Open Access in English

ORBi reached the milestone of 20,000 publications deposited, 70% being in « full text » (every effort should be made to not fall below this percentage, the ideal goal obviously being to reach 100%) . The 20,000 figure was reached a month before mid-November, the earlier forecast date. A remarkable achievement indeed!
In ORBI’s statistics section, an analysis of the most consulted and downloaded publications has shown that a significant number belongs to the field of human sciences. There are of course a number of specialized internet websites (PubMed for example) in various fields of the exact and life sciences that researchers worldwide are used to systematically consulting which are better indexed than our repository because of their content richness and reputation. This has created a certain bias in favour of other fields within ORBi. Nevertheless, ORBi undoubtedly helps increase the visibility of other fields which have less profited by the development of international thematic repositories. I am very encouraged by this.
This is thus a very opportune time to celebrate « Open Access Week » . EOS will be participating in the « Working Together to Strengthen Research in Europe » conference organized by the European Commission, which will address the issues of Open Access and institutional repositories. In the near future, the Union is expected to request that publications resulting from research financed by Europe be put online in Open Access. We will certainly support this demand, so that our researchers will always be a step ahead thanks to ORBi.

Three months after the failed launching of EOS (Enabling Open Scholarship) last June, we can finally announce that this new organization has started up and that its website is operational. A introductory presentation was broadcast worldwide. EOS’s objective is to bring together university decision makers who wish that have all publications from their research institutions systematically deposited in institutional repositories.

ORBi is approaching the 18,000 reference mark, 72% of which are in full text.
More important than the number of entries is the number of full texts. Indeed, the University could content itself with a simple bibliographical index which would give it access to the titles and simple metadata of the scientific production of its researchers, but would then miss the opportunity to make the real material accessible to all who may be interested. To make this type of access available to all, it is absolutely indispensible that the content be complete, even embellished by complementary data of various kinds (gross data, photos, videos, audio recordings, etc.) and that the search engines be able to find the keywords within the texts themselves, which must thus be entirely visible.
We can pride ourselves on having developed the technology necessary for ORBi to function as well as on having convinced most to participate even if many were reticent at the beginning. Those who have made the commitment fully realize today how easy it is to continue feeding the repository as they continue to publish.
We can also be proud of the professionalism with which the Library Network team took on the task. The quality of their work can be clearly felt. Unlike many universities, which ask their library, temporary and student workers to do the encoding according to information provided by researchers in paper format, we allowed those most concerned to be responsible for their own encoding (which they did when they realized that they were indeed the most concerned). Many institutions hardly reach the mark of 20% of documents in full text, spend a huge amount of money doing so, and encounter little success. There is also the danger that encoders run out of steam and researchers get discouraged. Our approach, even if less popular with researchers at the beginning, has proved to be effective for everyone concerned.
According to the Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR), the University of Liege occupies the 54th position among the 802 known institutional repositories in terms of the total number of references (this is an objective ranking, based on a single and thus acceptable criterion).
« It is one of the noblest duties of a university to advance knowledge and to diffuse it, not merely among those who can attend the daily lectures, but far and wide ».
(Daniel Coit Gilman, first President, Johns Hopkins University, 1878)
« An institutional repository …
• fulfils a university’s mission to engender, encourage and disseminate scholarly work;
• gathers a complete record of its intellectual effort;
• provides a permanent record of all digital output;
• acts as a research management tool;
• is a marketing tool for universities;
• provides maximum Web impact for the institution ».

