Open Access Scholarship and Open Government Information: Two Sides of the Same Coin

As Sunshine Week comes to a close, I cannot help but think about the similarities between open access to scholarly information and the push for increased transparency in our government. I am certainly not the first person to draw parallels between the two, but the conversion usually focuses on public access plans for federally-funded research, such as those required by the NSF and the NIH. The similarities I see run deeper than funding agency mandates.

For those unfamiliar with Sunshine Week, it is a non-partisan effort that seeks to improve the lives of individuals and strengthen communities through increasing access to government information. This is a goal that I am sure many of us in academia find laudable, but what about access to our own scholarship? Surely people stand to benefit from access to this scholarship in many of the same ways that they benefit from open access to government information.

Wide dissemination of scholarship can help foster informed discourse on salient social issues. For example, think of all the scientific studies, the outcomes of which have direct implications for the health of our communities and our planet; the histories that shape our collective understanding of the past; and the myriad economic, political, and sociological studies that shape public policy. Just as we support increasing access to government information as a means to foster civic discourse, we should also support opening the scholarship that has an equal potential to inform this discourse.

There are certainly barriers to both efforts. A recent analysis of requests made under the Freedom of Information Act finds that while a record number of requests were submitted in 2014, a record number were unfilled for various reasons. In academia, the barriers to access include inflexible publisher policies with regard to self-archiving and trepidation about publishing in open access journals. However, those of us who applaud efforts like Sunshine Week should make similar efforts with our own scholarship.

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Updated Mar 20, 2015 by Social Sciences & Digital Publishing Librarian