Open Access to Research Is Inevitable, Libraries Are Told

WASHINGTON, D.C. Public access to research is “inevitable,” but it will be a slog to get to it. That was the takeaway message of a panel on the role libraries can play in supporting current and future public-access moves. The panel was part of the program at the membership meeting of the Association of Research Libraries, held here yesterday and today.

“I now believe that having public access to most scholarly communications is inevitable,” said David Shulenburger, vice president for academic affairs at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. “Faculty are coming to understand, finally, that this has to happen if they’re going to have the most scholarly opportunities to get things done.”

Still, many scholars need the hard sell from colleagues and librarians about the benefits of open access. Lorraine J. Haricombe, dean of the University of Kansas Libraries, described the “foot soldiering” and outreach that had to be done before Kansas’s faculty passed an open-access resolution earlier this year. It required some “very, very challenging conversations” with scholars worried about peer review and copyright issues, Ms. Haricombe said.

Bernard Schutz, director of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, in Potsdam, Germany, stressed how far the United States lags behind Europe and other parts of the world on the open-access frontier. Of the 266 signers of the Berlin Declaration, a 2003 statement endorsing open-access principles, only six are based in the United States, he said.

Physics researchers rely on being able to share findings through the open repository arXiv, housed at Cornell University, as well as through subscription-only databases and journals, Mr. Schutz observed. It’s important to maintain the prestige of peer-reviewed journals, he said, and just as necessary to help those journals make the transition to open access. He urged libraries to push their home institutions to adopt open-access policies and to support new electronic OA journals.

Researchers who can’t tap into the latest research, whether it’s in arXiv or a journal, can’t fully participate in the conversation. “Those are a lot of people who could be reading my papers, and they’re not,” Mr. Schutz joked.

The “killer app” of open access, Mr. Schutz said, would be something that gave researchers the means to dig past metadata and do full-text searches. “I want really useful tools that understand context to retrieve text intelligently, hunt down key equations, ensure completeness of bibliographies, help assess the real impact of a scientist’s work,” he said.

Sayeed Choudhury, associate dean of the Library Digital Program at the Johns Hopkins University and director of the Digital Data and Curation Center there, gave a tantalizing glimpse into a future where vast swathes of data will be available to researchers anywhere. Johns Hopkins’s Data Conservancy project has a grant from the National Science Foundation to help develop part of the NSF’s ambitious DataNet project, which aims to build an international, large-scale data-curation network. “We have to think about how we’re going to reach across all these data domains,” Mr. Choudhury said.





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