Open Access Week 2018 – Blogpost #5

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Welcome to the last of our special blogposts for Open Access Week 2018! It has been a busy week, but we hope that many people at RGU have learned a bit more about Open Access and are interested in continuing the conversation beyond today.

During our earlier blogposts, we looked at several issues associated with this year’s theme of “designing equitable foundations for open knowledge”. We considered the impact of communication limitations, identifying significant areas of the world as at risk of being marginalised in an online and predominantly English-speaking research environment, because of language barriers and limited Internet access. We also considered the role of wealth as an unbalancing factor in open research, with the danger of marginalising poorer individuals and groups if their needs are not properly accounted for in discussions around how to progress with Open Access. Finally, we also considered the needs of non-academic audiences, which need to be addressed by ensuring easy discovery and intelligibility of open research for it to be truly equitable and not simply the preserve of academics.

If you haven’t already, you might want to read those blogposts and think about whether there is anything that you personally can do to foster equality in an open future. Meanwhile, for the publications team, we return to “business as usual,” but that doesn’t mean that we stop doing Open Access! We are always happy to discuss Open Access and related issues, so please feel free to get in touch either in person at the library, or by e-mail at publications@rgu.ac.uk.

Open Access Week 2018 – Blogpost #4

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Welcome to the fourth of our special blogposts for Open Access Week 2018! Today we are thinking about this year’s theme of “designing equitable foundations for open knowledge” and focusing specifically on the issue of discovery of- and accessibility to research outside of the academic community.

Discovery

If Open Access is to be equitable, we must ensure that it is as easy as possible for anyone to discover open research, regardless of whether they are an academic with experience in using specialised databases, or whether they are a member of the general public with little- or no experience of searching for research. Among all Internet users, Google is an incredibly popular search tool – in September 2018, Google search represented roughly 77% of search engine market share.1 Its popularity means that any content-provider must ensure that their content is adequately indexed by Google, including research-related content. In addition to this, various specialised databases exist, which attempt to make it easier for people to discover openly-available research. For example, the European repository aggregator OpenAIRE aims to collect in one place all open, publicly-funded research from European institutions for the benefit of academics and non-academics alike.2

Different discovery services (including Google) have different requirements for what content-providers must do in order for their content to be properly indexed. These requirements affect how content is described on the website (what we call “metadata”), and they can vary greatly in what metadata they require and how that metadata should be presented. Sometimes these requirements can even be in conflict, which causes complications for content providers that then have to ensure that the same metadata is available in multiple ways. However, this kind of detailed metadata work is very important for ensuring equitable discovery of open access content; after all, how “open” is open research if people can’t find it?

Accessibility

Another important aspect of making research accessible to everyone is making it as easy as possible to read and understand, especially for non-academic audiences. Particularly in certain disciplines, research publications can be full of technical vocabulary and complex ideas that present a comprehension barrier for anyone outside that discipline. Of course, technical terms and difficult concepts are important for speed of communication between researchers within the same discipline; however, unless care is taken to ensure that research is made intelligible to other people as well, the research environment becomes limited to the “ivory tower” of academia, rather than openly accessible to all.

One possible solution to this is the use of “lay summaries,” which are already common in medicine and health.3 These short summaries explain a piece of research in a way that is easy for a non-expert to understand. Examples of where this is particularly useful include cases where patients or carers are participants in- or potential funders of medical research, or where charitable organisations want to ensure that the research they are funding is relevant to their missions. In general, lay summaries could help various audiences identify, understand and benefit from research that is applicable to their particular needs or interests. However, the majority of lay summaries are currently written only for grant applications, rather than being made available alongside the research outputs themselves.

Conclusions?

Open Access is meant to make it easier for everyone to access research, not just the academic community. In order for this equitable goal to be achieved, we must make sure that open research can be discovered and understood by anyone, regardless of their level of expertise. To this end, discovery services could do more to align their requirements for content indexing, to make it easier for content-providers to make their research outputs visible to the general public. Additionally, researchers could invest more time in creating lay summaries of their research – not just for grant applications, but also for their actual outputs, to make it easier for the general public to understand what the research is about.

