Thursday 31 January 2013

The Basics of Scholarly Communications in the UK

In the decade since the Budapest Open Access Initiative declared a new public good, there have been many expositions of the advantage and inevitability of Open Access and its consequences for new modes of scientific enquiry. Tony Hey (who has just claim to 'first cause' of UK open access in his position of Head of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton)  has recently started a series of blog posts A Journey to Open Access that gives a very accessible introduction to the topic. Stevan Harnad (who was given a chair in ECS by the same Tony Hey) also blogs extensively at Open Access Archivangelism.

In my lesser role of championing repositories and developing the capabilities of the EPrints platform, I have had the privilege of working with library and information professionals to try to explain the principles of Open Access to a broad range of academics and researchers, and I have been struck by the almost total lack of understanding of the UK scholarly communication infrastructure shown by my research colleagues.

To help those who have been too busy writing papers to appreciate how those papers appear and now find themselves ├╝ber-confused and offended by the Finch regime, I offer the following diagram as an introduction to Everything You Need To Know on the topic. Forget the dissemination of papers and the transfer of knowledge that form the scholarly publishing cycle, this is all about influence and power.
Publishing companies have pushed governments towards Gold Open Access (more money for publishers) and pulled universities away from Green Open Access (no-cost parallel dissemination).  Researchers themselves have sided with publishing companies and learned societies (who act like sub-branches of publishing companies) to try to maintain the stability of the publishing industry, irrespective of the health of the university sector on which it depends!

Consequently, we now have a government proposal (the Finch report) to pay publishers twice! Once to make UK research open access whilst still retaining subscription access to the non-UK material. It's a kind of Westminster Open Access Initiative stating that an old tradition of scholarly publishing and a new technology of the Web have converged to make possible an unprecedented injection of public cash for publishers

The only reasonable way forward is for researchers to take the initiative, and to show the kind of academic leadership that Professors Hey and Harnad demonstrated a decade ago - to start being proactive in their own scholarly communications. The easiest way to do that is to start using the existing repository infrastructure provided by their universities and supported by their libraries. 

Researchers already hold all the cards, they don't need to be held to ransom in this Finchian standoff. They are the producers and consumers and quality control agents that create every aspect of the literature, they are also the community that defines its own criteria for professional advancement and assessment. Everything they think that they depend on the publishing industry for, they can actually achieve for themselves.