fredag 23 mars 2012

Open Access, scholarly communication and the academic library

It has been about a decade now since the start of what is generally referred to as the Open Access Movement, starting off with the Budapest manifesto in 2001. The thought was to break the paradigm in scholarly communication dominated by commercial publishers and constrained copyright agreements. Emerging new, more communicative, ways of using the internet was paving the way for a more open way of disseminating scientific results. In this development academic libraries have come to play an important, but not uncomplicated, role. Open access is primarily directed at two kinds of output: academic journals and open institutional repositories. In the latter case, libraries in higher education institutions (HEI) have in many cases been (and are) responsible for the development.

During the last couple of years a number of studies in LIS research have focused on the actual development of open access, both from a library point of view, and a scholarly. Did it indeed change the patterns of scholarly communication as it was intended to? Has the role of academic libraries increased in relation to research processes and publication strategies of teaching faculty? Well, the situation is evidently quite complex and somewhat ambiguous. There seem to be a general agreement that open access is an amendable initiative, and that the possibilities really are there. But, when it comes down to real action, there seems to be a lot left to wish for.

In many countries today academic libraries work with the development of open institutional repositories. Sometimes these are shared between more than one HEI, as the Swedish DiVA. These repositories might be of value to the institutions they serve, they might provide an insight between faculty in individual universities, and the might be good for individuals that may publish their collected research output in one place, thus achieving a very dynamic list of references. The problem seems to be, that the scholars themselves do not see these advantages to a very high degree – if indeed they are aware of their existence. Instead there does not seem to be much that indicates any significant change in the patterns of scientific communication and publications of research results. The commercially based system of ranked academic journals still holds up against a more “free” way of publishing, and the question is whether academic libraries in any way can influence this. Libraries have, ever since the the “modern” scientific journal emerged in the mid 17th century held a very strong position as the very institutions where scientific results are kept available. Even though it has not been without trouble (extraordinary raising costs etc), one can claim that they still hold this position today. An open access alternative does not perhaps constitute a threat to libraries, but they sure do not seem to know what to do with it. Without doubt the potential is there, especially with the development and hosting of institutional repositories. But if this is to work, if academic libraries will be able to meet their positive attitudes to open access and their contribution to it, they evidently need to bring communication with local scholars to a whole new label. There is no reason why they could not, but the initiative must come from the library side. Scholars still tend to rely on more traditional ways of publishing, where the award system is well known and stable.

The most significant agent now, meeting the increasing social demands for open access that we see today, are various forms of funding agencies and research councils, not least in Sweden. Many of them now demand some form of open access publishing if tax payers’ money should be spent on research projects. Perhaps it is through these agencies academic libraries should go to strengthen their position in relation to scientific publishing strategies among the scholars in their HEI’s. The perceived uncertainty of open access as a “threat” or not might just find its answer there and yet another distinct role for academic libraries emerge – to the benefit of open access to research results.


As mentioned, a number of studies on these issues have been published during the last couple of years. Here are a few examples:

Creaser, C (2010) “Open access to research outputs: institutional policies and researcher’s views: results from two complementary surveys”. New Review of Academic Librarianship, Vol. 16, 4-25.

Cullen, R. & Chawner, B. (2011) “Institutional repositories: open access and scholarly communication: a study of conflicting paradigms”. Journal of Academic Librarianship, Vol. 37(6), 460-470.

Haglund, L. & Olsson, P. (2008)”The impact on university libraries of changes in information behavior among academic researchers: a multiple case study. Journal of Academic Librarianship, Vol. 34(1), 52-59.

Palmer, K., Dill, E. & Christie, C. (2009) "Where there's a will there's a way?: survey of academic librarian attitudes about open access". College & Research Libraries, Vol. 70(4), 315-355.