Monday, June 10, 2013

Open access is global unrestricted access

This post is in response to an initiative to digitize Canadian historical materials ironically "leaked" on Bibliocracy. This leak describes a plan by Canadian and Library and Archives Canada to digitize and put online Canadian historical materials for exclusive access by CRKN members with "open access to Canadians" opened up at a rate of 10% per year. This is described as an opportunity to partner in "Canada's largest Open Access Initiative".

There are two major definitional problems with this proposal with respect to open access, and both are major and important problems:

 1. A plan involving exclusive access to subscribers, even for a limited time frame, is NOT open access. There are many toll access publishers that provide free access to back issues of journals in much less then ten years. It would not be acceptable to have this kind of embargoed open access permitted in response to funding agency open access policies. Library associations in Canada and elsewhere have supported strong open access policies; we should not be implementing plans that involve open access definitions that our own community would not consider acceptable.

2. National access is NOT open access. The open access movement is global in scope. There are journals and open access archives in every continent. If we each restricted access to the people in the countries where the works were produced, we would all have a very great deal less. In Canada, it is mind-boggling that anyone would consider putting forth such a proposal. The proportion of the world's knowledge produced in Canada is small - if each country only gained access to its own cultural and scholarly output, we would not have much. One way to think of this: do we want to U.S. to follow this example? Would we like our free access to PubMed and PubMedCentral switched to U.S. national access?

Anyone who is confused about the meaning of open access should learn the basic definition before using the phrase. I recommend Peter Suber's short, highly readable and affordable book, "open access", and/or his free Open Access Overview, and the Budapest Open Access Initiative, for starters. I have developed and taught a course at SLAIS on open access; convened the CLA Task Force on Open Access; and drafted responses to the CIHR open access consultations for CLA and BCLA. Feel free to send questions about open access my way (no charge). There are many other librarians and academics with expertise in OA who would say the same thing.

 One way to engage people like me in this process would be to follow an open meetings approach, as does the Digital Public Library of America. This would be a great way to implement the goals of the Open Government Partnership. There is no good reason for an initiative to digitize and make available Canada's heritage to be planned behind closed doors. Surely this is not a state secret? Opening up the process can help to avoid errors of this nature - and get Canadian engaged in and excited about the initiative.