If you have ever received grant funding for your research, particularly through a federal agency such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), you may be aware that there are requirements for making your research available to the public. For example, NIH’s Public Access Policy states that “all investigators funded by the NIH submit…to PubMed Central an electronic version of their final peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication” within 12 months. Many federal agencies in the United States have similar policies, designating a specific repository for submission of final research manuscripts within a certain time frame. These policies can be located on the funder’s website or by browsing a resource such as SPARC’s Browse Article and Data Sharing Requirements by Federal Agency.
One may assume that public access is the same thing as open access (OA), and some institutions even call their public access policies “open access mandates.” However, it is important to note that typical public access policies do not fall under the definition of open access: “free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment.” With public access, content may be subject to delays or embargos until it is truly available to the public and copyright may be held by the publisher rather than the author. Therefore, if authors want to make their research truly open access and publicly available as soon as possible, they would need to either apply for funding from an institution with an open access publishing policy or choose an OA journal in which to publish. If you are applying for funding or want to check your funders’ open access policies, the Sherpa Juliet database is helpful. This resource has more of a global reach than SPARC and tracks when content was last updated. If you search the NIH on Sherpa Juliet, it will inform you that they require open access archiving (referring to their public access mandate), but have no policy for OA publishing. If you are ready to publish and have some journals in mind, Sherpa’s other resource, Sherpa Romeo, can be used to see if those publishers allow for open access publishing and other details pertaining to copyright ownership, embargo information, and fees (when applicable).