Inaccessible research

March 6, 2014

In the article “Open access may have little impact on time-poor firms” (News,  February), representatives of the publisher Elsevier suggest that achieving the UK government’s goal of full open access to publicly funded research would not have a transformative effect on small and medium-sized enterprises because they need tools as well as content to pinpoint research and lack time to wade through journals.

Research has shown that SMEs do use academic research but many find access difficult, time-consuming and costly.

In a survey conducted for the Publishing Research Consortium, Mark Ware found that 73 per cent of UK SMEs reported having difficulties accessing research articles, and just 2 per cent reported having access to all the articles they needed. In a smaller survey of Danish high-tech SMEs, conducted on behalf of the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation, colleagues and I found that 48 per cent of SMEs rated research articles very or extremely important for their work, but 79 per cent reported having difficulties accessing the articles they needed. The main difficulties related to paywall and technical paywall-related access barriers.

Crucially, we found that generic search engines are by far the most commonly used means of discovery. None of the firms surveyed obtained access to articles presenting difficulties through public libraries. The concept of access via public libraries is no longer appropriate in the digital desktop era.

The proposed “tools”, in the form of paywall-controlled proprietary access silos, are the problem, not the solution. Science publishing is now where mainframe computing was in the 1970s, with incompatible proprietary systems in which hardware (tools) and software (articles) were tightly coupled to keep users within the proprietary walled garden.

I suggest that the UK government pursue an open access policy that separates publishing services from both tools and content. Doing so will create the conditions for innovation based on open access and open licence content, and ensure that small firms have the resources they need to make the most of open access.

John Houghton
Victoria University, Australia

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

  • Boats docked in Port Hercule, Monaco

Richard Murphy praises a bold effort to halt tax-dodging by the 1 per cent

It’s a question with no easy answer, finds James Derounian

  • James Fryer illustration (19 November 2015)

With no time for proper peer review and with grade inflation inevitable, one academic felt compelled to resign

  • Worker checks thin-film silicon solar module, Truebbach

Asia doubles representation while European countries face varied performance

  • Lisa Mckenzie, Class War Party candidate, Chingford

Anarchist academic reflects on what her recent brush with the law says about threats to academic freedom