This is a big deal. Right now, if you want access to university research, you usually need access to a university library. Otherwise, if you're just Googling for information, you'll have to shell out $20 or more to a journal publishing company like Springer or Sage. If a journal or book accepts one of my scholarly articles, I often have to sign away the copyright, meaning that instead of throwing a copy here on the blog for you all to enjoy right now, I have to sit on the text, wait months for it to come out in the published form... and even then, I can't reproduce the text here for free public consumption.
MIT is saying nuts to that.
"Through this action, MIT faculty have shown great leadership in the promotion of free and open scholarly communication," said Ann Wolpert, MIT's director of libraries. "In the quest for higher profits, publishers have lost sight of the values of the academy. This will allow authors to advance research and education by making their research available to the world" [David Nagel, "MIT Faculty Adopt Open Access Policy for Scholarly Articles," Campus Technology, 2009.03.23].
Academic research is not here to support any business model, especially not an outdated proprietary media model. If we want our research to be relevant, we need to make it accessible. That means taking advantage of the Internet, where with the push of a button I can tell 1.6 billion people, "Hey, look what I found!"
Of course, if we scholars are going to write for the world and not just a small circle of fellow academics, it might help if we write more clearly... but that's a whole nother paper....
Learn more: Read the MIT faculty resolution on this issue.