Public Access FAQ

General Questions

What is a public access mandate?

A public access mandate is a requirement by a funding agency that published research results enabled by its grants be made available to the general public, usually on the internet, within a specified time after publication. Public access mandates are most often issued by US federal funding agencies, although some private funders also have them. This FAQ addresses federal funders, but much of the information in it is applicable to private funders as well.

Public access to what?

Public access mandates generally apply to journal articles whose publication is a direct result of research performed under the grant as well as to research data generated during, or as a result of, the research process (there are exceptions and limitations however).

Aren’t these policies “unfunded mandates”? 

Public access mandates are requirements for funding, not “unfunded mandates.” To receive grant funding, you must comply with many other stipulations; these policies merely add new requirements. Some of the costs incurred by these changes can be included into the research budget but there are often ways to fulfill public access at low, or no additional, cost.

All the new federal policies require deposit of published research in openly and publicly accessible repositories; none of the policies require publication in open access journals. If you choose, however, to publish your research in an open access journal and that journal charges publication fees, the funding agency may let you pay the fee from your grant.

What are the consequences for inaction or non-compliance? 

The granting agencies will likely refuse to grant you additional funds, extensions, or new grants. In short: you won’t get anymore grant money.

How do I comply?

In order to comply with the an agency’s public access policy, you must deposit a version of your research article funded by the agency in a specified repository. Additionally, many federal funding agencies are now requiring data management policies as part of the proposal process. One aspect of a data management plan is determining the preservation and access of your research data. The policy may also requires that you deposit the data from your study into a specific repository. As a service to authors, some publishers offer direct deposit of an article into mandated or specified repositories (e.g., PubMed Central) after the embargo period.

Who can can help me interpret these policies?

The University’s Division of Sponsored Programs has grant analysts and compliance officers who can help with the details of compliance. Additionally, the Scholarly Communications Librarian or the library liaison assigned to your department can advise you on the many practical applications of compliance with a federal public access policy and can advise on such issues as choosing an appropriate repository where one is not specified.

If you are working on developing a data management plan to effectively describe and preserve your data set, the Libraries Data Management LibGuide has excellent information to assist you or you may also contact the Libraries’ Data Management Librarian for assistance with your DMP and other data-related questions.

When do I have to start complying with these policies? 

Check the agency policy. Even if you do not have to comply now, it is likely you will have to in the very near future. Data compliance, like many things, is easier when it is planned from as early as possible. It is prudent to familiarize yourself with these policies.

When do these policies go into effect?

Each agency has a timeline for implementation of their policy. For example, the agencies under Health and Human Services are expected to begin implementation by October 2015 while the NSF is looking at January 2016. Consult the Public Access Policies page for exact dates for the specific agency you are funded by. Also,the Scholarly Communications Librarian and the library subject specialist for your department would be happy to consult with you on ensuring your compliance with the policy and recommending best practices.

Do the policies apply retroactively to publications/data? 

No. Public Access policies will take effect at various times in the next year or two, depending on the agency. Check the policy for the agency you are applying to. However, if you currently have a grant with an agency that is transitioning to new public access policies it would be wise to plan ahead and read over the provisions in any research or publishing contracts before you you sign. You should also consider indicating that you will deposit your work (publications and/or data) in an institutional or subject repository.

Why is the library involved?

The library is traditionally a place of neutral research support on campus. The library is a logical place to negotiate the storage and preservation of data and scholarly literature. UF librarians frequently work with researchers and faculty on campus to navigate the grant compliance process from application through publication. Additionally, the UF Libraries offer the IR@UF as a data and publications repository.

Do I need to deposit my publications and data into a repository, or will the publisher handle that for me upon acceptance?

This depends on the publisher—please check your publication contract. If you have questions, the Scholarly Communications Librarian can help you resolve them. If your publisher does not already have a deposit process in place, The Libraries can likely help you deposit the materials in an appropriate repository, including the IR@UF. Ultimately, the responsibility for deposit rests with the PI.

Public Access to Research Publications Questions

What are “public access compliant repositories”?

Each agency is defining this a little differently, but the characteristics are pretty standard across the spectrum. These are generally repositories that make both the objects deposited and information about them publicly accessible using a web browser. These are also accessible via open protocols that can be used by search engines to make the publications more discoverable, and by aggregators to gather information about many publications in one place.

Where am I allowed or required to deposit my work?

Each policy specifies the repository where research articles must be deposited. If no repository is listed, the Scholarly Communications Librarian can assist you in determining the best open access repository, including the IR@UF, for depositing your work.

Can I request a waiver for the publication embargo period?

