Lessons Learned

The following are excerpts from interviews conducted with library directors from Canadian universities about their experiences working towards the adoption of open access policies within their institutions.


  • Concordia University: Guylaine Beaudry, University Librarian (see full interview)
  • Simon Fraser University: Gwen Bird, Dean of Library Services (see full interview)
  • Université de Montréal: Richard Dumont, previously Directeur général, Direction générale, and Diane Sauvé, Directrice, Direction du soutien à la réussite, à la recherche et à l’enseignement (see full interview)
  • York University: Joy Kirchner, Dean of Libraries (see full interview)

What defining institutional values or characteristics did you have to consider before launching an open access discussion on your campus?

G. Beaudry (Concordia): What happened at Concordia is that we were preparing for Congress at Concordia in 2010; Ronald Rudin in the History Department presented the idea of passing an OA resolution, to have a lasting legacy of Congress. I can certainly say that open access is something we’ve discussed often at Concordia, it’s part of our DNA, even, and it was a natural progression to consider such a project, and to have something lasting after Congress.

G. Bird (SFU): SFU started working on the open access policy in 2015. This was aided by an implementation of our libraries strategic plan where we identified core values for the libraries. “Openness” was one of the core values identified throughout the plan and is echoed throughout the plan. It had been part of SFU Libraries’ direction for many years. Further, as a community engaged institution, it is an important value to not lock up scholarship. It was easy to situate the values of the institution and the library in the construction of the policy.

R. Dumont and D. Sauvé (UdeM): Open access aligns perfectly with the institution’s views. In fact, the UdeM believes that “knowledge advances, both within and at the crossroads of established disciplines, result in social progress and are touchstones of a democratic society, for the benefit of citizens”. It also believes that “knowledge sharing and transfer are essential to a more accurate understanding of the world in which we live.” Lastly, as a public institution for education and research, the UdeM believes in the power of actions for the common good and considers the overall improvement of society to be the primary purpose of education and research.

J. Kirchner (York): I noted there was very good scholarly communications activities and open access engagement on campus but that it occurred in pockets. I assessed that a coordinated approach was needed to advance campus-wide discussion on critical issues in scholarly communications and publishing, including: open scholarship supports, new modes of research dissemination infrastructure needs, the dysfunction of current scholarly publishing economical models, data management supports and so on. I was also aware that we did not have a mechanism to help our faculty with new Tri-agency open access grant funding mandates and emerging requirements for data management. I noted that while our library had extraordinary strengths in scholarly communications as demonstrated by our management of 46 open access journals, two robust open access repositories, a previously approved York University Libraries open access policy, and important individual scholarship and activity from those involved in this space, we were not organizationally structured to fully support campus needs and activity. I was also informed that there was an earlier attempt with librarians and a faculty member to engage the campus in launching an open access policy that was not successful. 


What was the impetus for initiating a policy? What steps were taken to initiate an open access policy on your campus? What was the first thing that needed to happen?

G. Beaudry (Concordia): The first thing to happen was to have the conversation on campus; different means were taken, Gerald Beasley [University Librarian at that time] went to many, many departmental meetings to talk about OA. We launched our institutional repository during that period, Spectrum, so there was a physical mechanism to welcome the deposits. One on one conversations, town halls, departmental assemblies, meetings with other committees such as priorities and planning; there were two sessions at Senate, and some back and forth about the wording. It was really focused on the resolution and not on the process. Get the resolution before Congress, and get the IR ready for the beginning of the policy.

G. Bird (SFU): This was not the first time we considered an open access policy. SFU has history with an established OA fund that helped raise awareness about open access; faculty and students knew to come to us because we administer that fund. We are also the host institution for the Public Knowledge Project (PKP). We had a sense in all of this activity that there was support for an OA policy. We also participated in CARL ITHAKA Research Survey where we learned that support for open access from SFU faculty was the highest of all CARL (Canadian Association of Research Libraries) libraries so we knew there was great support.

R. Dumont and D. Sauv (UdeM): Although there is not yet an open access policy at the Université de Montréal [in 2018], work did begin on it in 2015 and is still underway. In fact, it was in 2015, at the recommendation of the Library Advisory Committee, that a joint working group reporting to both the UdeM Research Committee and the Library Advisory Committee was established, chaired by two researchers. […] Against the backdrop of creating the previously mentioned joint working group, there is the horrendous increase in the cost of scholarly journals, and commercial publishers’ business model that entraps the libraries into an “all or nothing” situation by requiring them to subscribe to large sets. These factors had existed for a number of years, but they hit the UdeM harder starting in 2014. Actions and mobilization of the academic community therefore began on this front, which has everything to do with the objectives of open access, namely the best possible accessibility of research results.

