Happy Open Access Week

Open Access Week

In late 2006 or early 2007, I was looking for ways to get students interested in open access. I had started to become versed in the topic myself a few months earlier, after my library announced it planned to cut subscriptions around the same time the Federal Research Public Access Act was introduced for the first time. At the time, there were no resources for students and no student organizations meaningfully engaged with the issue. I helped the Alliance for Taxpayer Access scrape together some basic information for and about students, but no one paid much attention.

At some point, I had the idea of picking a day to try to focus student attention on open access. We’d choose a date and ask our few student allies to organize some activities to speak out on the issue. This became the National Day of Action for Open Access.

We didn’t have much lead time to plan, and few resources. Not a lot of people participated — but a few did. There wasn’t much attention, but we did get an article in the Washington Post, where I went completely off-message. (Coincidentally, the reporter was Rick Weiss, who later edited Science Next, which included an essay by me about open access.) It was a start.

By the next year, I was consulting for SPARC. We decided to revive the concept, but shifted the schedule and the focus: not just students, we wanted everybody to make noise about open access. For Open Access Day 2008, we had more time and more resources. In organizing it, I dropped the ball too many times, but thankfully someone was always there to pick it up. The response was much bigger; we made a splash.

After 2008, the organizers made two strategic decisions which I disagreed with at the time but were absolutely right. One was to expand the day to a week to make scheduling easier. The other was not to organize a central event, but instead to rely more on the partners and hosts to take more initiative. I was afraid we’d have insufficient focus and momentum. Instead, we let a hundred flowers blossom. The more flexible schedule, along with an increased role for partnerships — and our experience and increased visibility from the first time around — combined to make Open Access Week the most vibrant outing yet. The breath and depth of activities worldwide, along with a number of high-profile announcements timed for the week, are truly remarkable. I haven’t been very involved since the early strategic planning, so I can’t claim much credit. But I am thrilled and impressed with the outcome.

Most personally touching for me are the events in Cuba. Growing up in Florida, Cuba was only 90 miles across the strait but impossibly far culturally. There is no direct fiber optic link, nor even direct postal service, between Cuba and the U.S.; as an American, I need special permission from my government to travel there. Reportedly, only 2% of Cubans have Internet access. So it was a revelation to realize that our message of open access to scholarship had resonated in Cuba. For me, it’s a symbol of what open access is all about: the free exchange of knowledge and ideas worldwide.

Happy Open Access Week. May it be the first of many.

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