(Alma Swan, Key Perspectives, 2009)

In his blog The Occasional Pamphlet on scholarly communication, Stuart Shieber, Director of the Office for Scholarly Communication at Harvard and proponent of the mandatory institutional bibliographical repository policy at this prestigious university, asks the following question: « Do we want to maintain a status quo, which implies that we support a single economic model known for its uncontrolled inflationary spirals, or are were going to experiment with new models which might prove to be more reasonable in economic terms and more open to development ? His answer reads as follows:

The answer is simple: The only reason the uncontrolled inflation of journal subscription costs is a problem at all (and also the reason the upward spiral continues uncontrolled) is the planet’s universities’ inelastic demand and need for access to the journal articles.
Hence the solution is for universities — the universal providers of all those journal articles — to provide Open Access (free online access) to them by mandating that their peer-reviewed final drafts be deposited in their institutional repositories immediately upon acceptance for publication.
Universal OA self-archiving moots the problem of uncontrolled subscription-cost inflation by putting an end to the inelasticity of the demand: If your university cannot afford the subscription price for journal X, your users will still have access to the OA version.
There is no need for universities to try to reform journal economics directly now. What is urgently needed, universally reachable, and already long overdue is universal OA self-archiving mandates from universities. Focusing instead on reforming journal business models is simply distracting from and hence delaying the fulfillment of this pressing need.
Harvard should focus all its energy and prestige on universalizing OA self-archiving mandates rather than dissipating it superfluously on journal economics and OA funds.
Once OA self-archiving is universal, journal economics will take care of itself.

At the risk of appearing immodest, this statement echoes what I have been saying in this blog for years.
Speaking of which, I suggest that you consult the ORBi website if you haven’ t done so recently : its visual and informative evolution is well worth the visit.

Today, increasingly more comprehensive studies demonstrate the « OA Advantage », i.e. the objective advantage of publishing scientific papers in open access where readership is much wider and the number of citations higher. There are two reasons for this: the first and more obvious one is that there are more chances to be read, given that access is free; the second (and intrisic to electronic publication in general) is that the citation count is done more directly and accurately.
This has been very clearly demonstrated in an excellent article written by Steve Hitchcock. Published for the first time in 2004, it has been revised regularly, the last time in April 2009; it is a perfect example of the revolution which is taking place in the « liquid publication » concept I talked about a year ago. This principle is extraordinarily useful for publications that analyze highly evolving situations that require regular updating. Bibliometry is only one of many fields exposed to rapid expiry, all of which could benefit from the same technique.

Yesterday, I advised you of the launching of EOS (Enabling Open Scholarship) and its website.

EOS is a movement that first and foremost aims to bring together universities from all over the world (this is why the name “EurOpen Scholar” employed in 2007 was changed to « Enabling Open Scholarship”) in an attempt to make the researchers’ obligation to deposit the full text of their publications in an institutional repository (in our case: ORBi) a worldwide practice.

EOS is based on the following rationale:

1. The cost of publications (papers in scientific journals) has become exorbitant, leading to the emergence of the Open Access (OA) concept. As everything comes with a price, taking the OA concept to its logical conclusion means that we will have to pay to publish rather than read.

2. Today, one cannot fail to notice that journals which have adopted the OA policy and attracted researchers with reasonable publishing costs are sabotaging the concept by tripling, even quadrupling their prices (this is the case for BMC and to some degree, PLOS whose price, as yet has « only » doubled).

3. The reasons for this deviation can partially be explained by the lure of profit and the fact that BMC was bought out by a large publishing group. The major factor though is the implementation of the third party payer principle. Universities have traditionally purchased journals as well as various « packages » and taken out subscriptions. They increasingly form consortiums to buy the documentation their researchers need, which most often now is available in both paper and electronic formats. Consequently, researchers have become oblivous to the real cost of their acquisitions. This unawareness becomes even more acute when electronic documents are consulted, accustomed as we are to the almost free use of the Internet.

4. OA pioneers such as Peter Suber first thought that the fact that researchers have to pay to get published – and use research budget money to do so – would result, by eliminating the third payer, in OA prices being tightly controlled.

5. Logically, we took our reasoning one step further and surmised that universities would save money by not renewing their subscriptions to standard journals and would thus be poised to help their researchers by covering publication costs in OA. This is what we did at ULg: we covered the publication costs of BMC’s various journals, the most popular in Open Access.

