The global perspective: OA at work

Elena Giglia, head of the open access programme at Torino University, describes the talks at the third session of Berlin 11.

The third session of Berlin 11 was dedicated to good practices worldwide. The common thread was a sort of pride in the achievements made against all odds in a scholarly communication environment often hostile to innovations and paradigm changes.

Sely Costa presented the Brazilian efforts towards open archives and open journals, pointing out some quality issues. She insisted on a dual approach: top-down from politicians and governing institutions, to ensure viability and support; bottom-up from authors and librarians, or better “seductive librarians”, who explain copyright issues and relay increases in downloads statistics, an argument all faculties are very sensitive to. A particular case is master and doctoral theses, now available and downloaded worldwide, which was something unimaginable without Open Access.

Marin  Dacos presented OpenEdition, please see the specific post.

Robert Darnton started his talk with a slogan: “Digitize, democratize” and a claim: “Open the libraries! If in Europe often libraries are surrounded by walls and are secluded, in the US the library stands at the center of the campus, stemming intellectual energy everywhere around. Library is the core of the university. This is the ideal pattern to follow in order to disseminate, and Harvard is making that suitable for the digitized world, going open by setting up an Institutional Repository and unanimously adopting a mandate to deposit. Faculties have committed to rendering their work public, and the first feedback they have received is the huge increase in readers they have in OA. After going for green OA, Harvard also created a central fund for supporting gold OA.

Professor Darnton then told the idealistic and at the same time pragmatic history of the Digital Public Library of America (http://dp.la/), aimed at giving universal access to American cultural heritage. It started like a dream, or a utopia, then the project took shape by putting together a coalition of foundations for money, and of libraries for books. After huge web discussion about technological and legal issues, with all debaters doing it for free, the library went online in April 2013 and succeeded.

An analogous project suddenly comes to mind, Google books, which started at the wrong pace in terms of copyright issues and now, after years of debate and the Settlement in place, is no more than a commercial library, where libraries have to buy again the content they gave away for free. It’s a new kind of monopoly, as in the publishing domain.

DPLA was better designed to deal both with copyright, asking authors directly for permission to use their works, and  the interoperability framework, particularly in connection with Europeana (http://www.europeana.eu/). As for biodiversity, around one third of the content is in a language different from English, and many of the downloads come from outside the US.

DPLA works as a distributed system which leads with one click to the desired content. The motto “free for all” that you can read sculpted on many libraries’ entrances, also applies to this huge virtual collection of more than 5 million products. The logic is definitely horizontal, not top down, as the new library connects to digital collections that already exist in the US and empowers them; one of the most useful and actually used tools for this purpose are APIs as well as the DPLA Bookshelf, which allows for visual browsing.

DLPA has had an immediate transformative effect on education since its launch: dropout rates in schools are slowing down considerably. DPLA is not a digital version of the Library of Congress, it’s a completely new kind of knowledge hub, available for free.

For the first time in history, Darnton notes, we can shape the future as we can make our cultural heritage available in advance for future generations.

Daniel Mutonga, from Kenya, illustrated all the advocacy and training strategies put in place by students, who have played a central role in the advancement of OA in Africa, against limits due to lack of infrastructure, inadequate literacy and reading levels, and scarce support by government. In Africa the paywall to access is still high, so students are in the first line advocating openness by using all the instruments offered by the net – such as social media, webinars, and so on, and by themselves producing OA content.

Xiaolin Zhang underlined the strong sense of responsibility in China nowadays in order to enable access to Chinese research and open up cooperation. He showed all the strategies and actions set to promote OA, green and gold, and the current activity in creating awareness and promoting and supporting OA initiatives in repositories and journals. By law, all publicly funded research publications have to be deposited after one year.

The UK minister David Willetts, scheduled for the day before but detained in London by official duties, opened his speech stating that knowledge has always been the leverage of any revolution or change in society, hence the capital importance of knowledge dissemination and access to information. Even though the internet has dramatically changed ways of disseminating knowledge, there are still barriers to access. The UK is committed to getting past these barriers. Open Access being on the political agenda for a long time, the UK government commissioned a study on viability of the green and the gold road to OA.  The so-called “Finch Report”, with a clear preference for immediate, paid gold OA has fully been endorsed by the government, and then the RCUK conformed  to this report. This gold OA choice, which arose strong opposition and a thorough debate among both the OA community and English researchers themselves, has received thousands of pounds in funding.

The choice of going for gold has, according to Willetts, a rationale against green OA, which is cheaper but lacks in quality, and it’s not immediate due to embargo periods. Willetts’ opinion is that publishers add value, and their work must be paid for, so the gold road makes sense because it recognizes that work has gone in to publishing the paper; moreover, it has a zero embargo period by default. Again according to Willetts, green OA would jeopardise the whole scholarly publication system. In order not to limit authors’ autonomy in choosing their publication venue, the UK government also supports hybrid journals (giving full satisfaction to commercial publishers). An open issue is, of course, the calculation of fees for UK institutions, trying to balance subscription rates and Article Processing Charges on the basis of actual production. Moreover, a survey is being conducted about competition in the commercial publishers’ market and price adaptation to the new market demand.

Willetts ended with a strong call for cooperation at the international level: we set the goals ten years ago; now the scientific community has to work jointly to reach them.


Elena Giglia

Responsabile Progetti Open Access
Sistema Bibliotecario di Ateneo
Università degli Studi di Torino

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2 Responses

  1. Elena Giglia says:

    You are right. The difference was clear to anyone!

  2. Thank you Elena Giglia for the interesting descriptions of the presentations and conversations in Berlin11.
    Maybe it was better that the UK minister David Willetts made his presentation one day later, together with the global perspectives panelists. It is a way to better understand the contrast between the global perspective of OA and UK position.

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