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Coalition Looks to Rally Student Support for Open-Access Publishing

Improving access to scholarly journals is not a typical student rallying cry, but a growing organization thinks it should be.

The Right to Research Coalition, which says it represents student groups comprising 5.5 million members in the United States and several other countries, unveiled a Web site and blog in October to educate and connect students about open-access publishing, and increase pressure on publishers and scholars to make their work freely available online.

Unlike rising textbook costs—a point of contention on college campuses—journal subscription costs often go unnoticed by students, say coalition leaders. They hope the Web site will show the impact that open-access publishing could have on students’ individual research and on scholarship around the globe, especially as cash-strapped academic libraries cut expensive journal subscriptions.

“The most important step is just to learn about these issues,” says Nick Shockey, the coalition’s director. “We really want to start reaching individual students.”

The Washington-based group—run via the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition—was founded in June 2009 after some student organizations drafted the Student Statement on the Right to Research. Though scholars and librarians have advocated for open-access publishing for a long time, Mr. Shockey says students have only recently added their voices to the discussion.

Support among student organizations has been growing. Since 2009, the coalition has attracted 28 member organizations, including the American Medical Student Association, the United States Student Association, and the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students. “We have a great opportunity to act on the national and state level,” Mr. Shockey says. “It’s really an area where students can have an impact.”

The coalition, which includes member groups from Canada, India, and Malta, is looking to expand its efforts overseas. Open-access publishing could be especially valuable to students in countries where subscription and shipment costs restrict access to new research. “With the Internet, the marginal cost to distribute this information is virtually zero now,” Mr. Shockey says. “Our goal is to disseminate this knowledge as widely as possible.”

Critics of open-access publishing argue that it eases the way for publishing—and giving credence to—lower-quality journals that do not meet traditional peer-review standards. .

On the other hand, Dan Cohen, director of the Center for History and New Media, at George Mason University, and a supporter of open-access publishing, says restricting online access to articles may limit scholarly engagement with published work. “The problem with gated access is that you can’t link to articles,” he says. “The Web rewards openness.”

Mr. Cohen, who delivered the closing speech at yesterday’s Coalition for Networked Information meeting in Arlington, Va., says that while the Web can be a useful distribution tool for electronic copies of print journals, he also sees it as a powerful platform for a new generation of scholarly collaboration: “Is it enough to throw the final product up there on the Web? What I’m interested in is the connective tissue. What I would like to see is something collaborative.”

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