MIT OA Task Force Releases Recommendations, Publisher Framework

As part of its ongoing work to support open access (OA) both on campus and in the wider world of academia, in October the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released two documents that will amplify open sharing of MIT resources and clarify communications with scholarly publishers.

As part of its ongoing work to support open access (OA) both on campus and in the wider world of academia, in October the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released two documents that will amplify open sharing of MIT resources and clarify communications with scholarly publishers.

On October 17, the Ad Hoc Task Force on Open Access to MIT’s Research, chaired by Class of 1922 Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Hal Abelson and Director of Libraries Chris Bourg, released its OA Task Force Final Report, a set of recommendations that will support and increase open sharing of MIT publications, data, software, and educational materials.

In addition, MIT Libraries staff partnered with the task force and the Committee on the Library System to develop a framework, based on those core principles, to help guide negotiations with scholarly publishers, support the needs of scholars, and advance science. The MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts was released on October 23.



MIT passed one of the country’s first faculty OA policies, and the first to be adopted by an entire academic institution, in 2009. Much has changed in the OA landscape since then, including a rise in the number of green, gold, and hybrid access journals; the prevalence of campus institutional repositories; an increasing willingness among faculty and students to deposit their work; and a growing number of OA mandates for federal funding.

The institute-wide task force was convened by Provost Martin Schmidt in 2017 to examine the school’s OA policies and “further the Institute’s mission of disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible.” Feedback and input were encouraged through the idea bank forum, where members of the MIT community and alumnae could share ideas about the university’s OA policies and practices.

Contributions to the idea bank showed that there was broad support for open access to research and scholarship, Bourg told LJ. “We also learned that there are complex questions about some core issues in the scholarly communication environment, including questions about the complexities of appropriate data sharing; how to resource data repositories; how to identify and use methods to evaluate research that align with our mission; and how best to support scholarly societies in making a sustainable transition to more open publication models.”

A draft set of OA recommendations was released for public comment in March, and the resulting input incorporated into the final recommendations—an institute-wide set of principles for open science and open scholarship, “set forth to guide individual faculty, staff, and students in making intentional decisions about communicating their work,” said Bourg. In short, these principles affirm that:

  • Scholars should retain copyright and reuse rights
  • Scholarly outputs should be open to read
  • Data, code, and other outputs should be open for validation and replication
  • Scholarly products of research should be available for computational analysis
  • Scholars should have the right to openly share preprints with no restrictions on future publication choices

Among other changes, the task force has broadened definitions of what would be included in MIT’s OA policy. If the recommendations are implemented, OA support for scholarly articles would extend to all MIT authors, including students, staff, postdocs, and researchers, and OA policy would include scholarly monographs.

The principles also identify new OA support for formats beyond standard publications: data, code, and open educational resources (OER). To that end, an open data fund would be created to support the sharing of data generated by MIT projects, and the task force will develop a set of recommended open licenses for software produced by MIT. The new publication standards will also help ensure interoperability.

“Scholarship serves humanity best when it is available to everyone,” said Abelson. “These recommendations reinforce MIT's leadership in open access to scholarship.”

Going forward, the task force will be developing discipline specific sample plans, said Bourg, and there are discussions regarding establishing some cross-institutional collaborations around them. An implementation team has also been formed to work on plans to realize the recommendations.



The MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts is based on the concept that, while services provided by publishers—editorial oversight, curation, and coordination of the submission and peer review processes—still hold value, scholars also wish to retain control of their research outputs and to have the ability to transmit their work to the broadest possible audience. In MIT’s Framework, institutions and scholars maintain the rights to share their work openly via institutional repositories, and journals and publishers are paid for their services, with the intent of balancing author rights with user benefits.

The core principles of the framework, applicable to both commercial and nonprofit scholarly publishers, are:

  • No author will be required to waive any institutional or funder open access policy to publish in any of the publisher’s journals.
  • No author will be required to relinquish copyright, but instead will be provided with options that enable publication while also providing authors with generous reuse rights.
  • Publishers will directly deposit scholarly articles in institutional repositories immediately upon publication or will provide tools/mechanisms that facilitate immediate deposit.
  • Publishers will provide computational access to subscribed content as a standard part of all contracts, with no restrictions on non-consumptive, computational analysis of the corpus of subscribed content.
  • Publishers will ensure the long-term digital preservation and accessibility of their content through participation in trusted digital archives.
  • Institutions will pay a fair and sustainable price to publishers for value-added services, based on transparent and cost-based pricing models.

“The value of scholarly content primarily comes from researchers, authors, and peer reviewers—the people who are creating knowledge and reviewing and improving it,” said Roger Levy, associate professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and chair of the Committee on the Library System, in a statement. “We think authors should have considerable rights to their own intellectual outputs.”

In addition to collaboration on drafting of the framework by the OA Task Force, the Committee on the Library System, and MIT Libraries staff, it was vetted by faculty groups across the institute.

“This unfiltered articulation of what faculty would like to see in license agreements for scholarly materials provides a strong focus and foundation for negotiations with publishers, and clarity for all parties about what our faculty want,” Bourg told LJ. “The aim of the Framework is to bring contracts for scholarly materials more in alignment with the aims of MIT and its researchers, including, as the Framework indicates, terms that preserve and protect scholars’ and scholarly communities’ control over their own intellectual output, and terms that represent a fair and sustainable price for the value-added services provided by publishers.”

Currently close to 50 percent of all MIT faculty–authored journal articles are freely available at the university repository, DSpace@MIT. The Framework has already been endorsed by a wide range of institutions and consortia outside of MIT as well, from large research universities to liberal arts colleges.

While the Framework’s principles are clear on the subject of the value provided on both side of the equations, “Publishers are in different places with respect to different elements of the framework, and change for all organizations takes time,” said Bourg. “We expect, and are finding, that discussions guided by the Framework catalyze change in the near term, but we also expect these conversations and progress towards the Framework to be iterative and take place over time.”

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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