International Open Access Week officially takes place Oct. 19-25 and focuses on the theme “Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structural Equity and Inclusion.” With campuses shifting their delivery of instruction and resources to foster inclusion and accommodate equitable online access, the pandemic has elevated the relevance of this year’s theme.

Due to COVID-19, Open Access Week 2020 at WSU will not be marked by in-person events, though the Libraries hope to bring further awareness of OA publishing options and policies, said WSU Business and Economics Librarian Gabriella Reznowski.

Over the last decade, WSU Libraries recognized Open Access Week with a variety of events, from invited speakers, to faculty panels, receptions and workshops involving the Research Exchange, the digital repository that facilitates free circulation of research and educational materials and the centerpiece of WSU Libraries’ efforts to support open-access publishing.

To learn more about open access, including a list of relevant articles and news items, see the WSU Libraries’ guide to Open Access Week 2020.

Fostering equitability in publishing

The circumstances brought by COVID-19 demonstrated why it is essential for universities to support online access to scholarly materials without the barriers often posed by cost and inadequate web accessibility, said WSU Scholarly Communications Librarian Talea Anderson.

Closeup of Talea Anderson
Talea Anderson

“Over the past decade, the WSU Libraries have grappled with publisher subscription fees that increase each year well beyond the inflation rate,” she said. “OA seeks to provide other options for publishing and thus remove barriers to scholarly research posed by publisher subscription licensing.”

“Within a traditional publishing ecosystem, only institutions with sufficient resources can provide access to research for affiliated students, staff and academics,” Anderson said. “This model does not foster equitability, and WSU Libraries is committed to seeking other solutions alongside other not-for-profits and universities throughout the world.”

COVID-19 brings true open access to light

As faculty planned fall instruction, the importance of identifying electronic resources for remote learning was elevated as access now shifted to the digital realm. With course reserves only being offered electronically this semester, publisher restrictions to online content have become a greater issue. For example, when eBooks are purchased, the licensing that accompanies them dictates the number of users who can access the item at one time.

Librarians are working with faculty to identify alternatives and suitable replacements for course materials when access is limited by publisher licensing, Reznowski said. As faculty shift their in-person course delivery to online, the issues surrounding OA have been brought to the surface.

“Perhaps never before has the rationale for true open access to peer-reviewed articles and open educational resources been more apparent,” she said.

In recent years, Anderson has worked on expanding awareness of the need for open access and open educational resources (OER), partnering with the Provost’s Office and Academic Outreach and Innovation.

“Talea has been a major driver behind WSU’s affordable learning materials,” Reznowski said. “She maintains an OER library guide that helps faculty identify and assess OER and offers resources for creating their own.”

The problem of ‘temporarily free’

Closeup of Gabriella Reznowski
Gabriella Reznowski

To alleviate the impact of the digital shift, many vendors reached out to libraries last March with offers of complimentary access during COVID-19. Terms and conditions varied greatly, but many were billed as providing “temporarily free” access through the end of the spring semester. By May, many of these offers were extended to accommodate the summer months.

As the pandemic continues, there is also much variation between which publishers have further extended complimentary access and which have ended their programs, Reznowski said. ExLibris Group, a ProQuest company that offers library automation solutions, maintains a list of COVID-19 and temporarily free resources. Some are offering access for a limited time, while others are expanding their license agreements and identifying COVID-19 research. Berghahn Journals, for example, have created a special access page where COVID-19 research published on their platform is flagged.

Reznowski points to an April 2020 article in the New England Journal of Higher Education by Roger Williams University’s Lindsey Gumb on the future predicament for open access. Gumb writes, “These materials, even if offered free of charge by the publisher right now during the pandemic, will inevitably shuffle back behind a paywall at the end of the semester, disproportionately harming students affected by conditions out of their control brought on by COVID-19 (displacement, illness, caretaking responsibilities, etc.) and who may need to retake courses and need access to the materials again.”

“While academic libraries and their users have enjoyed publishers’ complimentary ‘open access,’ long-term solutions are needed,” Reznowski said. “True open access allows for the reuse and retention of materials free of limitations and restriction.”