KU plans to be first public university library to allow free online access to researchers’ work

No other public university has created such access

Kansas University has become the first public university in the country to create a system that allows anyone to access the work of campus researchers for free online.

Leaders of the KU library system announced Friday that KU has joined an elite group of private universities — Harvard, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — that have created a new online system to house scholarly research articles and papers that will be open to the general public.

“The goal is to make important research available to a wider audience,” said Rebecca Smith, director of communications and advancement for KU Libraries.

Access to scholarly research has become more limited in recent years, as universities have had less money to spend on subscriptions to scholarly journals, which can cost several hundred or thousands of dollars per year.

“Those journals have become very expensive for libraries to buy,” said Lorraine Haricombe, dean of KU Libraries, said. “We have over the years, just like every other library in the country, had to reassess what we can afford.”

The new KU system is dubbed KU ScholarWorks, and can be accessed online at kuscholarworks.ku.edu. The site already has about 4,400 articles or research papers, but is expected to have significantly more after KU’s Faculty Senate comes up with a formal plan on how faculty will submit work to the site.

The site is not, however, expected to play the role of a publisher.

Most scholarly work is required to go through a peer review, which is the role the journals have long played in the process. The expectation, Smith said, is that researchers still will have their work published in journals, but also will stipulate that once the article is published it will be housed on the KU site as well.

Members of the KU faculty proposed the “open access” policy, and believe that it will put KU on the leading edge of emerging trend in how scholarly research is disseminated.

“This new policy represents a first step towards a new means of scholarly communication, in which the entire global academic community has access to the totality of scholarship,” said Townsend Peterson, a KU distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology that worked on developing the policy.

And once the system is fully functioning, KU leaders hope it will provide some interesting reading for the general public.

“We think one of the benefits is that this won’t just be for the research community, but even for lay people,” Haricombe said.