Saturday, May 06, 2006

SSHRC to Actively Promote Open Access to Research Results

From the SSHRC March 2006 Council Meeting:

SSHRC to actively promote open access to research results

Following on Council’s October 2004 approval in principle of open access—permanent, free, online access to the results of federally-funded research—staff consulted with the social sciences and humanities community and reported on the options available to make open access a reality.

The idea of open access to all research is widely accepted, but presents a number of implementation obstacles, and the community is by and large cautious.

Rather than imposing mandatory requirements on researchers to publish via open access, Council chose to increase awareness of open access, pursue discussions with major stakeholders, and gradually incorporate open access provisions in research support programs.

Comments: encouraging and promoting open access are laudable goals. However, experience has shown that a mandate is necessary - for example, the NIH Public Access Policy which "requests and strongly encourages" open access, has had an absolutely dismal compliance rate, of 3.8%, as reported to Congress January 2006, and blogged by Peter Suber. This low compliance rate contrasts with the research of Swan and Brown, which found that 81% of authors would willingly comply with a mandate to deposit.

Hopefully, SSHRC will revisit the mandate issue in the near future, perhaps after the U.S. Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 passes. See the SPARC site for a FAQ for University Administrators and Faculty on FRPPA.

Meanwhile, SSHRC's commitment to increase awareness about open access and gradually incorporate open access provisions in research support programs will help to move us forward towards open access.

One question I have for SSHRC is whether the rule requiring 200 subscriptions for an academic journal to qualify for subsidy has been modified, as this provision actively discriminates against full open-access electronic journals.

There are many ways in which SSHRC could increase awareness about open access. One very simple means would be to prominently post SSHRC's Open Access Policy on the SSHRC web pages - if not on the home page, perhaps on the "About SSHRC", perhaps with a link not too far from the "Apply for Funding" link. The Open Access page could include links to key educational resources, such as Peter Suber's Open Access Overview, or his Very Brief Introduction to Open Access.

It would be a good idea to highlight Canadian resources and intiatives, such as the Canadian Association of Research Libraries' Institutional Repository program and Metadata Harvester. Or, how about a list of Canadian open access journals, or Canadian researchers and librarians with expertise on open access? The latter could be a self-service type of education - people could look up the writings of the many Canadian open access experts, or perhaps even invite us to speak.

Supporting technology learning to support open access initiatives should do a great deal to promote open access. In particular, it would be helpful to support learning about institutional repository software, and new journal publishing platforms such as Open Journal Systems. Supporting these kinds of initiatives now would mean that SSHRC could plan to review its policy in the near future, knowing that there would be fewer obstacles to OA.

Thanks to Peter Suber and the University of Toronto's Open Source | Open Access Project for the news about the SSHRC Council meeting, and also to Jean Claude Guédon on the American Scientist Open Access Forum for some inspiration on this topic.

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.

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