The availability of waivers varies by agency; therefore, it is important to check the policy language. For example, HHS will allow the public to request a shorter embargo period if the research is deemed important for health care. Publishers can petition for a longer embargo for NASA articles.  DOE will allow for evidence based petitions to change administrative interval,  and DOD allows the same if there is compelling, statistically based evidence that a change is necessary.

Will this policy change my impact factor?

Very likely yes, and for the better. There have been numerous studies demonstrating that open access articles are cited more often, and thus have greater impact, than articles that are locked behind paywalls or other restrictive barriers. Citation: The effect of open access and downloads (‘hits’) on citation impact: a bibliography of studies.

Public Access to Research Data Questions

Are there exceptions to releasing data?

Yes. In general the following are reasons why data can, or should not, be publicly released:

  • Confidentiality and privacy concerns of research subjects (example: medical data)
  • Security or sensitive information (example: endangered species GPS data).
  • Intellectual property rights (example: patent application)
  • You do not “own” the data. (example: data was obtained from another source with limited reuse/sharing policies)
  • Size issues
  • DOD, DOE, and NASA have classified, restricted, and protected categories that do not need to be shared.

In general, most data can be shared. If you feel that your research will be producing data that is in need of an exception, you need to be prepared to justify the exception.

SPARC, in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University, hosts an online resource that tracks, summarizes and compares the data management and deposit requirements of individual federal agency public access policies. We recommend consulting this resource for up to date information on the requirements of your particular federal government funding agency.

Who owns the research data?

Usually the university administering the grant and/or the PIs (principal investigators) are considered the owners of the research data. Consult the terms of your grant as well as the UF Intellectual Property Policy to confirm.

One caveat is that if your datasets contains data obtained from sources that require licensing and/or restrict reuse/sharing then data “ownership” could also be affected. Researchers receiving support from industry or private funders may be required to relinquish ownership of data generated during research to the funder. Data collected under the auspices of federal support may “belong” to the public, or, in cases of national security, access to data is restricted to approved researchers.

Where can I store my data?

UFIT provides several data storage options for faculty. Some factors to consider when evaluating the best service for your needs are:

  • Type of Data Being Stored (Restricted, Sensitive, Open)
  • Volume of Data
  • Data Access Performance (Transfer Speed)
  • Need for Collaboration
  • Costs
  • Management Convenience

The newest storage offerings are ResearchVault and UF Dropbox for Faculty. The UF Research Computing staff is also available to help identify the best available self-service and managed-data storage options for your needs. You may also want to consult re3data, which is a registry of research data repositories.

Please email the staff if you’d like to make an appointment to discuss your particular storage requirements.


Open Access
“Open access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.” This broad definition comes from Peter Suber, Director of the Office for Scholarly Communication at Harvard. His book ‘Open Access‘ provides a nuanced introduction to open access and an overview of varying definitions and practices.

Public Access
Public access is traditionally understood as a more limited set of rights for distribution of material. While open access literature is generally distributed under a Creative Commons (or similar) license that governs terms of use, reuse, distribution, and remixing, public access policies typically ensure only access to material rather than access and reuse or redistribution. In addition, access is typically provided via designated portals or sources, rather than broad availability on the open web.

Research data
One way to think about research data is that it’s a “product” that has been created either during, or as a result of, the research process. The definition differs slightly for each agency but one constant is that the main focus is on digital research data and/or data necessary to validate research results. Research data can include: images, spreadsheets, models, survey results, audio and video files, software, code, algorithms and more. Make sure to consult the agency definition that applies to your grant as they do have subtle differences. The SPARC/Johns Hopkins University resource on data management requirements is an excellent resource for determining the requirements of individual agency plans.

Data Management Plan (DMP)
A data management plan contains details as to how researchers will provide long-term preservation of, and access to, research data. These two elements were outlined in the OSTP’s February 2013 Executive Order. In order to satisfy both elements most DMPs need to address some, or all, of the following related to research data:

  • types and formats
  • creation and organization
  • documentation and metadata
  • storage and security
  • sharing and ethics
  • preservation

Please contact the UF Libraries’ Data Management Librarian for assistance in interpreting the DMP requirements of public agency mandates or with general questions on DMPs.

Data Sharing Plan (DSP)
Data sharing plans are narrower than data management plans. While DMPs often include data sharing, DSPs focus only on if, how, when, and which data may be shared. DSPs are being phased out and replaced with the more comprehensive data management plan (DMP). In the past some agencies found DSPs sufficient, but going forward most agencies are requiring the more comprehensive data management plan.

These FAQs have been adapted from a crowd-sourced resource with contributions from librarians and other public access experts from several universities.