Q&A: CSU expert explains what new White House guidance means for open access

Khaleedah Thomas
Khaleedah Thomas is a copyright and scholarly communication librarian for CSU Libraries.

Last month, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued new guidance mandating that taxpayer-funded research be immediately available for the public to access free of charge. 

Federal agencies must comply with this new guidance by 2025 – a major victory for proponents of “open access,” a movement to make academic research more accessible for everyone. Previously, journals have been allowed to keep academic research behind paywalls for up to a year. 

“In a way, we were kind of double-paying for research that was funded by taxpayer dollars,” said Khaleedah Thomas, a copyright and scholarly communications librarian for Colorado State University Libraries. 

Proponents of open access say it allows more collaboration between academics and a great dissemination of information that could be vital during crises. 

Thomas spoke to SOURCE about why the new guidance matters, what’s next and how the COVID-19 pandemic helped the open access movement.

SOURCE: How does open access benefit the general public, and not just the academic community? 

Thomas: With information being freely available and not locked down, you have more collaboration and innovation. People are able to share their work more widely, and hopefully, that furthers innovation and scientific research. 

To put it simply, if you care about progress in science, you should care about this. 

It also levels the playing field for everyone, and makes research available to anyone with an internet connection. 

It also has some diversity, equity and inclusion aspects as well, as this research is no longer behind paywalls. It means people, regardless of whether they’re at a wealthy institution that can afford to pay for all these resources, can now have access to information, regardless of which country they live in. 

This new measure is going to reduce inequities in publishing and federally funded data, especially for those from underserved backgrounds and who are early in their careers. 

There’s also the element of keeping publicly funded research in taxpayers’ hands. After all, the publishing industry is essentially selling back stuff that you already paid for. 

How did the COVID-19 pandemic shape the conversation around open access? 

Post-COVID, there’s been an explosion of interest in open access. During the pandemic, everyone was locked out of libraries, and realized how important it was to have access to information – especially scientific information related to this new novel virus. 

So, researchers began to share a lot of information and data about how to deal with COVID. A lot of that was done through open access preprints, which are manuscripts submitted to journals that have not undergone the peer-review process. 

And, it wasn’t just pre-prints that were booming. Also during the pandemic, a lot of publishers opened up access to their paid content, and so for a year, students and faculty and researchers realized how great it was to have access to all this material that they’d typically have to pay for. 

It really pushed the world toward understanding the importance of open access. 

What research doesn’t fall under the new guidance? 

Not everyone has federally funded research, so non-federally funded research would still go through the traditional channels, where faculty publish traditionally in a journal and transfer your copyright, or do what a lot of publishers allow and give them the option to publish in open access hybrid journals. Some also have gold open access journals, but usually the researcher or another entity has to pay the article publishing cost. 

CSU Libraries is trying to fill that gap and assist folks in paying those charges. 

CSU has its own open access source called Mountain Scholar, and we encourage our faculty and students to put their work into this repository.