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What can Bloggers do for Open Access?

Last Saturday I participated in a Bar Camp in Delhi. This was organized by IBNMS [1] and was named as Blog Camp Delhi [2]. I learned that the philosophy of such Bar Camps [3] is that everyone has to contribute in some way or the other. So, I decided to give a presentation on Open Access [4]. I knew I will be talking to entirely wrong audience. As the theme was on blogging, obviously the people can be expected to be more interested in the art of blogging and monetising their blogs. Most would be young and might not have tasted the frustration of obtaining scholarly articles [5]. But, I had no other way to contribute. I went ahead with my decision to give a presentation on my favorite topic i.e. Open Access.

I finally took a session on it - Open Access: What it is and why it is required for scholarly community?

While working on my presentation, I was always thinking on how to make it relevant to expected participants of blog camp. Without any lose of time, I thought of Peter Suber [6]. After all, he has been blogging on Open Access for years now. We are getting all the latest news on Open Access from his Open Access News blog [7]. But then, he is an Open Access advocate. Blogging is just a media for his advocacy of open Access. Many other like him are advocates first and bloggers afterwards. However, my job was to tell an audience that might not even know what scholarly literature is.

How to tell them that there is a community that does things just for the sake of science and advancement of knowledge? This Community of academicians, scientists and scholars has different value system. Here, the reputations of community members largely depend upon papers they publish and references they get to these papers. So, they need to publish papers to remain relevant in the community. This helps them to get promotions and other career advancements. Scholarly papers are often based on original research done in systematic manner over a period of time. Research is never done in vacuum but is always based on existing knowledge. New research aims to extend the baseline of existing knowledge in a specific domain. This requires searching and ‘consumption’ of relevant scholarly papers related to their research. Once the research is completed, the results are included in manuscripts for getting published as articles in scholarly journals. Before an article can be published in a journal, it has to undergo a process called peer-review [8]. In this process, the manuscript submitted by authors is referred to two or three scholars working in similar area. Editorial board consisting of eminent scholars takes final decision to accept or reject paper based on comments of reviewers. It can also send back manuscripts to authors for modification and resubmission. So, it is the members of same scholarly community that are playing the roles of consumers (researchers and scholars) of previously published papers, producers (as authors) as well as quality controllers (as peer-reviewers and editorial board members). All these players are contributing to science and knowledge without seeking immediate monetary benefits. However academic publishing business is more often guided by commercial interests. Publishers insist on exclusive transfer of copyrights of authors in their favour. While authors of books, non-scholarly and popular literature negotiate in terms of royalties, scholarly authors give away their rights without caring much about monetary benefits. Thus, years of hard work is given away for free by scholars so that their papers can be published. The same is then sold back to the same community at a very high subscription rates.

Scholars, academicians and scientists need to access knowledge locked up in high cost journals for conducting new research. It is same knowledge which they themselves had created. It means, only those researchers and scholars can access this locked up knowledge whose employers and institutes can afford to purchase this knowledge. This creates inequalities of access to knowledge. That results in inequalities in efficiency of producing new knowledge. Poor and developing nation are most hit as they can not spend much on purchasing scholarly journals in foreign currencies to the level of developed countries.

Thanks to Internet, things are changing now. Research can be reported much quickly. Authors can submit their manuscripts online. Manuscript management and online publishing has become much easier especially with manuscript management systems like Open Journal System [9]. All processes, from assignment of peer-reviewers to bringing out a new issue can be done online. Which means journal publishing now is much cheaper and prompt. Number of online journals have come up in last decade. Even the traditional journals now have online versions. Wait, that does not necessarily means that what all is available online can be accessed for free. However many journals do provide free access to their full content. Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) [10] lists about 3390 open access journals. Out of which around 100 are from India [11]. These Open Access journals do whatever the traditional scholarly journals do for publishing peer-reviewed articles. Only difference is that they provide online access to anybody and everybody for free. Open Access journals are free to readers but obviously not free to produce. There are various business models for producing open access journals. Most professional societies have their official journals. These are distributed to society members. The parent society takes care of publication costs. Many such society journals have online version. These are normally accessible for free. In India, most online society journals come under this category. Then there are public funded organisations engaged in research and its promotion. These also publish research journals and make their online versions free. The best citied journal from India, Indian Journal of Medical Research [12], falls under this category. Somewhat controversial but successful model is being adopted by Open Access Publishers like PLoS [13] and BioMed Central [14]. Here once the article gets selected for publication after peer-review process, the author needs to pay a fee [15][16]. Popularity of such publishers with such a author-pays model sometime confuse people to belief that open access is all about author-pays and free-to-reader model of publishing. No, Open Access publishing of scholarly literature can be done through number of business models. The model adopted by publishers like PLoS and BioMed is just one of models.

