Friday, January 12, 2018

Looking ahead at Open Access and US Public Access

The following is adapted from my newsletter -- Inside Public Access, January 11, 2018

Synopsis: The New Year is a time for reflection and Richard Poynder has provided a good hook for reflecting on the US Public Access Program. He has posted a number of structured interviews with various open access thought leaders, basically asking where do we go from here? I have added some reflections on the US Public Access Program.

One of the striking features of the Poynder interview responses (see links below) is that there is no mention of Public Access Program, despite it being by far the biggest mandatory repository system in the world. It covers a significant fraction of all physical, medical and computer science publications, perhaps 20% or more. In some research areas US federal funding is dominant.

This lack of acknowledgement, or interest, is despite the fact that Richard specifically asks about the roles of (1) funders and (2) government. Public Access is all about government funders who build and operate extensive journal article collection systems and infrastructure to provide open access. What is not to like?

So having studied both public and open access for over five years now, I thought to reflect on this striking situation.

There seem to me to be at least two different things going on. First, the US Public Access Program is distributed, unnamed and not publicized. Second it is ideologically not popular with the OA movement, for various reasons.

To begin with, I have found in numerous discussions with OA people that there is a general lack of understanding of the Public Access Program.

It does not help that this large federal program has no actual name. I call it the "US Public Access Program" but that is just me. As a result, there is no simple way to reference or even to talk about it. Attempts to do so usually involve references to the 2013 OSTP memo, which is both awkward and sounds like something that happened a long time ago.

The fact that the Program is distributed among numerous funding agencies also makes it hard to see. Individual Public Access websites and guidance are all agency focused. There is almost no sense of this being an important government wide program.

I also see the agencies doing very little to publicize their parts of the Program. This may well be because these are not separately funded. Publicity efforts are often part of the funding cycle. The agencies are more interested in publicizing their research program successes and opportunities. Plus Public Access operates on a shoestring internal budget.

Lack of interest by the OA movement also has several sources. When NIH launched Public Access over ten years ago, that was big news. Extending the Program to the rest of the Federal Government is seen by many OA advocates as something of a lateral move, not as progress.

In particular, the 12 month embargo is now often seen as an obstacle, not an accomplishment. In this regard it is puzzling that no one that I know of has petitioned an agency for a shorter embargo period. One would think that such an action, which would get lots of publicity, is a natural accompaniment to the FASTR bill's 6 month embargo mandate.

Here I think that the deeper issue is that the open access movement is largely focused on the university community, not the funders or governments. Many, perhaps most, of the activists are university librarians.

So for example the focus is on building university repositories. This stands out clearly in the Poynder interviews. That the Public Access repositories probably dwarf the US university repositories is irrelevant. It is the mechanism, not the outcome, that is the focus of the movement.

More broadly there is the ideological idea of the university community owning open access. This is a fundamental reform, to which funder or government action is something of an outsider. That open access is up to the researchers and their institutions stands out in the Poynder responses, especially those from the university sector.

Despite the apparent indifference of the open access movement, the US Public Access Program does seem to be secure for now. The biggest strategic need is inter-agency integration. Now that the agency repositories are mostly up and running, there is a tremendous opportunity to provide government wide visibility. This could be very useful, both to the agencies and to the researchers.

In fact one can argue that the universities are far too independent, numerous and distributed to undertake strategic initiatives. This is actually one of the big reasons why there are governments. If so then while the Public Access Program may not be highly regarded by the open access movement, it may well be the best way forward for open access.

Here are the Richard Poynder interviews:

Poynder says this:

I have posted a number of responses to my question asking people what they think the stakeholders of scholarly communication should be doing now to fully realize the vision outlined at the 2002 meeting that led to the Budapest Open Access Initiative.

Below are the links to those responses:

 Danny Kingsley: Open Access: What should the priorities be today?

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe: Achieving the BOAI Vision: Possible Actions for Realization

Richard Fisher: Open Access and its Discontents: A British View from Outside the Sciences

Alison Mudditt: Realising the BOAI vision: The view from PLOS

Dominique Babini: Realising the BOAI vision: A view from the global South

Peter Suber: Realising the BOAI vision: Peter Suber's Advice

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