Letter sent by ACRL supporting the National Institutes of Health proposal to provide free public access through PubMed Central to articles that result from NIH-funded research

November 16, 2004

Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., Director
National Institutes of Health
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, Maryland 20892

Dear Dr. Zerhouni:

We are writing on behalf of over 11,000 personal members of the Association of College and Research Libraries to express support for NIH’s proposal to provide free public access throughPubMed Central to articles that result from NIH-funded research (“Enhanced Public Access to NIH Research Information" NOT-OD-04-064).

We wish to emphasize, above all, that academic libraries will not cancel journal subscriptions as a result of this plan and that it will therefore not produce economic harm to publishers. Since biomedical journals publish research that derives from many sources other than NIH funding, the articles made available in PubMed Central will not substitute for the content of individual journals. Even if libraries wished to consider the availability of NIH-funded articles when making journal cancellation decisions, they would have no reasonable way of determining what articles in specific journals would become openly accessible after the embargo period. The six-month embargo also provides substantial protection of publishers’ interests. Because most biomedical research is time sensitive, libraries will make every effort to maintain the subscriptions they already have as a way of providing needed access to the most current research.

Academic and research libraries will, of course, be forced to cancel biomedical journals in the future. Such cancellations are inevitable, given the realities of library budgets and the increasing costs of journal subscriptions. But the availability of NIH-funded research following the embargo period will not affect cancellation decisions. Libraries will consider other factors when making such choices. They will base their decisions, as they always have, primarily on the relative cost effectiveness of individual titles, including especially the extent to which the journals are needed by their researchers. Open access to articles increases both their research impact and interest in the subscription journals in which they appear, so it is likely that implementation of the NIH proposal will actually increase the usage and perceived value of some journals.

We hope that NIH will address the following concerns as it moves toward implementation of this plan:

  • We encourage NIH to require that grantees provide NIH with electronic copies of final manuscript versions, rather than simply requesting them. Your agency has every right and reason to establish such a minimal expectation of grantees who receive your support for their research.
  • We urge you insist that manuscripts be deposited in PubMed Central, rather than linking to publishers’ websites, as some opponents of the measure have suggested. Long term archiving can only be assured if NIH has control over the content of its research results.
  • We encourage NIH to establish metadata standards that will clarify the pre- and post-print versions of articles. Such standards, including links between versions of articles (if they co-exist in PubMed Central), will remove potential ambiguities.
  • Finally, we hope that you will resist any pressures to increase the length of the embargo period beyond six months. A longer embargo will result in potential harm to the public, especially to individuals who urgently need access to recent research results.

While we would prefer that NIH-funded articles become immediately available upon publication, we believe that the NIH proposal is a reasonable and balanced way to address the concerns of all stakeholders. It allows NIH to establish an important record of the results of the research it funds, it provides enhanced public access for taxpayers to the research that they pay for, and it provides strong protections for journal publishers.

We encourage you to move forward with the NIH plan as expeditiously as possible. We endorse the thrust of the NIH proposal wholeheartedly and we commend both NIH and The National Library of Medicine for working to improve access to biomedical research that is funded through taxpayer dollars.


Frances J. Maloy, President
Association of College and Research Libraries
Division Leader, Access Services, Emory University Library
Phone: 404-727-0126
Email: libfm@emory.edu

Ray English, Chair
ACRL Scholarly Communications Committee
Director of Libraries, Oberlin College
Phone: 440-775-8287
Email: ray.english@oberlin.edu