There is one more route to open access. Here, the authors or other right holders retain [17] and exercise their right to self-achieve their papers in publically accessible digital repositories. These could be repositories run by their institutions (Institutional Repositories) or Subject Repositories allowing self-archiving without considering institutional affiliation of the authors. Number of universities, academic institutions and research funding agencies are making Open Access via such repositories mandatory [18]. Recently in U.S., NIH voluntary Public Access Policy has been made mandatory through an Act [19]. University faculties are becoming aware of benefits of archiving for open access, for example on 6th May 2008, Harvard Law faculty voted for 'open access' to their scholarly articles [20] through digital repositories. Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR) had 1065 registered repositories with it as on 21st May 2008 worldwide [21].

I don’t know how much people in blogging or the wider domain of New Media know about this strange model of academic publishing. However bloggers, once made aware of it , can help open access movement [22] in number of ways. One way is to blog on Open Access itself. There are few already there and well established like the one by Peter Suber [7]. Some others which I know are OA Librarian [23]; The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics [24] and I will also mention the one from student community – Open Students: students for open access to research [25]. Second way is to blog about various open access resources. Every day, number of resources including journals, repositories, open courseware etc are launched and announced. These could be evaluated, annotated and listed under well planned categories (or tags) in a blog. Links of such tags or categories automatically collate resources into listings of related posts. It could be very similar to ‘Digital Scholarship’ [26]. Third way has to do more with subject experts. Scientists and Scholars can blog on how to promote open access within their own subject domain. Open Access Anthropology: Promoting Open Access in Anthropology [27] is beautiful example. Very similar concept has been highlighted in a presentation - Blogging Archaeology: creating an Open Access source for knowledge [28]. Fourth way is to blog about Peer-Reviewed Research. All such blog posts can be aggregated at one place [29]. There could be many more ways to promote Open Access through blogging.

Further Readings:

  1. Indian Blog & New Media Society.
  2. Blog Camp Delhi.
  3. Bar Camp.
  4. Open Access Overview.
  5. Scholarly vs. Popular Articles.
  6. Peter Suber.
  7. Open Access News.
  8. Peer-review.
  9. Open Journal Systems.
  10. DOAJ.
  11. DOAJ Search for Journals from India.
  12. Indian Journal of Medical Research.
  13. PLoS.
  14. BioMed Central.
  15. PLoS: FAQ - Questions about publication fees.
  16. BioMed Central: Frequently asked questions about BioMed Central's article-processing charges.
  17. Author Rights: Using the SPARC Author Addendum to secure your rights as the author of a journal article.
  18. Registry of Open Access Repository Material Archiving Policies.
  19. Revised Policy on Enhancing Public Access to Archived Publications Resulting from NIH-Funded Research.
  20. Harvard Law faculty votes for 'open access' to scholarly articles.
  21. Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR).
  22. Timeline of the Open Access Movement.
  23. OA Librarian -
  24. The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics -
  25. Open Students: students for open access to research -
  26. Digital Scholarship.
  27. Open Access Anthropology: Promoting Open Access in Anthropology.
  28. Blogging Archaeology: creating an Open Access source for knowledge –
  29. Research Blogging: Discussing and creating peer-reviewed research.


ReneeBC said...

Dear Sukhdev

Not sure if you've heard of OPEN EVERYTHING?

You will also enjoy one of our Shuttleworth Foundation's blogger's -- Mark Surman

Anonymous said...

Dear Sukhdev,


CocoDivaDog said...

Hi Sukhdev,
You mention 23 OA librarians.
How can I find them? I looked, but maybe I missed your link?
I ask because I am a school librarian and am researching Indian school library Websites.

Sukhdev Singh said...

I Checked link again. It is working.