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How Public Access Differs from Open Access

Public access is one of several terms used to describe access to scholarly communication. In the health sciences arena, the NIH Public Access Policy is a key directive that uses this terminology.

The NIH describes the difference between the NIH Public Access Policy and Open Access in the following way:

"The Public Access Policy ensures that the public has access to the peer-reviewed and published results of all NIH-funded research through PubMed Central (PMC). US and/or foreign copyright laws protect most of the papers in PMC; PMC provides access to them at no cost, much like a library does, under the principles of Fair Use. Generally, Open Access involves the use of a copyrighted document under a Creative Commons or similar license-type agreement that allows more liberal use (including redistribution) than the traditional principles of Fair Use. Only a subset of the papers in PMC are available under such Open Access provisions."

Public access is not a technical term with a precise definition; it is defined in different ways by funding agencies or institutions. Also see MLA's open access web pages.

NIH Public Access Policy

  • Section 218 of H.R. 2764, the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 makes the NIH Public Access Policy mandatory beginning April 7, 2008. The legislation states: "The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National  Library of Medicine's PubMed Central an electronic version of their final peer-reviewed manuscripts under acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months afer the official date of publication: Provided, That the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law."

Resources to Guide Libraries through Implementation of the NIH Public Access Policy

National Institutes of Health

Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries

Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)

Legislation (See MLA's webpage on public access legislation and federal policies)

MLA Reports, Fact Sheets, and Training Materials

For further information, contact Mary Langman, 312.419.9094 x27