Monday, 22 September 2008

OA 'a small idea'?

A recent contributor to the AMERICAN-SCIENTIST-OPEN-ACCESS-FORUM@LISTSERVER.SIGMAXI.ORG, Joe Esposito, made statements that need addressing. He said, in relation to the semi-automated ability to request copies of papers of articles archived in OA Institutional Repositories, ‘ Most authors, of course, will not be troubled much with requests because the articles are indeed available to most researchers through institutional subscriptions’, and later ‘. . . OA has little impact’, and finally ‘OA is a small idea’. By responding to this posting, I am aware that I am merely re-stating what is abundantly clear to the scholarly community, but less informed readers may be concerned by the statements made.

If it is true, as he states, that ‘the articles are available to most researchers through institutional subscriptions’, how is it that when material *is* made OA, hundreds and thousands of articles are downloaded daily? How is it, for example, that of the 13,000 records archived in the Universidad de Los Andes’ OA Institutional Repository in Venezuela, 10,000 full text health articles were downloaded in the first 8 days in August 2008? Researchers in the developing world – as has been reported many times and is now well acknowledged – can afford few or even no subscriptions (see for eg New England Journal of Medicine 350, no. 10 (2004): 966–968, showing that in a WHO survey of medical institutes in developing countries there had been *no* subscriptions to journals over the previous 5 years by 56% of institutes in the poorest countries). Globally, no library can afford all the journals it would wish to subscribe to.

In spite of research findings to the contrary, he also concludes that ‘OA has little impact’. But people have different interpretations of what is ‘impact’. To some, it just means citations. Important, yes, but as all researchers know, at the start of a new project, it is standard practice to find and read a considerable number of papers, some recent, some not, and the knowledge this provides feeds into their future work, directing their understanding, broadening their horizons, providing technical information (methods, procedures . .) and only a little of this will be cited in future publications. This ‘impact’ arising from their reading and discussions with colleagues is near-immeasurable, but is essential to the successful conduct of research programmes. If impact equals recorded future usage, statistics of the magnitude of downloads being shown from OA IRs (see ‘Bring on the IRs’ on this blog, March 2008) and OA Journals (3.5 million full text downloads from developing country journals distributed through the Bioline International system in a year . . . sharply increasing usage figures from the OA MedKnow journals published in Mumbai . . .) now demonstrate clearly that this information, previously locked away in vaults, is needed and downloaded by researchers for professional purposes, not for fun.

And if the concept of OA is ‘a small idea’, how is it that approaching 55 highly regarded international and national organisations have required that it be adopted? How is it that there are now 1145 registered OA Institutional Repositories (increasing by ~1/day)? How is it that there are now 3617 registered OA Journals?

Posted by Barbara Kirsop

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