Openness, not only Open Access

An interesting thread appeared on Twitter, during this Open Access (OA) Week, October 2017:

I believe that Erin might have been reacting to claims like those on the SPARC site “Open in order to” which focuses on the benefits that researchers are working towards, and which open access could definitely contribute to.

There were many sensible responses to Erin’s sensible perspective, but in particular Jon Tennant’s perspective rang bells for me.

I’m teaching Masters students Information Ethics again this semester, at Humboldt Universitaet zu Berlin and this reminded me of the way we make our students think about the changes that the digital world has brought about, and about OA and the principles it stands on.

I’ve always remembered meeting Brian Kelly  and his attitude towards and enthusiasm for openness in general made an impression on me. I understood that Brian saw social media was a great way in which to be open. By sharing research ideas openly on blogs and by being open to opportunities, he was able to progress his research and make connections with other researchers. Brian’s openness included (but was not limited to) making sure that his papers were all available on open access in his institutional repository, and you can read more in his scholarly work, via Brian’s profile at the University of Bath.

If you’re going to be open, you have to have something worth sharing, but researchers have lots of valuable ideas and findings worth sharing. If you want to share something then you have to choose the right channels to do so. I chose the plural “channels” quite deliberately here, because I don’t think it’s quite enough to only get your work into an academic journal (I know “only” sounds strange, given how difficult it can be!), not if your goal is to achieve real world impact. And for some researchers’ work, an academic journal is not the right channel anyway. The function of sharing and promoting research findings was once done by publishers and societies, with many disciplines relying on journals but in the world of the Internet, scholarly communication can and should be done by others too, and that’s part of why we need OA.

There is no need for researchers to limit their work to only one location and one communication channel. In the digital world there is even an argument that it should be in multiple locations, perhaps in different formats so that it suits different audiences. Change is happening in the digital world and scholarly communication needs to change too.

For me, scholarly communication is ultimately about reaching the right readers at the right time, with the right information.

As a librarian and information professional, I’ve always been glad to be a part of that process. The process is changing and new roles are being formed. (Aside: You can see how I keep coming back to Ranganathan’s laws of librarianship.) OA is not the only ingredient needed in order to achieve what I see as the ultimate goal, but it is a very helpful part of our toolkit. (And yes, I will be exploring with the students what else we need!)

If OA can be part of the foundations of the academic culture then so much the better, but I’d like to go one step further. I’d like the foundations to be openness in general. Openness to receiving criticism is necessary in academia, as well as openness to others’ entitlement to different views – although they must be prepared to defend them! Openness to improvements in methodologies, to collaborations, to sharing one’s data and findings: these are all ideals that I find among many academics, but I’m not sure that all scholars practice them at all times. It’s a tall order, but if we keep openness as the core principle then OA  and indeed Open Science practices would be as natural as a visit to the library would have been, for an academic of centuries gone by.