(Re-)Connecting Equity and Open Knowledge at UVA 

Today we continue with International Open Access Week, and this year’s theme is, “It Matters How We Open Knowledge: Building Structural Equity.” Open Access Week is a time for the international community to work together to take significant steps toward making openness the default for research. This is the third and final entry in a series this week, featuring work being done at the UVA Library toward an open future.  

From Brandon Butler, Director of Information Policy: 

As another Open Access Week winds down, it’s worth reflecting once more on this year’s OA Week theme: “It matters how we open knowledge: building structural equity.” Open access to research is great for readers, but OA activists have spent this week thinking a lot about all the other folks who are impacted by the way we choose to design our OA system(s). In particular, we’ve been attentive to the values announced in the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, including that “Open Science should play a significant role in ensuring equity among researchers…”

The benefits to researchers when their work is widely accessible are increasingly well-known and documented. Phil Bourne (Dean of the UVA School of Data Science), Erin McKiearnan (of the Why Open Research? project), and others have a good summary of the career benefits of OA for researchers, which include “increases in citations, media attention, potential collaborators, job opportunities and funding opportunities.” And those are just the professional benefits that accrue to researchers; most researchers are also moved by the good their work can do for students, doctors, patients, policymakers, and many others.

At the same time, open access affects different authors differently, and this has become a central (perhaps the central) challenge for open access. Of particular concern is the author-pays model that many open access publishers use, which alleviates the inequity of charging readers by charging research authors instead. The result is disparities in access to publication opportunity for:

  • authors with access to grant funding versus those without;
  • authors with access to institutional support versus those without; and
  • authors with private resources they can devote to publication fees versus those without.

These disparities often track or exacerbate existing inequities between hemispheres, regions, countries, institutions, disciplines, races, genders, abilities, languages, and the many other dividing lines that arbitrarily determine someone’s life chances. For authors on the losing side(s) of these divisions, publication (and consequently, for good or ill, professional advancement) joins the list of things placed further out of reach.

Driven in part by our dedication to equity, the Library has focused its energies on modes of open access that are broadly accessible to authors regardless of their position in these hierarchies. We build and maintain the Libra family of repositories to make OA possible for all UVA authors regardless of their discipline, their funding sources, or where they publish. We have professional staff on the Scholarly Communication team, including our new Faculty Open Access Librarian Winston Barham (wkb5j@virginia.edu), who can help ensure that any UVA faculty author can navigate the process of opening access to their work through Libra.

We are thrilled by the embrace of this vision by faculty at UVA. Perhaps due in part to the diversity of faculty authors they encompass, the School of Data Science (which draws its jointly-appointed faculty from across the University) and the UVA Faculty Senate (whose delegates represent every school and department) embraced repository-based open access in the Open Access Guidelines they endorsed over the last year. We look forward to growing this equitable approach in partnership with faculty authors and others around the University.

This is the third and final post of a series for Open Access Week 2021. See previous pieces to read more about open access at the UVA Library.

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