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.

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