All of which serves as a kind of explanation of why I have come to think that we need to revisit the Budapest Open Access Initiative's obsession with information technology:
An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the internet. The public good they make possible is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds. Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge. (see http://www.soros.org/openaccess/read)BOAI promises that the "new technology" of the Internet (actually the Web) will transform our relationship to knowledge. But that was also one of the promises of the electric telegraph a century ago
From the telegraph's earliest days, accounts of it had predicted "great social benefits": diffused knowledge, collective amity, even the prevention of crimes. (Telegraphic realism: Victorian fiction and other information systems by Richard Menke.)There has been much good and effective work to support OA from both technical and policy perspectives - Southampton's part includes the development of the EPrints repository platform as well as the ROAR OA monitoring service - but critics still point to a disappointing amount of fruit from our efforts. Repositories multiply and green open access (self-deposited) material increases; knowledge about (and support for) OA has spread through academic management, funders and politicians, but it has not yet become a mainstream activity of researchers themselves. And now, a decade into the Open Access agenda, we are grasping the opportunity to replay all our missteps and mistakes in the pursuit of Open Data.
I am beginning to wonder whether by defining open access as a phenomenon of scholarly communication, we mistakenly created from the outset an alien and unimportant concept for the scientists and scholars who long ago outsourced the publication process to a support industry. As a consequence, OA has been best understood by (or most discussed by) the practitioners of scholarly and scientific communication - librarians and publishers - rather than by the practitioners of scholarship and science.
We have seen that the challenge of the Web can't be neatly limited to dissemination practices. In calling for researchers open the outputs of their research, we inevitably argue with researchers to reconsider the relationship that they have with their own work, their immediate colleagues, their academic communities, their institutions, funders and their public. It turns out that we haven't been able to divorce the output of research from the conduct and the context of research activity. Let's move on from there.
In a recent paper Openness as infrastructure, John Wilbanks discussed the three missing components of an open infrastructure for science: the infrastructure to collaborate scientifically and produce data, the technical infrastructure to classify data and the legal infrastructure to share data - extending the technical infrastructure with a legal framework. I think that we need to go further and refocus our efforts and our rhetoric about "Open Access to Scientific Information" towards "Open Activity by Scientists" supported by three kinds of infrastructure:
- Human Engagement
- Methodological Analysis and
- Social Trust.
What I'm saying isn't new - there has been lots of effort and discussion about improving the benefits of repository technology to the end user/researcher, and about lowering the barriers of use. JISC have funded a number of projects in its Deposit programme, trying various strategies to increase user engagement with OA. As well as continuing to pursue this approach, we also need to step back from obsessing about the technology of information delivery, think bigger thoughts about scientific people and scientific practice and tell a bigger and more relevant story.