State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) wants Illinois’ state universities to join the hundreds of institutions worldwide that have “open access” policies to make taxpayer-funded research available to the public at no cost.

His Senate colleagues agreed with him today, approving Senate Bill 1900 — the Open Access to Research Articles Act — by a vote of 52-0.

“Making scholarly articles available to the public maximizes the benefits of publicly funded research; unfortunately, most scholarship remains locked away from the public in expensive academic journals,” Biss said in a news release.

A member of the University of Chicago mathematics faculty before his election to the General Assembly, Biss added, “Open access policies have worked well for scholars and the public at institutions from Harvard to the University of Washington to the National Institutes of Health.”

Biss’ measure requires each state university to convene a task force to study open access and make recommendations as to how the school can make more of its researchers’ work available to the public.

Some open access policies require faculty members to submit articles accepted for publication to an online repository that members of the public can access for free.

Others strongly encourage faculty to participate but allow them to opt out if a journal publishing their work refuses to allow the article to be made freely available.

With state universities constrained by tight budgets seeking to limit expenses such as journal subscriptions, open access policies could benefit students and faculty as well as members of the general public.

“I’m excited to see what the universities come up with next year,” Biss said. “Their faculty and administrators are the best judges of what will work for them, and I think Illinois is poised to become a leader in the open access movement while respecting local control and each institution’s unique circumstances.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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