Developing a Public Access Plan

The NEH is currently in the planning phase of a new policy that will expand the American public’s access to the products of our awards. As our work progresses, we will continue to add detailed guidance, answers to frequently asked questions, and a timeline for implementation. Please contact us at @email.

Public Access & NEH’s Mission

Public access, the ability for the public to freely and easily access the products funded through NEH grants, is central to NEH’s mission. Our enabling legislation affirms that “the humanities belong to all the people of the United States,” and that “public funds provided by the Federal Government must ultimately serve public purposes.” Over the past six decades, NEH has strived to make this a reality through its support of widely accessible scholarship, educational materials, primary sources, exhibitions, and documentary films. For this reason, we are pleased to announce NEH’s Public Access Plan, which will be published in its final form in December 2024 and will go into effect for awards made beginning in Fiscal Year 2026.

When implemented, NEH’s plan will be limited to peer-reviewed journal articles and a subset of research datasets. The agency will continue to support the broad dissemination of other kinds of award outputs that fall outside the scope of the Public Access Plan’s requirements. For several decades, NEH’s Notices of Funding Opportunities have stated that “all other considerations being equal, NEH gives preference to projects that provide free access to the public.” We understand the complexities of developing and sustaining the products of NEH awards, and we acknowledge that not all outputs should be widely shared.

Responding to the 2022 White House Memo

NEH’s Public Access Plan is in part a response to a 2022 memo sent by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to all federal agencies. Then-acting OSTP director and social scientist Alondra Nelson called on all federal grant makers to establish plans that “ensure free, immediate, and equitable access to federally funded research.” The Public Access Plan will bring NEH in line with other research funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, which have required public access for over a decade.

Throughout 2024, NEH has been conducting outreach to stakeholders such as the Modern Language Association, Association of University Presses, the Association of Research Libraries, and other organizations to listen to feedback and respond to questions. These conversations will inform the final plan.

Key Points & Requirements

The draft plan specifies:

  • NEH awardees must submit a copy of any peer-reviewed journal article manuscript resulting from award activities no later than the article publication date. NEH will deposit each article in a “designated repository” where it will be available to the public at no charge.
  • When an NEH applicant intends to create a dataset resulting from applied research, they must describe in their proposal how they will preserve that data and make it available to the public. If funding is approved, the awardee will be required to implement these activities. We anticipate the plan requirements will apply to only a small number of NEH-funded datasets. The plan will adhere to both the FAIR Principles and the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance, which emphasize that some data may not be appropriate to share widely.

It’s important to note that the White House deliberately chose the phrase “public access” over “open access.” This seemingly small difference has implications for where and how articles are shared. For instance, under the OSTP memo guidance and the NEH Public Access Plan, publishers are not required to make NEH-supported articles available publicly through the journal website. They may continue to restrict access only to journal subscribers.

However, NEH-funded awardees are required to share a copy of the article with NEH, and the terms and conditions of the award will explicitly stipulate this requirement. In most cases, we expect awardees to share the “accepted manuscript,” a version of the article that has undergone peer review but lacks the publisher’s final typesetting or design. We will make additional guidance available on this and other aspects of the plan by early 2025.

Clarifying the Scope

Because NEH funds many areas of the humanities beyond academic research, grantees who are not actively publishing work based on their awards may find the Public Access Plan has minimal impact. Indeed, the plan will primarily affect academic institutions and scholars who receive NEH awards for research and writing, and subsequently publish in peer-reviewed journals.

The NEH Public Access Plan does not apply to monographs or chapters in edited volumes, though NEH is actively engaged in broadening access to the thousands of books NEH has funded over nearly sixty years. Currently, the Division of Research Programs and Office of Digital Humanities offer the Fellowships Open Book Program to help academic presses make more of their NEH-supported titles freely accessible to the public.

Contact Us

NEH staff are eager to receive feedback from the public and agency stakeholders. Please contact us at @email.