“Extreme Open Access”

This was the intriguing title of yesterday’s public seminar at Humboldt Uni’s IBI, delivered by Laurent Romary who is Director of Research at INRIA at present, who has held other prestigious posts and who has long been an open access visionary. In fact his seminar also has a subtitle: “scholarly publication as a public infrastructure”, but I figured that just the short version might be more intriguing for the automated tweet from this blog!

You can watch online recordings of IBI’s BBK seminars in full (watch out for this one: it’s in English!), but below is my summary to intrigue you further…

For those wishing to learn about Open Access (OA), Peter Suber’s book was metaphorically described as a bible!

I agree wholeheartedly with Romary’s view that it is better for scholars and universities to think about scientific information policies, rather than OA, and that we should anticipate that what we do with our publications will have consequences for what happens to and what we should do with, our research data. Matters of cost, quality, useability and visibility are systemic and when we publish articles online then we have an opportunity to also use article-level metrics. University Vice-Chancellors and directors should understand such mechanisms and the opportunities available.

Romary displayed profits from Elsevier from 2002-2011 and commented that learned societies are often playing the same game (chasing profit!) as publishers, before going on to look at OA possibilities. He dwelt on the 2003 Berlin declaration on OA, which I believe is an ideal: it includes the right to copy further and for an item’s availability to be irrevocable. “Extreme Open Access” indeed!

In my opinion, the Berlin declaration version of OA is the kind of OA that institutional repository managers would love to have but can’t all reach. In my experience, it was an uphill battle to get content at all, never mind getting it deposited along with a true understanding of licensing rules and copyright: this was a hurdle that a number of repository managers in the UK chose to save for later. But the Berlin declaration version of OA is definitely something to aim for!

Romary’s description of green & gold OA was very careful to explain that the two can work alongside each other, and that the one does not exclude the other. In fact, he described how this could work very harmoniously in a “freemium” model, which is similar to the way “Only Connect… Discovery pathways, library explorations, and the information adventure.” (the “unbook” that I contributed to & blogged about here) was published. The unbook is free in its html format but also available to buy in e-book download format or in print: similarly, journal articles that have been paid for as gold OA articles or that appear in subscription journals can also be deposited into repositories, for green OA. The paid-for version will have advantages to the person who pays, eg the reader’s experience & choice of formats, or the article is deposited into the repository on behalf of the gold OA fee-paying author.

INRIA, where Romary works has an information policy, which includes a mandate to deposit into the repository, and (crucially, in my view) assessments and reports on staff will all be carried out based on the input of repository publications. I asked how well the mandate was being adhered to, but apparently it’s early days yet. There is a centralised budget in order to monitor payments of APCs, and presumably this can be balanced against subscription costs, although INRIA’s researchers may publish more than they read (if I understand correctly), so gold OA looks like being very expensive for them.

The OpenEdition and Episciences projects from France sounded particularly interesting, as a way of integrating a repository into broader research and publishing infrastructures. At this point, Romary described that a repository has to be sophisticated. (Yes please, but who will pay for that?!) By way of sophisticated, he elaborated on the importance of authority lists for authors, institutions and projects, of persistent identifiers, and of long-term archiving capability. I think that all repository managers would aim for that, but different repositories achieve it to different degrees.

It is precisely this fragmented repository environment that Romary described as a big challenge for the academic community, if they are to make the most of their repositories and of their publications. The advent of scientific social networks (like researchgate, mendeley, academia.edu, etc) does not help with this fragmentation. But the good news at the end was that we are still learning and developing an infrastructure that could serve the public and indeed be labelled as extreme open access.

At the end of the presentation, we discussed some further related issues, including whether peer review is a good mechanism for ensuring quality, and the advantages of open peer review. Perhaps more on those themes in a separate blog post…

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