Open Access / Open Access Week / Penn Libraries

Current Open Access Collections Initiatives at the Penn Libraries

Post by Nick Okrent, Coordinator and Librarian for Humanities Collections.


Support for Open Access is a core part of The University of Pennsylvania Libraries’ mission.  While other posts in this series discuss international movements, Penn’s Institutional Repository, and other approaches to OA, this post addresses how the Libraries uses its collection budget to invest in specific Open Access projects.  Taken together, these investments provide strategic support for the growth of a sustainable information ecosystem based on the ethical principles of the Open Access movement. Likewise, they represent a sustained effort to promote alternatives to the proprietary model by which for-profit companies control access to scholarly information.  To further this strategic effort, Penn Libraries cooperates with other libraries through consortia such as the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) to magnify our impact.

Open Access relies on infrastructure that makes content reliable, discoverable and reusable.  To this end, the Libraries support resources such as the Directory of Open Access Journals and the Directory of Open Access Books, both of which maintain scholarly standards, promote discoverability, and enable libraries and other services to enhance access through catalogs and tools such as Unpaywall.


Another essential piece of Open Access infrastructure is availability of robust platforms for hosting content.  Viable platforms curate, display and preserve scholarship in a manner similar to that provided by for-profit publishers.  Such platforms include disciplinary repositories, pre-print archives and format-specific sites.  For instance, scholars who want to share their research openly can place their research in arXive (Physics), PhilPapers (Philosophy), or SSRN (the social sciences), all of which are supported by the Penn Libraries.  The Libraries also supports Open Edition and Open Library of the Humanities, platforms hosting reputable Open Access scholarly journals.  Open Book Publishers provides the same service for books.


While the Penn Libraries aims to promote new information structures promoting sustainability and social justice, we work with traditional for-profit publishers by assisting with Open Access “processing charges.” STEM scholars in particular rely on charges (often costing several thousand dollars per article) to make articles freely available to the public.  The Libraries’ memberships in PeerJ, PeerJ Computer Science, SCOAP3 and Biomed Central gives scholars discounted charges on select journals.  In addition, the Libraries has an Open Access Publication Fund that pays processing charges for scholars lacking research grants or other means for making their scholarship Open.


Penn Libraries also contributes to services that create Open Access content.  For instance, hundreds of Open Access books are available because of Knowledge Unlatched.  Likewise, initiatives such as TRAIL, Reveal Digital, and the South Asia Open Archives digitize and promote open access to primary sources of interest to scholarly and non-scholarly audiences.  Perhaps most dramatically, the Libraries is a member of HathiTrust, a global partnership of major research institutions working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved long into the future.  The HathiTrust digital repository now includes nearly 17 million titles, over 6 million of which are in the public domain and accessible by anyone with internet access.


The Penn Libraries, like all major research libraries, depends on the services of traditional for-profit vendors to acquire content and make it discoverable.  Indeed, such vendors provide services without which the output of scholarly material would be unmanageable.  However, the Libraries also recognizes the dangers inherent in the increasing centralization and monetization of scholarly publishing, which include unsustainable price increases and lessened user privacy.   Strategic investments such as the ones mentioned above support the Libraries’ goal of giving the scholarly community greater control over the cost and distribution of its own output, as well as supporting the Open Access movement.

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