‘Dismal’ start for Access to Research initiative

Academic criticises ‘inadequate nature’ of free public open access service

August 14, 2014

Source: Alamy

Available: the scheme offers access to more than 10 million academic articles

A scheme that offers the public free access to taxpayer funded research has got off to a “dismal” start, according to one academic.

Peter Murray-Rust, a reader in molecular informatics at the University of Cambridge, claimed that the Access to Research initiative, which makes some paywalled journal articles freely available to the public at libraries, offers a substandard open access service.

Figures released on 6 August reveal that more than 14,500 people have used the scheme, which is free for councils to join, since it launched in February.

The two-year pilot, led by the Publishers Licensing Society, offers access to more than 10 million academic articles. More than 160 local authorities, or 80 per cent, have now signed up. Libraries in London, Manchester and Taunton had the most users in the first four months of the scheme, and in July the top-ranked search term was “dementia”, a statement from the PLS adds.

The PLS calls the number of users a “good start”, adding that it takes time for local authorities to approve contracts, train staff and start promoting the service. “Now the majority of local authorities are on board we expect [the number of users] to increase as libraries start actively promoting Access to Research to customers,” it adds.

But others disagree. Dr Murray-Rust said that the total number of users reported in six months indicated that just half a person per day was accessing the service in each local authority involved.

“That is appalling,” he said. “It is a pretty dismal record that represents the inadequate nature of the scheme. Money in this is wasted compared with funding truly open resources.”

However, the PLS rejected his calculation, stating that the initiative started with just 10 local authorities in February 2014, with local authorities joining month on month and not reaching 80 per cent participation until July 14.

Dr Murray-Rust continued: “It is a sop to government in providing a substandard service that can be claimed as a contribution to openness…We need a much better commitment to making research…completely openly available.”

Graham Steel, lead coordinator of Open Science Scotland, a non-profit organisation that promotes open content, said that he welcomed efforts to improve access to academic research but described the scheme as “draconian in nature”.

He added: “Online resources such as CORE [COnnecting REpositories] provide access to more than 20 million open access articles. As such, why physically visit a public library when you have access to much more content for free online?”

holly.else@tsleducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

It is important to highlight three misleading inaccuracies in your article entitled 'Dismal' start for Access to Research initiative', since these inaccuracies will potentially damage a valuable new service being offered to the public from their local libraries. Firstly, the view that the start has been "dismal" is based upon an incorrect analysis of the number of users. Dr Murray-Rust asserts that half a person per day has accessed the service in each local authority since its launch. This figure assumes that all library users in each local authority had access to the service from day one, when in fact local authorities have been joining the scheme individually over the last few months. Usage levels are dependent on public demand for the service and this in turn can vary according to the level of promotion of the service by each library once they have signed up to it and have trained their staff to use it. In the last 3 weeks a further 3,300 people have used the service, bringing the total number of users up to 17,800. Secondly, Access to Research is described as being an "open access" service. This is misleading. The initiative implements a recommendation of the Finch Group which is not of itself concerned with open access publication but rather with providing public library users with free access to articles already published under the subscription model. Thirdly, Dr Murray-Rust asserts that money spent on this scheme is being "wasted". This suggests confusion over the source of funding. The scheme, which is entirely free to use, is not funded by public money. It has been funded entirely by the Publishers Licensing Society, a not for profit organisation, on behalf of publishers who have themselves provided their articles for free. The software used to run the service, Summon, has been provided for free by ProQuest. Through the Access to Research initiative, the UK's publishers are giving the public free and easy access to more than 10 million academic articles. This is a wealth of knowledge that has a myriad of uses. We hope THE readers themselves will take advantage of this. Sarah Faulder CEO, Publishers Licensing Society

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