Monday, 27 April 2009

Reassuring Open Access-waverers

In the OA-sphere there are two worlds, the OA-rich and the OA-poor.

The OA-rich world may be economically poor, but understands the great benefits that OA can bring to its national research base, its education, its institutes and the progress of global research. The OA-poor world may be economically rich, but has not been informed about OA, or has been misinformed about OA, or is failing to understand how access to scholarly information is changing for the good in the age of the Internet.

But there’s a problem. The rich world has now moved on from describing the great benefits of OA to its authors, readers and administrators. As its constituencies have understood and adapted, it has begun to discuss the technicalities of tracking versions; it is wondering how data can be archived and shared; it has begun to worry about the slowness of authors to deposit their research into their institutional repositories; it is considering whether Face Book and Twitter have a place; it is assessing the value of downloads versus citations. It is gnawing away at the endless possibilities that OA has opened up . . . taking its future existence for granted.

But as the OA-rich communities discuss progress and new developments, they perforce repeat the difficulties. ‘There are still only 16% of the world’s research articles available through OA – how can we speed this up?’, yet they no longer mention that even 16% represents millions of free research articles. ‘There are only 1300 IRs so far’ – yet they don’t mention that these are increasing at the rate of 1-2/day (1319 yesterday, 1321 today!). ‘It has taken $xxxxx to set up our campus-wide digital resource’ – yet a simple repository to hold an institute’s research publications can be done on a shoe-string. ‘There has to be long-term commitment’ – very true, and in organisations that have understood the importance and value to them of OA, the commitment is there. As the debates and exchange of ideas surge ahead, organisations that are not immersed in the exciting OA opportunities for research communities only hear about the remaining challenges while the great benefits are no longer voiced. And hardly anyone bothers to mention the highly impressive usage being made of OA resources – which in the end is all that counts.

It is a bit like trying to sell a ‘green’ car. ‘Yes, madam, it is a bit small. No, it doesn’t have central locking. No, it doesn’t have retractable wing mirrors’. . . . no sale. But the successful salesman adds, ‘But you will save $x on fuel. You will save $x on tyre replacements. You will have very low insurance costs. You will have very low greenhouse gas emissions. We sold three models yesterday alone . . . they are the cars of the future. Would you like a test drive?’

For OA newcomers there are plenty of test drives to be found at ePrints and elsewhere, and there are very satisfied customers at Harvard, MIT, UK Research Councils, Wellcome Trust, Universities in Portugal, Australia, Venezuela, India, Scotland . . . . see ROAR or openDOAR. And the OA-usage statistics are incontestable proof that these organisations have made the right choice, see for example the University of Strathclyde , or the University de los Andes.

Organisations and individuals that still hesitate should get the full story and ask themselves if such prestigious organisations as Harvard would unanimously agree to an open access policy unless it was right for its organisation, right for the progress of research? But how to get the full story that is authoritative, up-to-date, impartial? Fortunately, the OSI-supported Open Access Scholarly Information Sourcebook (OASIS) is coming to a website near you very soon, to provide a comprehensive resource for all would-be OA-rich scholars.

Posted by Barbara Kirsop, Electronic Publishing Trust for Development.

No comments: