Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Open Access for Canada - for Canadian impact

As librarians across the country know, it is not easy for searchers to find information about Canada. Recently, in a discussion about the Canadian Census, someone pointed out how much more open and useful the U.S. Census data is. Have a look - it is impressive indeed. The point was, that this Canadian admitted to doing research using U.S. Census data rather than Canadian data for their grad thesis, just because it was too hard to find Canadian data. A story that reference librarians are all too familiar with. Update August 7: Allison Martell explains why she used American census data rather than Canadian for her undergraduate project, because the Canadian data were not usable.

When American information is easy to find, and Canadian information almost impossible to find, what ends up happening is that Canadian researchers end up helping Americans with their problems, even if they want to help us with ours. If Americans thought about this and wanted to reciprocate, they'd have a hard time finding our information and probably give up.

The U.S. already has a strong mandatory open access law with the National Institutes of Health, and discussions are well underway to extend this to all U.S. federal funding agencies. Canada had better get going on our own OA mandates and make our work visible, quick, or we'll end up becoming even more marginalized from a knowledge standpoint. This anecdotal view is a good fit with the author impact advantage illustrated in Steve Hitchcock's excellent bibliography of studies on this topic.

Canadians who are advocating for the return of the mandatory long form of the census: why not add to the list of the demands that the data be made just as open and usable as the U.S. Census data is?