Monday, November 28, 2005

What if...

The human genome sequence is freely downloadable from Genbank and the European Bioinformatics Institute - thanks to the efforts of early open access pioneers.

What is this had not been the case?

Imagine that various different learned societies each ended up with the rights to a chunk of chromosome, and sold access rights to the DNA sequence in order to fund their charitable activities.

One can only imagine the furore that would have blown up if it had then been proposed to open up access to the DNA sequences.

Instead of an open access environment which allows all of humankind to put all of our greatest assets - the 6 billion or so human minds on the planet - into advancing medical knowledge, we could have had dollars for a few, comfortable conferences and lectures for the wealthy, and exclusion for everyone else.

Thanks to my anonymous friend and co-writer.

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Royal Society's Position Statement on Open Access

Recently, the Royal Society issued a Position Statement on 'Open Access', one of the few negative submissions to the RCUK consulation on open access. Many have already commented on this statement - Peter Suber succinctly states the major fallacies in his Nov. 24 comments on Open Access News, where links to many other responses can be found. Some thoughtful replies can be found on the American Scientist Open Access Forum thread, Not a Proud Day in the Annals of the Royal Society, initatied by Barbara Kirsop.

Here are a couple of notes on my perspective - in addition to agreement with comments by Peter Suber, Barbara Kirsop, Frederick Friend, Jean Claude Guedon, David Prosser, Adam Hodgkins, Iain Stevenson, Steve Hitchcock, Stevan Harnad, and others:

The Royal Society asserts that the goal of OA advocates is: "to stop commercial publishers from making profits from the publication of research that has been funded from the public purse. While some companies do appear to be making excessive profits from the publication of researchers' papers..."

Profits are not the issue, not even excessive profits! Access is the issue. Google is one commercial company that appears to be making lots of money from an open access approach, even if it's not primarily in the scholarly realm - kudos to google! BioMedCentral is a for-profit commercial open access publisher - I'm sure all OA advocates join me in wishing BMC nothing but success, including financial success.

Where the confusion may stem from is where a few organizations - both commercial publishers and not-for-profits - appear to be prioritizing profits over dissemination of scholarly knowledge. The fight of the American Chemical Society against PubChem is an excellent example of this. Making profits providing good service in the public interest (providing peer review and optimum dissemination of scholarly research - whether as an OA publisher or by providing full self-archiving rights) is a good thing. Using one's profits to actively lobby against the public interest, is something else altogether.

The Royal Society states, referring to repositories that: "Not all of these papers have been subjected to a quality control process, such as peer review and acceptance for publication by a journal". Comment: repositories may accept only peer-reviewed articles, or they may accept a wide variety of materials. The world wide web makes it easier to publish all kinds of material, not just peer-reviewed papers. Increasing publication of non-peer-reviewed material (conference presentations, working papers, student papers, etc.) is not a threat to the peer-review system. Peer-reviewed journals have existed alongside other kinds of publications for centuries in the print world - the existence of newletters and magazines has never been a threat to peer review, for example. It is important for readers to be able to distinguish content that is peer-reviwed and/or scholarly in nature, from material which is more popular in nature. This has long been true in the print world, and it will continue to be true into the future. This is one of the many reasons why information literacy is a essential skill for students to gain before they graduate.

The Royal Society states: "The Royal Society and other learned bodies currently use their publishing surpluses to fund activities such as academic conferences and public lectures..." This puzzles me, a little, and I would like to suggest a challenge for the Royal Society and other publishers following this approach. That is to say, in librarianship our associations run conferences on a cost-recovery or modest surplus basis, rather than subsidizing. We are not a well-funded discipline at all. Our associations need to keep membership fees and conference fees low, in order to be successful. If librarians can manage to make money from conferences, why does a well-funded discipline like chemistry need sudsidies? As for public lectures - unlike other disciplines, there are many highly profitable companies in chemistry, who have needs to promote and advertise their services. Also, many of whom are now focusing more on their social responsiblities. Why not ask these commercial interests to sponsor a public lecture series?

The Royal Society welcomes debate about open access. Debate has been going on for years, amongst funders, librarians, publishers, and scholars. While ongoing debate about the particulars is necessary, the time has come to shift focus from debate to action, from talking about open access to implementing open access, in my opinion.

I would like to point out one positive in the Royal Society statement: "The Society remains as committed now as it was when it was founded to promoting the exchange of knowledge, not just between scholars, but with wider society." It is good to see a scholarly society acknowledge that scholarship can benefit the wider public, not just scholars.

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Freedom Under Attack: A Song, a Healing Process, and Intellectual Property Law

My latest article, Freedom Under Attack: A Song, a Healing Process, and Intellectual Property Law, has just been published in Politics With Perspective.

