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February 16, 2006

US National Library of Medicine Board of Regents Recommends Strengthening the NIH Policy on Public Access

The NLM Board of Regents (BOR) met on February 7-8 to discuss the November 2005 recommendations from the the Public Access Working Group for strengthening the NIH public-access policy. The BOR sent a letter to NIH Director Elias Zerhouni on February 8, summarizing its own recommendations. The letter is not yet online. Excerpt by OA News Blog:

The report of the November 15 Working Group meeting reveals that the current rate of participation in the voluntary Policy is very low (less than 4%). Since there is evidence that the submission system is relatively easy to use and that the majority of NIH-funded researchers appear to know about the policy, technical difficulties or lack of awareness do not appear to be primary reasons for non-compliance.
Based on this information and the opinions expressed by the Working Group members, the Board has concluded that the NIH Policy cannot achieve its stated goals unless deposit of manuscripts in PubMed Central becomes mandatory. We favor public release of NIH-funded articles in PubMed Central no later than 6 months after publication, although some flexibility may be needed for journals published less frequently than bimonthly. We were pleased that most of the publishers on the Working Group indicated an interest in depositing the final published version of articles in PubMed Central on behalf of NIH-funded authors. The Board agrees that this would be highly desirable. The Board encourages NIH and NLM to develop a careful plan for transitioning to a mandatory policy. It will be important to provide clear guidance and a reasonable timetable, to minimize burden on NIH-funded researchers and grantee institutions, and also to continue to work with publishers to make it easy for them to submit articles on behalf of their NIH-supported authors. The next Working Group's next meeting is scheduled for April 10. I [BOR chair, Thomas Detre] would be happy to engage the Group in assisting with transition planning, if that would be helpful.

Comment by Peter Suber (OA News Blog, 16 February 2006)

This is important. When Congress first asked NIH to develop an OA policy (July 2004), it asked the agency to mandate OA and limit embargoes to six months. When NIH chose instead (September 2004, May 2005) to request OA without requiring it, and to permit embargoes up to 12 months, it found that it couldn't get even 4% of its grantees to comply with the request. Examining the compliance data, the Public Access Working group recommended (November 2005) strengthening the policy and now the NLM Board of Regents joins the recommendation (February 2006). Both recommendations are merely advisory, but the burden has clearly shifted to the NIH either to strengthen the policy or justify continuing with a weakened policy that doesn't meet its own goals. We're one step closer to an OA mandate for the world's largest funder of medical research.

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