Busy librarian guide to the Research Works Act

I did an informal survey at MPOW and was a bit surprised to learn that very few librarians here know much about the Research Works Act (RWA) (PDF). Some had heard of it, but had only a vague sense of what it is — “It’s the anti-Open Access bill, right?”. (Not to single anyone out, but our awesome new International Government Docs librarian did know about the RWA, had strong opinions, and rushed off the find the full text of the bill).

I think the Research Works Act, and especially the debate that it has engendered, is an important part of the context in which we (librarians) operate; and we need to be aware of the conversations. So, I hope folks at MPOW and elsewhere will find this round-up of the basics helpful. To fully grok the debate, you really should follow the links and read more.

The Research Works Act is intended to place limits on the actions of federal agencies, such that:

No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that (1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dis- semination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.

The American Libraries Association came out in opposition:

The ALA has been a long-time, ardent supporter of increasing access to information of all types, including federally funded research. This latest bill, the Research Works Act, would act in direct contradiction and therefore the ALA vehemently opposes the bill.

Perhaps not surprisingly, The Association of American Publishers supports the Act, claiming it is necessary “to ensure freedom from regulatory interference for private-sector research publications.”

The Copyright Alliance is likewise supportive, arguing that “Providing a federal grant to fund a research project should not enable the federal government to commandeer and freely distribute a subsequently published private sector peer-reviewed article.”

The ever insightful Barbara Fister does a marvelous job of spelling out the connection between the Research Works Act and the Elesevier boycott, noting that the furor over the RWA seems to have awakened more scholars to the open access cause.

For a rather nuanced take on the RWA and associated issues, check out David Crotty’s piece at the scholarly kitchen, where he asks:

Can we express strong support for open access publishing while at the same time taking care not to destroy the funding we generate, which is used to directly support the research community and research itself?

Crotty further argues:

For the not-for-profit publisher — the research society dependent on its journal, the research institution that uses a journal to fund research — extremism in either direction makes no sense. If one truly believes in one’s mission, then both the seemingly contradictory ideas of expanding access and preserving revenue streams are necessary and compatible. The goal should be to find ways to expand access while at the same time continuing to fund the important activities a society or institution provides.

For more information and opinions on the Research Works Act, see:

Note: I decided to make this the first in what I hope to make into a regular series of posts tagged “Busy librarian guide”. I’ll tackle and try to summarize key issues that I think librarians (especially academic librarians) ought to be aware of. I’ve retroactively tagged a few old posts as well, so it actually looks like a series. Please feel free to suggest topics in the comments below.

2/7/12: Edited to add John Dupuis’ Around the web: Research Works Act & Elsevier Boycott, which is chock-full of links.

4 Responses to “Busy librarian guide to the Research Works Act”


  1. 1 James February 28, 2012 at 9:36 am

    glad we have an awesome new international govt info librarian! FYI, RWA is not new, but only the most recent legislation in an ongoing move by publishers to weaken or kill open access publishing. For example, in 2009 there was H.R. 801 – The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act. For those interested in tracking open access in scholarly communication, I’d recommend following Peter Suber, Open Access expert, Berkman Fellow, and Editor of SPARC’s Open Access Newsletter. And if you want to track specific pieces of legislation or topics of debate in the US Congress, check out http://www.govtrack.us/

  2. 3 Chris Bourg February 7, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Thanks Jenny. I’ll add the Dupuis link now.

  3. 4 Jenny Reiswig February 6, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Thanks for linking to the UCSD scholarly communications blog. You might also want to link to John Dupuis’ massively updated post on the RWA and related issues at http://scienceblogs.com/confessions/2012/02/around_the_web_research_works.php


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