Academics take the initiative in open access debate

March 17, 2005

Brussels, 16 Mar 2005

Following a recent meeting of researchers, university librarians and publishers, practical measures are being taken to provide international open access to scientific papers on the Internet.

In October 2003, a meeting of international research organisations in Germany resulted in the Berlin declaration to promote open access to knowledge in the sciences and humanities. The 55 signatories of the declaration included universities, research institutes, funders of research and academies from across Europe, and from countries including China and Egypt.

At the beginning of March, backers of the Berlin declaration were invited to a meeting in Southampton in the UK, to try and identify practical ways of implementing their stated commitment to open access. They came up with a solution which they hope will circumvent some of the objections that have been raised to the idea of free access to research, such as who will foot the bill for publishing costs.

Universities and other institutions will seek to encourage academics to archive their research papers in online databases that can be accessed by anyone who chooses, provided the author gives their consent. According to advocates of the idea, the system would not only benefit researchers, but funders, universities and even publishers too.

The Southampton meeting concluded that: 'In order to implement the Berlin Declaration, institutions should: (1) implement a policy to require their researchers to deposit a copy of all their published articles in an open access repository; and (2) encourage their researchers to publish their research articles in open access journals where a suitable journal exists and provide the support to enable that to happen.'

Stevan Harnad, a professor at Southampton University and leading proponent of open access, said after the meeting: 'Everybody will benefit from it - researchers will be able to access what they could not before and the impact of their research will go up. At last those who agree open access is a good thing know how to provide it.' He also argued that open access to research papers would not undermine sales of those scientific journals in which they were originally published, but would in fact increase their impact in terms of the number of times they are cited.

The most recent example of just such an initiative came on 14 March, when 16 university heads in Scotland concluded a Scottish declaration on open access, committing their institutions to setting up online libraries of research papers that all academics can access. They will also examine the possibility of setting up a joint repository, and some will even make it mandatory for their researchers to publish their work on an open access basis.

Derek Law, librarian at the University of Strathclyde, said: 'There is now clear evidence that open access articles are more frequently cited. If Scottish-based research is made available through open access it will be cited more, which means it will, by definition, be read more.

'The hope is that this will in turn lead both to a positive cycle of increased research funding and also to increased inward investment as business recognises the added value of a powerful research base.'

For further information, please consult the following web address:
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