To celebrate Open Access Week last month, we asked people four questions about the state of open access and how its changing. Here are some in depth answers from two people working on open access: Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication and the Harvard Open Access Project, and Elizabeth Silva, associate editor at the Public Library of Science (PLOS).
How is your work relevant to the changing landscape of Open Access? What would be a successful outcome of your work in this area?
Elizabeth: PLOS is now synonymous with open access publishing, so it’s hard to believe that 10 years ago, when PLOS was founded, most researchers were not even aware that availability of research was a problem. We all published our best research in the best journals. We assumed our colleagues could access it, and we weren’t aware of (or didn’t recognize the problem with) the inability of people outside of the ivory tower to see this work.
At that time it was apparent to the founders of PLOS, who were among the few researchers who recognized the problem, that the best way to convince researchers to publish open access would be for PLOS to become an open access publisher, and prove that OA could be a viable business model and an attractive publishing venue at the same time. I think that we can safely say that the founders of PLOS succeeded in this mission, and they did it decisively.
We’re now at an exciting time, where open access in the natural sciences is all but inevitable. We now get to work on new challenges, trying to solve other issues in research communication.
Peter: My current job has two parts. I direct the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC), and I direct the Harvard Open Access Project (HOAP). The OSC aims to provide OA to research done at Harvard University.
We implement Harvard’s OA policies and maintain its OA repository. We focus on peer-reviewed articles by faculty, but are expanding to other categories of research and researchers. In my HOAP work, I consult pro bono with universities, scholarly societies, publishers, funding agencies, and governments, to help them adopt effective OA policies. HOAP also maintains a guide to good practices for university OA policies, manages the Open Access Tracking Project, writes reference pages on federal OA-related legislation, such as FASTR, and makes regular contributions to the Open Access Directory and the catalog of OA journals from society publishers.
To me success would be making OA the default for new research in every field and language. However, this kind of success more like a new plateau than a finish line. We often focus on the goal of OA itself, or the goal of removing access barriers to knowledge. But that’s merely a precondition for an exciting range of new possibilities for making use of that knowledge.
In that sense, OA is closer to the minimum than the maximum of how to take advantage of the internet for improving research. Once OA is the default for new research, we can give less energy to attaining it and more energy to reaping the benefits, for example, integrating OA texts with open data, improving the methods of meta-analysis and reproducibility, and building better tools for knowledge extraction, text and data mining, question answering, reference linking, impact measurement, current awareness, search, summary, translation, organization, and recommendation.
From the researcher’s side, making OA the new default means that essentially all the new work they write, and essentially all the new work they want to read, will be OA. From the publisher’s side, making OA the new default means that sustainability cannot depend on access barriers that subtract value, and must depend on creative ways to add value to research that is already and irrevocably OA. Read more.