J. Kirchner (York): With the establishment of a campus-wide Open Access Open Data Steering Committee, co-chaired by the Dean of Libraries and AVP of Research & Innovation, we decided that since a data management policy was needed we would embark on a joint open access open data policy since the issues were intertwined. It became clear with some early campus discussions that before we could discuss open data and data management, the community needed to be better informed about open access first. To that end it was decided that we would create an open access policy subcommittee and a data management subcommittee. […] The Open Access policy was developed and created within the subcommittee and brought to the Steering Committee for approval. With the Steering Committee, a campus education plan was rolled out and all supporting documentation that included a FAQ, presentation materials and plans to speak at all faculty council meetings and Associate Deans of Research meetings. We also organized several town halls. The goal was to work through a process of bringing the policy for Senate discussion and approval by the end of that year. 


What did you consider the best reason the university should invest in devoting time and energy for this discussion?

G. Beaudry (Concordia): To take the opportunity to bring this topic to the community and have a conversation. After almost ten years, at least half of the faculty members had an opinion on OA; bringing OA as a topic of discussion was the best reason.

R. Dumont and D. Sauvé (UdeM): All the reasons put forward by the open access movement are good ones for introducing measures and strategies in open access publishing!  Ranging from the more altruistic ones of better access to research results for everyone, to the more “selfish” ones of expanding our researchers’ reputation, as well as better use of the public funds entrusted to us for carrying out the university’s mission. 

J. Kirchner (York): It gave us the momentum and opportunity to have fulsome discussion about open access and related topics on author rights, publications, and institutional repositories. The discussion also allowed the library to work through our support models within our organizational restructuring work as we learned more about what our community needed help with.  It was also beneficial in giving the Libraries heightened visibility about our knowledge and expertise in this space. 


What was the biggest lesson learned? What were the most significant challenges, sticking points, or perceptions you needed to tackle and how did you get past this?

G. Beaudry (Concordia): We need a process to upload the documents for faculty members, how to add the metadata, because faculty members do not have time and do not do it that frequently. If they are only doing it three or four times a year, they do not remember how. I think we failed them there, because we are talking about OA but the tools are not performing very well. Some kind of enigma here. Easy to say 10 years after the fact.

G. Bird (SFU): The Faculty Association had serious concerns about a strict opt out policy. They were concerned with how the policy might be enforced. Their concerns eventually led to wording changes and a compromise. It was important that we take the policy through to Senate with support from the Faculty Association, not over their objections. So after careful deliberation, the committee agreed to compromise to a more aspirational policy in order to address these concerns.

When the policy went to Senate, we received another objection we did not anticipate from a staff representative that asked why staff were not mentioned in the policy. (Senate doesn’t have jurisdiction over staff so the policy did not include staff.) The version was endorsed at Senate with acknowledgement that staff are welcome to contribute as a footnote in the policy.

R. Dumont and D. Sauvé (UdeM): There is a French expression that says “you can’t pull on a flower to make it grow”. The open access matter is one that requires time and patience, but more than 15 years after the Budapest Declaration, we feel that we have come a long way in terms of understanding the issues and being committed to the purposes of open access. Among the challenges, there is researchers’ sensitivity – and rightly so – to anything that could mean additional administrative tasks that would eat up valuable research time… Therefore, we have to be sure to plan for establishing simple and effective terms and conditions for an open access repository, and reassure the community about this when presenting the potential of introducing an open access policy.

J. Kirchner (York): Initially I was very worried about the loss of momentum due to the labour disruption.  However, I convinced the committee that this is a journey and we should continue. It helped that the Steering Committee members enjoyed the committee work and the engaged global discussion the work generated. They were keen to carry on. I also learned that every institution has its own context, culture and perspective. While some elements worked well in some other places I worked, they did not work at York. For instance, showing the Harvard open access model or examples from other non-Canadian institutions did not go over well at York. They wanted Canadian examples. 


What was the biggest surprise?

G. Beaudry (Concordia): The discussion was good, there were very strong advocates, and it was a good discussion and debate. Before the Senate meeting we estimated we had at least 66%, and it was passed unanimously.

G. Bird (SFU): I probably should not have been surprised that the Faculty Association would be one of our biggest negotiations and that they would be opposed to a strongly worded policy. 

J. Kirchner (York): We learned quite late in the process that there was a specific Senate policy template we needed to apply. This changed the construction of what was included in the original policy and some other specific elements needed to be included to adhere to official policy requirements. For instance, a specific person needed to be named who has oversight over the policy. In earlier versions we simply stated it as the Provost’s designate. Due to this policy requirement, it was decided the Dean of Libraries would have the oversight role in consultation with the Provost and VP Research as needed. 



Icon for CC-BY Creative Commons licenceThis work, the CARL Institutional Open Access Policy Toolkit, was developed by members of the CARL Advancing Research Committee and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.