6. By doing so of course, we reestablished the third party payer principle, giving rise to exorbitant price increases, which thus appear an unavoidable economic and social phenomenon (we were naive enough to think otherwise). In reality, we reinstituted a distance between seller and user and took our foot off the brakes. Things got out of control and we were forced to cancel the initiative. I was personally very disappointed as the number of ULg publications in BMC had been skyrocketing. Even though we might have been able to manage the flow, we could not have absorbed the entire cost of the drastic price increase per article. This clearly invalidates the COPE principle which Harvard, Cornell, Berkely, and MIT have all embraced.

7. This is why we have no other choice but to admit that the only model which might still satisfy the absolute necessity to maintain the widest and cheapest possible access to research literature is for research institutions to build up bibliographical repositories. To be complete, these repositories must be institutional. Other initiatives, such as thematic repositories, are of interest but must remain complementary. Indeed, repositories are most often not consulted by theme but rather serve as a directory for the universities which organize them. If access to a specific paper depended on the reader consulting the University of Liege website, our worldwide reading ratings would be very low indeed. However, the good thing is that search engines regularly « scan » our repositories and find our papers on request by introducing one or several keywords. Whether a reader finds him/herself in our institutional repository without knowing it is of no importance. This, of course, implies that texts have to be deposited in XML or HTLM versions.*

8. This gives researchers maximal visibility and readers the chance to read as much as they want on any subject of interest to them. At the same time, the traditional model of journal publication will not disappear as people will still want to thumb through magazines, sometimes coming across a paper they would never have read otherwise. However, total access to information is maintained as is pressure to return to reasonable pricing.

9. It is possible that all scientifc literature will one day be published using this model and that researchers will finally regain complete control of a process they contribute to as writers, reviewers and buyers. All that would be left to do is set up, at the level of individual universities, a peer-review process (the reviewers also being researchers) and create evaluation committees which would have a quality label and thus be empowered to give the green light to the publication of quality papers. Reviewers’ comments would be published jointly, so that everyone would know that such or such an article had been reviewed. To say that this is impossible without going through an editor is absurd as editors themselves depend on researchers to review papers; moreover, it is insulting to researchers as it implies that editors are the sole guarantors of professionalism and impartiality.

EOS’ objective is thus to bring together universities and research institutions so they may take concrete steps to reduce the costs of scientific publication to an acceptable level and make scientific literature accessible to all, especially to those in developing countries, where the difference would be the most radically felt. They would go from virtually no access to complete access.

* : The text was amended in the light of the comments received.

I was certainly a bit too hasty in announcing the launching of the EOS website last week. The following day, we had an important meeting with the founders of the EOS International Group where I serve as chairman. The decision was made to work on the site, continue making improvements, and update and finalise the Advisory Board. This means that the site won’t be operational for a few more days. The situation is even more embarassing given that all the « important people » involved in Open Access had already heard the news (only available on my blog and in French) and EOS was already inundated with subscription requests on day one (read the enthusiastic articles by Peter Suber and Stevan Harnad). Let’s hope that this incident won’t have a negative impact on the participation of universities when the site is up and running.
Indeed, the main role of the EOS website will be to rally university leaders from all over the world to the idea of setting up institutional repositories and to aid them practically to do so. The second objective is to persuade financial backers of the upmost importance of publishing in open access the results of research projects they themselves have financed and of the need to develop collection systems from institutional repositories. In Belgium, the FNRS (National Fund for Scientific Research), which signed the « Berlin Declaration » on open access, should declare itself in favour of this objective. The three largest universities are expected to house their repositories and those of their Academies. This is already the case at ULg while the Catholic University of Leuven (UCL) has recently joined us and the University of Brussels ULB) will shortly do the same. French-speaking Belgium could thus become the first « country » to adopt this system in its entirety, which should help the cause and visibility of our researchers.

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