Open Access Notes

STELLA 2012 Unconference
Brooklyn College Library (CUNY)

Notes for Open Access session, 11/10/2012, 12:00-1:10pm
Facilitator:  Joe Kraus
Notetaker:  John Carey

We began by noting some of the recent mandates that have passed in favor of open access in the sciences, most notably the NIH mandate for publicly funded research to be published in open access venues.  A participant said that much of the discussion about Open Access began in 1999 when Dr. Harold Varmus proposed E-Biomed for the NIH.  (Proposal: http://www.nih.gov/about/director/pubmedcentral/ebiomedarch.htm)  We also noted that some OA initiatives have come about as a result of researchers or faculty pushing back against publishing practices.  For instance, mathematicians organized a boycott of Elsevier in protest of what they termed “exorbitantly high” prices and published a statement of purpose (http://gowers.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/elsevierstatementfinal.pdf) on the website, The Cost of Knowledge (http://thecostofknowledge.com).

We also noted some contrasts between approaches to OA in the United Kingdom and the United States, the Finch Report (http://www.researchinfonet.org/publish/finch/) in England being an example of the UK approach which advocates for grants to researchers to help publish in OA journals.  The proposal may be effective there, since they have a standard method for evaluating researchers called the Research Excellence Framework (http://www.ref.ac.uk/).   The REF documentation says that “No sub-panel will make any use of journal impact factors, rankings, lists or the perceived standing of publishers in assessing the quality of research outputs.”  (http://www.ref.ac.uk/faq/researchoutputsref2/)  However, there are many UK-based researchers who still think that publishing an article in a top-tier journal like Nature or Science or Cell looks better to the evaluators because of prestige factors.

The session also covered basic definitions of the two most common forms of OA publishing.  “Gold” OA means the article is freely available at its source/journal of publication.  In “green” OA, authors deposit the final approved ms of an article into an OA repository so that it is available before publication. For users, the term “gratis” refers to OA articles or content that is read-only; “libre” means that the public is free to reuse or “remix” the OA content.

A participant also noted that care must be taken to ensure that material is “sustainably available.”  This brings in issues not just of archiving or publishing the material but also of licensing.  Creative Commons licensing (http://creativecommons.org/) is one very common approach.

Several participants saw a need to change academic culture if OA is to flourish. Pressure to publish in journals that hold prestige or have a high impact factor can discourage researchers from choosing OA.  There is also a need for faculty outreach to clarify misconceptions about OA publishing, such as the notion that OA means a lack of peer review or quality control. Willingness to publish in OA journals can also vary by discipline.  The “citation advantage” often cited in support of OA publishing may be less meaningful than it is sometimes made out to be, since the top researchers in a field would probably have access to an article even if it were published in a traditional journal.

Someone mentioned the role OA can play for researchers in developing countries, for whom subscription barriers are an even greater hurdle.  It was noted that the Open Knowledge Foundation is working in this area.  A blog post from the OKFN was shown. (http://blog.okfn.org/2012/11/02/data-bootcamps-hands-on-data-literacy-workshops-for-the-world/)  Of course, author charges would still be an issue for these researchers.  It was noted that most (about 70%) OA journals do not have author-side fees, but these journals tend to publish less articles and are less well known.

The session ended with a question from a participant asking “What are methods librarians can use to educate researchers at my institution?”  Several resources were mentioned, such as:

“ACRL Scholarly Communication Toolkit”
http://scholcomm.acrl.ala.org/

“SPARC provides a full suite of resources for librarians, authors, publishers, editors, and others who would like to educate themselves and help to create change in the scholarly communication system.”
http://www.arl.org/sparc/resources/index.shtml

And “Developing a Scholarly Communication Program in Your Library”
http://www.arl.org/sc/institute/fair/scprog/index.shtml