments, and other units that have adopted an open access policy. It does not apply to articles completed before the adoption of the policy, nor to articles for which the author already entered into an incompatible publication agreement.

10. Does the policy apply to books?

The policy applies only to “scholarly journal articles,” which includes articles published in peer-reviewed and other scholarly journals and in conference proceedings. Not within the scope of “scholarly articles” are books, popular articles, commissioned papers, fiction and poetry, encyclopedia entries, ephemeral writings, lecture notes, lecture videos, or other such works. You are welcome, but not required, to deposit such works in Academic Commons.

11. Will the policy affect where I can publish my work?

No. The policy does not play any role in the publishing process until after a paper is accepted for publication by the journal of your choice. The policy does not mandate publication in open access journals; you continue to be free to publish where you choose, based on whatever criteria are most important to you.

12. What if the policy conflicts with my publisher’s policies?

Columbia will grant a waiver of the policy for any given article to any faculty member who requests one in writing. Authors only need to request a waiver by sending an e-mail to the appropriate contact (see below) in which you clearly identify for which article you are requesting a waiver.

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory: Contact Amanda Bielskas, Geology/Geosciences Librarian, asb2154 [at] columbia.edu

13. Will there be any penalty for authors who do not deposit copies?

Absolutely not. We hope that you will see Academic Commons as an opportunity to share your work and to collect your research output in one place. If you do publish an article in a journal that allows deposit but for whatever reason do not get around to uploading the paper to the repository, you may receive an inquiry, from the subject librarian who works with your department, requesting a copy of the paper that we may deposit on your behalf. You may also receive follow-up e-mails from the Academic Commons staff. However they are merely urging you to deposit your work. There is no penalty if you do not.

14. Does this policy apply to co-authored articles?

Yes. When two or more individuals co-author an article, they may hold a “joint copyright” in the work. Each joint copyright owner, acting individually, has the authority to grant to Columbia a non-exclusive license. Therefore, if any co-author of an article is based at Columbia, that person should comply with this policy.

15. What if my co-author objects to depositing the article in Academic Commons?

If your co-author has any concerns or other reason not to deposit the work in Academic Commons, you may request a waiver and thus prevent any complications. However, as more universities adopt such resolutions, you might find that your co-author is already subject to such a resolution at his or her home institution. You may deposit the article with both institutions, if you like.

16. I already deposit my pre-prints in a subject-based repository managed by another institution. Do I have to deposit in Academic Commons as well?

Many scholars at Columbia University currently make some or all of their works available through other publicly accessible repositories such as arXiv or PubMed Central. You may satisfy the terms of the open access policy by making your articles available through a repository other than Academic Commons, provided that the repository makes the work freely accessible in full text to the public (allowing for customary embargo periods) and that it offers to preserve and maintain access to the work indefinitely.

17. Will complying with the policy take much time?

No. The intention behind the policy is that a relatively small investment of time can greatly increase the overall accessibility and impact of your scholarship. At most, a researcher would need to review his or her publication agreement, determine on the basis of that agreement whether a version of the article is permitted to be deposited with the repository, and then submit the proper copy. You can submit your article using the Academic Commons Self-Deposit Form.

Some researchers will choose to go further and negotiate with publishers to secure rights to deposit the article and make other uses of it.

To aid you in complying with the policy, subject librarians and the Academic Commons team are happy to work with you to obtain the appropriate version of your new article and then deposit to Academic Commons on your behalf.

18. What version of the article do I submit?

The best answer is that you should submit the version permitted by your publication agreement. That agreement may allow deposit of the final, published work. Many agreements allow deposit of the final draft that you submitted to the journal for editorial review. If the agreement does not specify otherwise, the policy calls for deposit of “the version after the article has gone through peer review and any revisions responsive thereto and any further copyediting in which the author has participated.”

19. Will the policy affect the peer review of my article and the tenure or promotion process?

No. Because the policy does not affect where you submit your article for publication, the process of peer review will continue to be determined by the practices of the publishing journal. Similarly, because you will still be free to publish in the journal of your choice, the policy should have no effect on the tenure or promotion review process.

20. What kind of support services does Columbia offer?

If you have questions about:

Other resources

21. Where can I learn more about open-access policies at peer institutions?

The questions and answers on this page have been derived in part from open-access policy documents developed at Duke, Harvard, and MIT. See the Open Access at Peer Institutions page for more information. 

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