Library seeks an open access reality

Jessica Klymchuk, News Editor Ω

Peter Arthur has been supporting open access literature since 2004 and helped UBC Okanagan form a position statement supporting open access. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

Peter Arthur has been supporting open access literature since 2004 and helped UBC Okanagan form a position statement supporting open access. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

The TRU library is looking towards a new model for resources, but there’s a long road ahead.

Unlike traditional published works, open access literature is digital, online, free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. There are currently 10,000 open access academic journals.

Free online access could revolutionize the production and distribution of research globally and radically change the culture of publishing research.

Director of the centre for teaching and learning at UBC Okanagan, Peter Arthur has been promoting open access since 2004 and visited TRU on Oct. 22 to discuss open access. Around 15 people took part in the discussion, many of them TRU librarians.

“Imagine how the world would change. What would happen if every person could access all scholarly research?” Arthur asked.

He also asked if the traditional publishing model was working. The librarians’ answer was no.

“Journal costs are going up far more than inflation, and our funding is standing still, so we are forced to make decisions about what to keep and what to cancel and that’s not benefiting our academic community,” librarian Penny Haggarty said.

“Wouldn’t it make sense that there should be more money for research if we didn’t have to pay so much for subscriptions?”

The traditional model is driven by profit and is based on a subscription fee model where journals have subscribers, such as libraries. Academics receive funding from the government through their institution, which comes from the taxpayers. The researcher provides the content to the publisher and it undergoes peer review. Once it’s published, the libraries (and ultimately the institutions) have to buy it back from the publisher.

“A lot of people are questioning that model,” Arthur said.

Open access models include the gold model in which journals make all of their articles free online, the green model in which authors publish in any journal but make a draft article available in an institutional repository and the hybrid model in which authors pay traditional journals for their article to be open access.

Arthur has been involved with the Public Knowledge Project since 2004, which works to create opportunities for open access. It created open journal software that provides a low-cost way of creating journals online and it hosts 5,000 journals worldwide. UBC Okanagan created position statement endorsing open access on campus that took effect last April.

Arthur referred to open access literature as the “democratization of knowledge.” It would democratize access to scholarly output, he said.

The advantage would be a level playing field amongst post-secondary institutions that can’t afford the same resources. With TRU being one of the least-funded libraries in the province, open access could revolutionize the kind of material the TRU community has access to.

While there is a lot of doubt surrounding the traditional model, open access has barriers that will require a shift in academic culture.

The tenure of faculty is influenced by the quality of publications their work is associated with, and open access poses doubts when it comes to quality. Arthur says there are good and poor open access journals just as there are traditional journals.

Because publishers are benefiting from the profit-driven model, TRU university librarian Brenda Mathenia suggested that the university will have to start cancelling high-profile subscriptions to get their point across.

“If we are going to change the system, we have to do something at some point. It can’t happen with everything, but sometimes we have to exert our power as buyers and producers,” she said.

UBC Okanagan is following a green model, which is what TRU is aiming for. cIRcle, described on its website as UBC’s digital repository for research and teaching materials, was created by the UBC community. The materials in the repository are openly accessible to anyone with internet access, and UBC encourages its faculty to deposit a copy of their research into the repository for the community to access without subscriptions.

However, the first step will be creating a position statement or mandate for open access.

At UBC Okanagan, the students acted as advocates that helped form the university’s position statement. It was suggested that change will only happen with support from either the students or administration and not necessarily from the middle.

For now, Haggarty said TRU is starting at square one.