Exciting news, another fight worth watching closely.

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by Neil Godfrey

The Open Access logo

On the day I was preparing my post On Being a Librarian one of the most exciting news stories about a university library striking a massive blow for open access to publicly funded research was being published in The ConversationUniversity of California’s break with the biggest academic publisher could shake up scholarly publishing for good. Author, MacKenzie Smith. I had been occupied elsewhere and missed the big development about a week earlier: UC terminates subscriptions with world’s largest scientific publisher in push for open access to publicly funded research

What does this have to do with Vridar readers? It is hopefully a first step towards all research or academic publications via public universities being freely available to all. There’s still a long way to go but a very critical first move has been made.

As a leader in the global movement toward open access to publicly funded research, the University of California is taking a firm stand by deciding not to renew its subscriptions with Elsevier. Despite months of contract negotiations, Elsevier was unwilling to meet UC’s key goal: securing universal open access to UC research while containing the rapidly escalating costs associated with for-profit journals.

In negotiating with Elsevier, UC aimed to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery by ensuring that research produced by UC’s 10 campuses — which accounts for nearly 10 percent of all U.S. publishing output — would be immediately available to the world, without cost to the reader. Under Elsevier’s proposed terms, the publisher would have charged UC authors large publishing fees on top of the university’s multi-million dollar subscription, resulting in much greater cost to the university and much higher profits for Elsevier.

“Knowledge should not be accessible only to those who can pay,” said Robert May, chair of UC’s faculty Academic Senate. “The quest for full open access is essential if we are to truly uphold the mission of this university.”

(UC Terminates Subscriptions)

The news goes to the heart of my own professional focus as a librarian: making publicly funded research publicly available. Sounds logical, but the problem universities world-wide have faced is that major publishing companies have taken (for free) researcher articles then wrapped them up in digital journals that they restrict to those who (or whose institutions) pay ever increasing costs. It was even possible for authors to lose all rights to their own work, even being unable to read it without cost, while the publishers reap in huge profits from it.

In reaction an Open Access Movement has been gathering momentum for some years now with university libraries taking a leading part. Many universities have now built their own digital repositories that allow free open access to all of (generally) pre-publication versions of their work. (This development has been extending more recently to the building of research data repositories.)

Most universities and researchers have been trapped by the major publishers. The only hope for a breakthrough is if one of the significantly larger universities took the first step of breaking away from those publishers. That has now happened, and that is truly big news. I’ll be watching with anticipation how it all pans out.

The new model (hopefully) will be for the universities to pay the publisher the cost of publishing researchers’ work in return for the publisher making the work free for all to read. There are other possible models, but let’s see what happens with this one now.

Our goals are ambitious and their implementation will be complex. Changing a system this intricate is akin to modernizing the FAA’s air traffic control system – a million planes are in the air at any moment and changing anything can have serious consequences elsewhere. But we have to start somewhere or the whole system is at risk, and UC has placed its bet. We join a global movement that began in Europe and is expanding around the world, and we believe we’re now on the path to a better system for sharing knowledge in the 21st century.The Conversation

(The Conversation article)

Elsevier has been resisting approaches from universities for years. It is simply untenable that research heritage of any sector of society should be locked away in the bowels of a private corporation. But that’s what the digital age has made possible. Universities are no longer able to keep shelves full of hard copies of everything; but the alternative up till now where private enterprises lock away and take full responsibility for research outputs, their preservation (if at all), who has access, and how much they fleece anyone wanting to access any of it — that system simply has to be demolished. Perhaps pressure can be increased on them if another major university follows UC’s lead when their subscription renewal time comes up.

Related sites:

https://creativecommons.org/ (This blog, Vridar, uses a CC licence)

https://doaj.org/ — directory of open access journals

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access — history of the OA movement from its beginning in 2002 in Budapest, Hungary.


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Neil Godfrey

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3 thoughts on “Exciting news, another fight worth watching closely.”

  1. Hear, hear!

    This has been brewing for some time. Also, one does need to keep in mind the criticisms from Dr. Richard Horton and Dr. Tom Jefferson with regard to the biopharmaceutical industry gaming the ‘peer-review’ system in health science journals through their ‘key opinion leader’ marketing system. For the past forty years, the industry has been buying influence with students and researchers. What is being jettisoned is, at least in the health sciences, a tainted and corrupt publishing system. Hopefully, open source access will break the corrupt influence of the biopharmaceutical industry in medicine.

  2. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/03/06/u-california-berkeley-delete-publicly-available-educational-content
    In the future, University of California will not put any publications, lectures, scanned library books, etc. online for general public access since these are not universally accessible. If a small minority cannot access the material, it is not fair that the unfairly privileged and advantaged majority can use this tax payer funded educational material and disenfranchise and unprivilege those who cannot.

    1. Interesting. From what I understand of the article, however, the material affected is educational resources produced and owned by the institution/university itself.

      On the other hand, the open access movement is primarily focused on the ability of researchers to share the results of their publicly funded research and keeping ownership decisions with the researchers themselves.

      (Some researchers are so committed to the ideals of the movement that they have personally paid publishers to make their books free to the public.)

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