Monday, August 29, 2005

Open Letter on RCUK Position Statement on Access to Research Outputs

greetings Dr. Astrid Wissenberg,

Congratulations to the RCUK for a very well thought out position statement on access to research outputs. The four fundamental principles describe very clearly and succinctly what we all need to strive for with research outputs: rapid and widespread dissemination, effective quality control, cost-effectiveness, and ensuring preservation. The RCUK not only addresses these philosophical ideals, it generously incorporates considerable flexibility to accomodate such present-day realities as the lack of ubiquitous institutional repositories.

I am a librarian from Canada, an open access advocate with considerable experience in the areas of resource sharing and database licensing at a provincial level. Here are a few thoughts on the RCUK position statement, in case this might be of help to future deliberations.

It is my opinion, based on considerable thought and research, that there is no model for providing access to research that can even potentially come close to what is possible with open access. National or provincial licensing, for example, is a wonderful thing, and a very significant improvement over individual or institutional licenses. Consider this, however: in order for a national licensing approach to meet the same level of access as open access, every nation in the world would have to have national licenses to every publication. This would be far more challenging than implementing open access.

Open access, as you have no doubt heard, is seen by many as an unprecedented public good. The more thought I give to open access, the more benefits I see. The most important one that I'd like to draw your attention to at the moment, is the potential of open access to act as a stabilizing economic factor at the global level. Those who can afford to do research, pay the price for the publication. Those who cannot afford the research, whether due to environmental, financial, or other disaster, have no obligation to pay - but still have the same access. This all happens naturally, without intervention - all we need is for public policy makers to set a clear, simple direction, and the rest looks after itself.

I've written on this subject in more detail in my blog posting, An open access model with potential to facilitate global economic stability and equity, at: rapidly as possible
The first fundamental principle in your position statement calls for research results to be disseminated as widely, rapidly and effectively as practicable. I would encourage RCUK to continue or strengthen the emphasis on rapid dissemination of results. One possibility would be to encourage researchers to post preprints as soon as available (unless, in the author's view, there are such significant consequences to potential errors that this is inadvisable, as for example in certain areas of toxicology), and replace these with the author's peer-reviewed copy as soon as possible. This is the route to the most rapid advances in knowledge - as soon as one researcher has found one of the building-blocks towards a cure for cancer, another researcher can immediately proceed with the next step in the process. This is the kind of open sharing that made it possible for the world to come together to map the human genome in record time. The human race faces many other significant problems today, and research can help - from the scientific advances that are our best hope for minimizing the damage of global warming to the social sciences and humanities advances we need to figure out how to share our new, globalized world in peace. There may be pressure, to allow for delays. My suggestion for the RCUK is to resist this pressure, and to insist instead on immediate sharing.

The dramatic growth of open access
I have heard rumours that misinformation about the extent of interest in open access has been communicated in the U.K. Just in case such misinformation exists, please note that I have been attempting to monitor open access initiatives for some time, and have reported some of my findings. In brief: the rise in open access resources is truly remarkable. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), for example, has been adding new titles (after a vetting process) at the rate of more than one per day throughout 2005. The over 1,700 peer-reviewed, fully open access journals included in DOAJ understates the total number of OA journals, due to the time required to discover and vet these journals, which are appearing around the world, in many different languages. The number of articles and repositories included in OAIster has also been growing dramatically, likely reflecting a dramatic increase in the number of institutional repositories and open access articles contained therein.

More details can be found in my article, The Dramatic Growth of Open Access: Implications and Opportunities for Resource Sharing, Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Electronic Reserve, 16, 3 (2006).
Preprint at:
Most recent revision

The future of institutional repositories
At the moment, as stated in the position statement, not all universities and faculty have access to institutional repositories. I am convinced that this situation will rapidly change in the next few years. Why? As an author, I just love my institutional repository. It makes it possible for me to point people to all my recent publications and presentations with just one click. This is more convenient for me, than having all these works on my own desktop. It makes it easy for me to show others how productive I've been. The IR will do the same for departments and universities as well. Picture the people responsible for promoting the university with a resource that showcases all of the university's research. Funding agencies, too, will be able to demonstrate value to the public. In short, those institutional repositories, once filled, will be good for academe as a whole. If this idea is of interest, please see my more detailed blog posting, The Institutional Repository, the Author, and the Academy, at:

This is a personal professional opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of my employer.

In the interests of openness, I'll be posting a copy as an open letter on my blog, The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics.

best regards,

Heather G. Morrison
Project Coordinator
BC Electronic Library Network
Phone: 604-268-7001
Fax: 604-291-3023
Email: heather dot m at eln dot bc dot ca

Details about the RCUK Open Access Position Statement can be found at:
Thanks to Open Access News

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