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ARL Urges Publishers to Maximize Access to Digital Content during COVID-19 Pandemic

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) joins global library associations in urging publishers to maximize access to digital content during the emergency conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an unprecedented time for the academic enterprise, and humanity will benefit from an unprecedented response by publishers in support of research and learning.

This week, ARL signed a statement by the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC), an informal organization of state, regional, and peer library organizations that collaborate on resource sharing and electronic licensing. The statement calls on publishers to ease the restrictions on simultaneous usage and interlibrary loan that may accompany subscription-based digital content. During this crisis, as research and education move almost exclusively online, ARL applauds both ICOLC’s leadership and publishers who have responded by opening previously paywalled content. Around the world, library associations (including in Australia, Canada, France, and the UK) are amplifying the message to publishers: maximize access to digital content to advance research and ensure academic continuity during this crisis. With this national and global imperative, ARL makes the following requests regarding COVID-19-related research, online research and learning more broadly, and educational equity.

COVID-19 Research

ARL endorses this global movement to open academic digital content to ensure students can continue their studies, and scholars can continue their research and work to end the pandemic. As research library leaders, our member representatives understand that innovation, particularly in emergencies at a global scale, often happens at disciplinary intersections. Given this, we urge publishers of digital content to embrace an expansive view of COVID-19-related research materials (including articles, book chapters, multimedia, and data) as they temporarily remove paywalls and create open resource portals related to the virus. We ask publishers to open up access to COVID-19-relevant research on respiration, crisis and disaster management and response, clinical psychology, and other areas that should be made open as the global research community searches for vaccines and treatments and advises national and local responses.

Online Education

Alongside the urgent research related to COVID-19 is the near ubiquitous shift to online learning and instruction in higher education through the present semester and potentially the summer, depending on timing and impact. The ICOLC signatories, including ARL, are calling on publishers to temporarily eliminate access barriers on all digitally subscribed content—such as limited simultaneous logins and restrictions on interlibrary loans—to support students and faculty in this environment. Many ARL library leaders and their institutions are expert partners in the creation of open educational resources (OER), and we urge publishers to work with research librarians and faculty to make their resources available through open licenses so they can be shared and reused across higher education. And already, 50 university presses have opened content on Johns Hopkins University Press’s Project MUSE for the remainder of the current academic year, as significant efforts continue on university presses’ own platforms and with other aggregators.

Educational Equity

While students and faculty continue to have virtual access to research library experts, ARL is deeply concerned about equity of access to research tools and broadband as well as content during this time of online education. Our member libraries are partnering within their institutions to lend networked devices and Wi-Fi hotspots, and to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the resources they need in the format they need them. We call on publishers to use this crisis to ensure they meet W3C Web Accessibility Initiative standards in digital content and platforms as they expand access to educational materials now, and to work as allies with broadband providers to ensure access for all.

As a membership organization of research library and archive institutions in Canada and the United States, ARL counts on our publisher partners during this crisis to reduce all barriers to information access that curtail researchers’ ability to contribute to crisis solutions and students’ ability to complete their studies.


About the Association of Research Libraries

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 124 research libraries in Canada and the US whose mission is to advance research, learning, and scholarly communication. The Association fosters the open exchange of ideas and expertise, promotes equity and diversity, and pursues advocacy and public policy efforts that reflect the values of the library, scholarly, and higher education communities. ARL forges partnerships and catalyzes the collective efforts of research libraries to enable knowledge creation and to achieve enduring and barrier-free access to information. ARL is on the web at ARL.org.

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