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Spotlight: Guided by open access principles, MIT ends Elsevier negotiations

Standing by its commitment to provide equitable and open access to scholarship, MIT has ended negotiations with Elsevier for a new journals contract. Elsevier was not able to present a proposal that aligned with the principles of the MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts.

Developed by the MIT Libraries in collaboration with the Ad Hoc Task Force on Open Access to MIT’s Research and the Committee on the Library System in October 2019, the MIT Framework is grounded in the conviction that openly sharing research and educational materials is key to the Institute’s mission of advancing knowledge and bringing that knowledge to bear on the world’s greatest challenges. It affirms the overarching principle that control of scholarship and its dissemination should reside with scholars and their institutions, and aims to ensure that scholarly research outputs are openly and equitably available to the broadest possible audience, while also providing valued services to the MIT community.

“I am disappointed that we were not able to reach a contract with Elsevier that honors the principles of the MIT Framework, but I am proud knowing that the MIT community — as well as hundreds of colleagues across the country — stand by the importance of these principles for advancing the public good and the progress of science,” said Chris Bourg, director of the MIT Libraries. “In the face of these unprecedented global challenges, equitable and open access to knowledge is more critical than ever.”

More than 100 institutions, ranging from multi-institution consortia to large research universities to liberal arts colleges, decided to endorse the MIT Framework in recognition of its potential to advance open scholarship and the public good.

“We’ve seen widespread support in all quarters of the MIT community — faculty, students, postdocs, and staff alike — for the core grounding of the framework: that the value in published scholarship originates in our work and in the institutions that support us,” says Roger Levy, associate professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and chair of the Committee on the Library System (CLS). “CLS was unanimous in its recommendation to end negotiations. We are publicly committed to supporting the rights of MIT community members to freely share the scholarship we create, and stand by the principles articulated in the MIT Framework in our recommendation.”

“We hope to be able to resume productive negotiations if and when Elsevier is able to provide a contract that reflects our community’s needs and values and advances MIT’s mission,” said Bourg. “In the meantime, we will continue to use the framework to pursue new paths to achieving open access to knowledge. The groundbreaking agreement we reached with the Association for Computing Machinery in collaboration with the University of California, Carnegie Mellon University, and Iowa State University is one such example of building the business models of the future.”

MIT has long been a leader in open access. Adopted in 2009, the MIT Faculty Open Access Policy was one of the first and most far-reaching initiatives of its kind in the United States. Forty-seven percent of faculty journal articles published since the adoption of the policy are freely available to the world. In 2017, the Institute announced a new policy under which all MIT authors — including students, postdocs, and staff — can opt in to an open access license. The Ad Hoc Task Force on Open Access to MIT’s Research, first convened by Provost Martin Schmidt in 2017, released its final recommendations in October 2019. An implementation team, led by Bourg, is working to prioritize and enact the task force’s recommendations, which range from policy to incentives to national and global advocacy.

Information for the MIT community about access to Elsevier articles can be found on the MIT Libraries’ website.

(originally published in the MIT News on June 11, 2020)