Sunday, April 30, 2006

Open Access: to Leverage the Research Dollar

For the research funder, here is yet another reason why the results of research should be openly accessible, as soon as possible: immediately on publication - or before: to leverage the research dollar.

Why? The way science works is in a series of steps, or like a puzzle. The goals of research are broad: finding cures for cancer, learning how to prevent or treat heart disease. These kinds of goals are rarely reached through a single study. Rather, each piece of research brings us just one step closer to the goal. One researcher discovers something that tells us that it looks like a disease just might be caused by a virus. Several studies later, this is confirmed, and the virus is identified. Other studies tell us best methods for treating the illness, and a vaccine is developed. Someday, hopefully, a means of destroying the virus altogether will be found.

When we fund one step in this research, we achieve more when more researchers are able to get on with the next steps, and we achieve the most when the results are shared as openly and quickly as possible, so that as many researchers as possible can get on to the next steps as quickly as possible.

How this relates to research dollars: because research occurs worldwide, the research dollars of one funder can be leveraged through the efforts of others, including researchers receiving funds from other agencies, and often researchers working without specific funding. Open, immediate sharing is like multiplying your research lab, your research team - with no extra dollars involved.

Another way to look at this: look at what happened when the world's researchers and funders worked together, sharing information openly and rapidly, to map the the human genome - and look how fast this was actually achieved. Why not use the same methods to understand and find better treatments or cures for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other human ailments?

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.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Open Access: to Help the Helpers

Open Access: to Help the Helpers

An Open Letter to Gerald P. Koocher, President and all Members of the American Psychological Association

There are a very great many good reasons why researchers and practitioners across many disciplines are enthusiastically embracing the potential of the internet to create, as the Budapest Open Access Initiative describes it, an unprecedented public good: open access to the scholarly literature that was never produced for the creator's profit.

Today, my request is that the American Psychological Association give some thought to the potential of open access to help the helpers.

Many, if not most, of us, are involved in helping relationships at various points in our lives. A few of us have the advantage of professional training and resources to allow us ready access to the scholarly literature, such as the professional clinical psychologist practicing in the research hospital.

A very great many helpers, however, do not have access to these resources.

Consider, for example, the social worker in the inner city. Many social workers work long hours, and without much pay. Having to travel to a university, or pay to read research is a real barrier for someone like this. Ready access to the scholarly literature in psychology could make the difference between a practice that is evidence-based, and one that is not. What a difference this can make - for the social worker and clients alike.

Or, what about the parent struggling to understand an autistic child? Not every parent in such a situation will want to read the research literature - but, if they do - is this not their right?

How about all of the other caregivers - of family members with dementia, major or minor mental illnesses, or all the volunteers who help the caregivers?

Or, for that matter, the professional health care workers? Picture the doctor, or psychologist in a rural practice - no university library nearby. Couldn't open access make a world of difference to these people?

What about teachers and guidance counsellors? There may be a lucky few in schools with plentiful resources, but in my experience, schools are fortunate to be able to provide a few books and other resources for the students, never mind professional research literature for staff.

Or, let's think about all the people involved in various areas of crime and delinquency - our police and correctional officers? Wouldn't ready access to the latest in psychology help to inform their practice - and wouldn't open access be the optimum way to provide this?

If, like me, you believe that the science and art that is psychology truly matters to the world - because what, after all, could be more important than understanding ourselves - surely you will agree that our knowledge of psychology - all of it - should be shared, as openly as possible. There is a time for each discipline and profession to consider its own commitment to open access. Psychologists - it is your turn.

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.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Open Access Archiving Maillist

An open access archiving maillist has been set up, primarily for managers of open access archives who would like to discuss issues relating to OA archiving in the dual sense of providing access and preservation.

The reason for setting up this list was interest expressed in exploring the use of LOCKSS software as a preservation mechanism for OA archives. The nature of LOCKSS requires collaborative groups, as preservation involves a set of LOCKSS boxes (usually about 6) which constantly communicate with each other. There are reasons why LOCKSS boxes are best dispersed. Hence, this list can serve as a means for OA archivers to meet other potential LOCKSS-group participants.

The list is open to anyone, however, in order to avoid spam, subscribing and unsubscribing is manual. To subscribe, please contact me at heather dot eln dot bc dot ca.

Participants can send a message to the list by sending to

Update April 26: an Archive is now available for the openaccess-archiving list.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Open Access and the Copyright Collective

It is time to rethink the idea of the copyright collective, for a number of reasons. In Canada, the copyright collective is called Access Copyright. According to the Access Canada website, "The agency now represents a vast international repertoire along with more than 8,000 Canadian creators and publishers".

With the world wide web, it is possible for virtually everyone to publish their own works, and a very great many of us do. What exactly is the point of a copyright collective representing only 8,000 Canadians? In a country with a population of 32 million, surely there are millions of creators, not thousands?

I myself am an example of a creator who interests are not at all represented by Access Copyright.

On the contrary, as an academic I am disadvantaged by this collective. Academic institutions pay the copyright collective; this takes monies away from the educational and research functions of the universities. This makes no sense at all! Universities are major creators of intellectual content - if those who create intellectual property are to be reimbused through collectives, the cheques should be flowing to the universities, not from them. I'm not suggesting that this happen; merely, that it would make more sense.

This situation is rapidly becoming much more obvious, as university libraries take on an expanded role in serving the interests of their own creators, through the OA academic presses and open access archives. Canada is a bit behind Europe in this respect, but nevertheless, it is time to begin preparing for the future - a future where university library open archives will include not only the peer-reviewed literature, but also a great deal more: open access to research data per se, and grey literature which was never included in the deals of any copyright collective.

All librarians have a responsibility, in my view, to be the spokespersons for the popular individual creators, who also have never been part of the Access copyright collective. We librarians need to speak up for more than just library exceptions. It is our duty to speak for the public, both as users and creators of information. It is this obligation that gives us the authority to request the library exceptions to copyright; it is not libraries per se that need special treatment. The rights belong to those we serve. Ultimately, this is everyone.

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.