Marcus' Banks Introduction and comments can be found on Marcus' World, Nov. 14, 2005.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

New blog! Announcing...OA Librarian

OA Librarian is a blog with two purposes.

The blog is designed to gather together major search sources for freely available information in library and information science. See the top right hand corner of the blog, which features links to the DOAJ LIS journal collection - 52 titles as of today, along with links to E-LIS and D-LIST, as well as key advocacy resources particularly relevant to libraries and librarians. The result is a combined pathfinder / news resource blog. The idea is to bookmark the page, for handy reference particularly to the free resources, a tool which will become of greater importance as the OA resources grow.

From my point of view, it is becoming more and more attractive to begin research with international resources such as DOAJ and E-LIS. I find that the results give me a much broader perspective than searching in a package including only articles in english, written by people whose background is very similar to mine. For LIS faculty, here is a thought: what about an assignment that actually requires the use of DOAJ and/or E-LIS, to take advantage of this broad, global perspective?

Postings are on topics relating to open access that are particularly relevant for libraries and librarians: comments on open access activities from our perspectives, thoughts about what librarians will be doing in an open access world, celebrations of OA library accomplishments and stories about OA advocate librarians.

OA Librarian is a team effort. Founding team members are Lesley Perkins, a recent graduate of UBC's SLAIS program, and member of the BCLA Information Policy Committee, Andrew Waller from the University of Calgary, who has done some co-writing and co-publishing on open access with me, and Marcus Banks from NYU, who is on the editorial board at the open access journal, Biomedical Digital Libraries. Marcus' own blog, Marcus' World, includes the journal-within-a-blog Politics With Perspective, one of the inspirations for the Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics, which is a blog which is a journal - sort of. Comments are welcome on OA Librarian, and there is room for more on the blog team, so if you would like to join, let one of us know!

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Canada Telcom Policy: Urgent Action Item

Canada's telecommunications policy is under review - and it should come as no surprise that big industry players have dominated the process. Canadians believe that our federal government has an obligation to ensure access to telecommunications for the disabled, the poor, and those in rural areas. Companies want to want to reduce the role of the regulator, so that companies are free to offer what telecommunications services they want, where they want, at the price they want, and under the conditions they want.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Consumers' Association of Canada, the National Anti-Poverty Organization, and the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), have filed a joint submission, and are calling on other organizations to sign a brief declaration. Comments are due November 10, so action is urgent.

Details can be found on the CIPPIC web site at:

The Canadian Library Association submission states: "First and foremost, we advance the idea that panelists must think of the review as an opportunity to reinforce its commitment to providing access to all Canadians". A link to the full submission can be found from:

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Open Access Economics: Funding Agencies and Leverage

Funding agencies and other groups are beginning to make commitments to providing monies for publishing fees. In addition to providing direct support for open access publishing, this could be an opportunity for libraries to leverage additional change.

Here is a thought: if publishers are beginning to receive revenue from a new stream (publishing charges for open access), subscription fees should decrease by a correponding amount, should they not? Indeed, has not Springer promised this with their Open Choice program? Something to keep in mind when that renewal comes up...

Why not use these savings to create a fund to support further open access publishing? This could take a number of approaches, such as paying for membership fees to open access publishers, or fully or partially paying publication fees on a per-article basis.

From my point of view, one of the keys to success of a production-based economics model is ensuring that it is cost effective. There are likely many ways to encourage cost effectiveness. Here is one idea: Libraries could fund publication fees based on a sliding scale. For example, modest publication costs (e.g. $500 per article) could be paid in full, with a decreasing percentage of the fee paid based on the amount - e.g. 80% of costs up to $1,000, 75% up to $1,500, and so forth. This ensures that faculty are aware of the costs of publication, at least whenever the costs are high enough that it is important to be aware.

Here is a thought for libraries wondering where the monies for staffing to adminster such a system might come from: why not interlibrary loans staff? Why knows more about how to manage payment for information on an item-by-item basis, or how to make a system based on this as efficient as humanly possible? One reason this makes sense is that every article that becomes open access no longer needs to be obtained, by anyone, through interlibrary loan (staff may help patrons to discover the item, but there will not be a need to request from another library, track and pay for the service, etc.). It seems logical that there would be some correspondence between the percentage of material becoming open access, and a decrease in interlibrary loans - perhaps slow at first, then gradually growing.

This strikes me as a relatively smooth, and humane, way to manage the transition. There must be other ways to manage the transition that will make it as seamless as possible for everyone, staff at publishing houses included.

Many thanks to those who participated in the breakout session on policy issues at OAI4, who inspired this train of thought.

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.