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Implications of Research Funders’ Policies for Scholarly Communication

US Federal funders of research have been developing policies to ensure public access to the products of tax-payer funded research, and two of the major funding agencies have recently announced some changes to their policies with implications for scholarly communication. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has had in place since 2008 a policy requiring scientists to submit publications based on NIH-funded research to PubMed Central at the time they are accepted for publication. Since the policy went into effect, approximately 75% of eligible papers have been posted to PubMed Central. To increase compliance, the NIH announced last month that as early as next spring, it will delay processing of continuing grant awards (translation: withhold grant funds) if the researchers have failed to comply with the open access policy.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has also been working to improve access to the results of the research it funds by requiring (since January 2011) grant applicants to include a data management plan with grant proposals. These plans are to address issues such as access, reuse, preservation and other aspects of managing and sharing the data they produce. To demonstrate compliance, researchers are expected to report on the availability of research outputs in their interim and final reports. To give greater weight to research outputs besides traditional publication, the NSF announced a change to their grant proposal guidelines allowing biographical sketches for senior personnel to list up to five relevant and five additional research products, rather than just publications. These products may include items such as data sets, software, and patents. This might seem like a small change, but it has the potential effect of giving greater weight and visibility in the review process to less traditional products of research, perhaps incentivizing the sharing of these research outputs.

What do these policy developments mean for the library? In the case of the NIH policy, it probably means a growing awareness of open access policies and options among authors in the disciplines that NIH funds. While CUL librarians did some outreach to inform researchers and administrators of the NIH policy when it was first announced, NIH has chosen to support its requirement by maintaining PubMed Central. The library’s role at this stage is probably simply to advise researchers as to how to retain the necessary copy rights in order to comply with the policy. NSF’s approach is different, requiring researchers to find ways to archive and share data and other products of research, but without necessarily providing the infrastructure to make that possible. In addition to the data management plan consulting and outreach performed by the Research Data Management Service Group, we know some researchers are using eCommons for distributing research data. As the first grants that were subject to the data management plan requirement reach completion, we can expect greater use of eCommons for that purpose, as well as interest in other options, including domain-based repositories

– Gail Steinhart


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