 Feel free to share your own thoughts with the community, for example on Twitter (#openaccess https://twitter.com/search?q=%23openaccess), or send us an e-mail at publications@rgu.ac.uk! Also, don’t forget to check out our other activities for Open Access Week at https://www.rgu.ac.uk/open-access.


1 Based on information from NetMarketShare (https://bit.ly/2OvF8Th – checked 17.10.2018)

2 OpenAIRE mission and vision (https://www.openaire.eu/mission-and-vision – checked 17.10.2018)

3 Based on definition and use cases provided by the Digital Curation Centre (http://www.dcc.ac.uk/resources/how-guides/write-lay-summary – checked 17.10.2018)

Open Access Week 2018 – Blogpost #3

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Welcome to the third of our special blogposts for Open Access Week 2018! Today we are thinking about this year’s theme of “designing equitable foundations for open knowledge” and focusing specifically on the issue of wealth.

Wealth

Open Access can operate under a variety of different models, but none of them are without costs. For example, using what is called “Green Open Access” involves making research openly available on repositories and, while there is no immediate cost to researchers, there are costs involved in staffing the repository service and operating the platform itself. An alternative model is “Gold Open Access”, which involves making research openly available on publisher websites and involves payments to the publisher, either from the researchers or from third parties like learned societies who may fund the journal. In both models, the audience is able to access the research for free, but the costs have been shifted elsewhere, which means that having enough money to support the preferred model of Open Access remains an issue.

While the way in which Open Access models currently work may change in the near future as a result of the proposed “Plan S” (a potentially game-changing set of principles produced by Science Europe)1, the issue of how Open Access will be sustainably funded remains a challenging and often contentious topic. With Gold Open Access, publishers have previously been accused of “double-dipping” – by charging for expensive journal subscriptions while also charging researchers to make individual articles open access. Money spent on library subscriptions and article processing charges (for Gold Open Access) continues to increase, putting ever more pressure on institutional budgets trying to support this model of Open Access.2 Green Open Access remains a cheaper route in comparison to Gold Open Access, but has various shortfalls in terms of publisher-imposed embargoes and other restrictions, and also still requires institutions to finance their own repositories.

Debates on how models of Open Access should develop are ongoing and form a fundamental part of the general conversation around a transition to a more open research environment. However, the groups involved in those discussions are usually organisations that are relatively wealthy – well-funded universities in economically-privileged countries, or for-profit publishers – and which often have the loudest voices and the greatest financial clout. This means that there is a risk of overlooking other groups that are less well-off and which may be just as significantly affected by changing costs of Open Access. For example, independent researchers and smaller universities rarely have the funds to support Open Access in the same way as wealthier organisations; similarly, European researchers are privileged in terms of access to national funding for Open Access, which is not the case in many other parts of the world.3

Conclusions?

The costs of Open Access must be fair and sustainable. We do not want to be in a situation where you can only be “open” if you can afford it. The needs and perspectives of less wealthy parts of the global community should not be neglected in the process of forming new models for Open Access, otherwise the research landscape will be biased in favour of economically-privileged groups. At the same time, all stakeholders must address the issue of financial sustainability in a way that is fair and avoids destructive changes to the research ecosystem. For example, publishers provide various important contributions to the research process, such as editorial work and the provision of well-indexed databases, and educational institutions must respect publishers’ need for income in order to sustain these contributions. Likewise, publishers should respect the need for transparency in what they charge for subscriptions and Open Access, and must also recognise the reality of limited and dwindling institutional budgets.

Feel free to share your own thoughts with the community, for example on Twitter (#openaccess https://twitter.com/search?q=%23openaccess), or send us an e-mail at publications@rgu.ac.uk! Also, don’t forget to check out our other activities for Open Access Week at https://www.rgu.ac.uk/open-access.


1 For the official communication on “Plan S”, see the Science Europe website (https://www.scienceeurope.org/coalition-s/ – checked 17.10.2018).

2 See for example an analysis of institutional spending on article processing charges in Germany, Austria and the UK between 2014-2015 (Jahn, N. and Tullney, M. 2016. A study of institutional spending on open access publication fees in Germany. PeerJ, 4, article e2323. Available from: https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.2323 [checked 17.10.2018]). See on subscriptions the examples of cancelled deals listed by Sparc (https://sparcopen.org/our-work/big-deal-cancellation-tracking/ – checked 17.10.2018)

3 Discussion at the Scottish Higher Education Digital Libraries (SHEDL) “Read and Publish” event, 4th October 2018, University of Dundee.

