An open letter from the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation (IPLC), consisting of the directors from thirteen libraries including the Brown University Library, was sent to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in support of the Nelson Memo, which aims to expand equitable access to federally-funded publications and data. The letter also communicates the directors’ concerns about potential journal expense increases for libraries and other stakeholders.
The Congressionally-established (OSTP) and its Senate-confirmed Director provide advice to the U.S. President and the Executive Office of the President and Executive branch on all matters related to science and technology. In August of 2022, current OSTP Director Dr. Alondra Nelson released an important memorandum to the directors of federal agencies funding scientific research and development, now referred to as the “Nelson Memo.”
More agencies to require free access
The memo outlines significant updates to policies that provide public access to federally-funded publications and data to be made by 2025. One of the major directives within the memo that impacts faculty is the expansion of the OSTP’s former public access directive to cover more federal agencies, including those with $100 million or more or $100 million or less in scientific research and development expenditures. These agencies will now be required to develop plans for grantees to make the published results of federally-funded research freely available to the public and manage and share the digital data resulting from that research.
Eliminating 12-month embargo
Another of the memo’s groundbreaking advances that will impact faculty is that final peer-reviewed manuscripts will be required to be made immediately available, ending the historical practice of permitting a 12-month embargo. The 12-month embargo, required by many publishers, delayed the public’s access to the final peer-reviewed manuscripts, allowing their journals one year of being the sole venue to disseminate the article to their subscribers.
In general, libraries, including the Brown University Library, are very much in support of the public’s free, equitable, and immediate access to federally-funded research. We want to emphasize that the Nelson Memo does not require that faculty publish in an open access journal, and it does not require faculty to publish in a journal that requires authors to pay a fee or article processing charge (APC) for immediate access. It is expected that faculty compliance will be facilitated via deposit of final peer-reviewed manuscripts in agencies’ specific public access repositories, such as NIH’s PMC, NSF-PAR, or DOE PAGES, among others.
Concerns about cost
Over the years the increase in the annual costs to the University’s budget for paying for subscriptions to scholarly journals has severely outpaced inflation; today roughly half of the Library’s collection budget is dedicated to the acquisition of journal databases and other resources to support STEM. Thus, there are serious concerns shared by libraries about how publishers might respond and adapt their business models in advance of losing this 12-month embargo, potentially impacting the cost of already expensive subscriptions and limiting and bundling of titles within packages made available to institutions. Libraries also have significant concerns about some publishers’ APC-based publication models and worry that the industry might take advantage of these changes promoted by the Nelson Memo to promote its expansion.