Open access – the good, the bad, the awesome

“Open access”…two words that can put fear in the hearts of publishers and at the same time delight into the hearts of many librarians. As an individual who recognises the value and importance of information and information equality my natural response is to be an ardent member of the group shouting “we need open access now!” however  attaining an effective and efficient accessible environment isn’t that simple? Especially if you want access to validated and reliable information (without all the ads).

So how do we get closer to an environment which creates information equality and  ensures that a level of quality and reliability in the information provided? I think the UK Government may *fingers crossed* have the solution.

In mid-2012 the Government accepted all recommendations put forward by a team of academics, research funders and publishers chaired by Dame Janet Finch CBE into a model which would be being both effective and sustainable facilitate expanding access to published research. The Finch report makes the following recommendations, inter alia:

  • publication in open access or hybrid journals should be the main vehicle for the publication of government funded research
  • the restrictions surroundings rights of use and re-use should be removed or modified to facilitate publication in open access publications
  • institutional and subject based repositories should be given more attention to by authors and publishers as a means of providing access to research data and grey literature (1) as well as digital preservation
  • there should be greater consideration and/or reconsideration about the embargo period’s traditional publishers impose upon works.

But how is it going to be obtained? Answer, through reform of policy, publication in open access/hybrid journals, licensing and repositories. Personally the primary reform that needs to take place is a mindset shift on the part of authors and the academic/professional circles that place greater stake in the traditional closed access journal.  Its really a case of spot the difference between open access and closed access and really I can only see the cost as being the difference: both are often funded using government grants (which are heavily vetted), the publication of both open and closed depends on the article being reviewed and edited by members/experts of the field, both are read and cited by other/further research. The only difference is money. A cost which creates a false aura of exclusivity around research and prevents access to people who work for institutions and organisations which cannot or don’t support funding subscriptions. The perspective that this cost creates quality assurance will not change overnight and the Finch Report proposes the right steps to change the perceptions towards them, steps which have been adopted by the government. Whats the primary change? Reducing the  exclusivity of the closed journal to Government funded articles to a short period of time prior to it being made publicly available via open access. Because a lot of research is government funded this is a simple and effective move to change perceptions towards the lesser perception of going straight to open access and lets hope result in the development of information equality in the future.

Lets hope the Australian Government (and all Governments) take note of the positive step taken by the UK Government and adopt similar policies. After all if taxpayers are funding the research shouldn’t we have access to the result?

 

(1) Adopting the definition provided by the University of New England grey literature is unpublished or non-commercial research such as government papers, policy statements, fact sheets, draft papers, theses and dissertations. (Source: UNE, eSkills Plus, accessed 20/1/13 <http://www.une.edu.au/library/find/eskillsplus/research/grey.php&gt;)

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