The proposal was developed during the deliberations of the so-called Finch Group of publishers, libraries, universities and learned societies, which was commissioned by the UK government to thrash out a consensus on how to move to full open access in the UK.
The “Access to Research” initiative will provide online access to 8,400 journals published by many of the major academic publishers, including Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, Taylor and Francis and Nature Publishing Group.
Over half of local authorities have signed up their libraries to the scheme, which will initially run as a two-year pilot while interest is monitored.
Some open access advocates have criticised the scheme as a poor alternative to direct open access from users’ own computers – particularly in an era of library closures and falling library usage.
The Finch report, which was published in June 2012, said such a scheme “would not, of course, meet the demand for access at any time and anywhere. But access free of charge to any user of a public library would provide real benefits to many people who at present face considerable barriers if they want to find authoritative information about research relevant to their interests and needs.”
It expected the initiative to have a “major impact” – particularly if it was accompanied by a “clear marketing strategy” to alert people to its existence.
A spokeswoman for the Publishers Licensing Society said a “high profile” launch event at a London library would be attended by universities and science minister David Willetts, who praised the initiative for connecting students and small businesses in particular to “wealth of global knowledge - maximising its impact and value”. Other marketing tactics include press releases, social media initiatives and posters for libraries.
Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said the initiative “demonstrates publishers’ strong commitment to developing open access in the UK, and in taking forward the recommendations of the Finch review”.
Janene Cox, president of the Society of Chief Librarians, said it would “further cement the library as a local space for learning for the entire community”.