Open Access Week 2018 – Blogpost #2

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Welcome to the second of our special blogposts for Open Access Week 2018! Today we are thinking about this year’s theme of “designing equitable foundations for open knowledge” and focusing specifically on the issues of Internet access and language.

Internet Access

Open Access is about making research freely available to as many people as possible. Additionally, for many disciplines, research becomes less relevant as it is superseded by later research, which means that speed of communication is vital. It is therefore the existence of the Internet that makes Open Access possible, by providing a platform through which the audience for a single piece of content can equate to billions of people and through which research findings can be rapidly disseminated.

However, it is not easy for everyone to access the Internet. According to various sources, only half of the world’s population are Internet users.1 Many people take Internet access for granted, but the reality is that there are still a significant number of people who effectively cannot reach “open access” content because they do not have reliable Internet access. This is the case even in otherwise highly-developed countries – for example, only 90% of households in the UK have Internet access.2 There are many potential reasons for the limited reach of the Internet, including barriers created by a lack of infrastructure, or social-, cultural-, economic- or political factors. As Open Access becomes an increasingly common element of scholarly communications, we must not overlook those potential audiences for whom Internet access cannot be taken for granted.

Language

English is the most frequently used language for Internet content. Online research outputs are no exception to this – a glance at the Scopus database suggests that at least 85% of all indexed research articles are written in English.3 Over time, the proportion of non-English research may increase, particularly because Open Access can make it easier for people to discover non-English research, resulting in that research getting more frequently read and cited, and therefore making it increasingly viable for researchers to publish in different languages. However, as the research environment becomes ever more open, we must remember that research can be accessed only by people who are able to read the language in which it is written, regardless of how “open” it may be otherwise.

Conclusions?

Privileges that exist within the world of communication must not be ignored. As well as investing in open research, the community should also engage in solutions for spreading Internet accessibility, for example by supporting government initiatives to extend communications infrastructure into remote regions, or other initiatives that aim to overcome less tangible challenges. As for language, perhaps more work could be done to increase the take-up of translation services within scholarly communications, making it possible for people to choose in which language they read openly available research?

Feel free to share your own thoughts with the community, for example on Twitter (#openaccess https://twitter.com/search?q=%23openaccess), or send us an e-mail at publications@rgu.ac.uk! Also, don’t forget to check out our other activities for Open Access Week at https://www.rgu.ac.uk/open-access.


1 Based on information for world Internet usage taken from Internet World Stats (https://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm – checked 16.10.2018), Statistica (https://www.statista.com/statistics/617136/digital-population-worldwide/ – checked 16.10.2018) and the International Telecommunications Union (https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx – checked 16.10.2018)

2 Based on information for UK Internet usage taken from the Office of National Statistics (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/householdcharacteristics/homeinternetandsocialmediausage/bulletins/internetaccesshouseholdsandindividuals/2018 – checked 16.10.2018)

3 Scopus (https://www.scopus.com/ – checked 16.10.2018)

Open Access Week 2018 – Blogpost #1

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Welcome to the first in our week-long series of special blogposts for Open Access Week! Each year, the Open Access community adopts a different theme for Open Access Week, encouraging us to think about specific aspects of open scholarly communication. This year’s theme is “designing equitable foundations for open knowledge” – it asks us to think about individuals and groups that might be negatively affected by the increasingly open nature of research, or whose specific needs and circumstances might be overlooked. Later this week we will look at some aspects of this theme in greater detail.

In addition to these blogposts, we are also doing various other activities across the week to help promote Open Access at RGU. These include a lunchtime pop-up stand that will be giving out free food, and several workshops for PhD students and other researchers in which we will be using games to discuss some important issues associated with research. A full list of our activities is available online: https://www.rgu.ac.uk/open-access.

Finally, Open Access is not just about RGU! There will be many other people and organisations engaging with Open Access Week worldwide. You can check out some of the conversations around Open Access by following the discussions on Twitter (#openaccess – https://twitter.com/search?q=%23openaccess).

We hope to see you at our pop-up stand around campus, or at our workshops!