Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Finch hasn't moved the goalposts

"Information professionals invariably are not interested in economics. Unfettered access, as far as possible is the librarians aim; or at least, access that is determined by the librarian and not an external source."
This rather naive-sounding, Library-centric version of the world is how I saw the development of Open Access from a soon to-be-Librarian's perspective back in 2005, in my MA dissertation. Seven years later, re-reading my work I am struck by how it seemed to me at the time that many Librarians saw Open Access as a way to rebalance after the cost of serials had spiralled. At the time I was clearly more taken by what I saw as the intrinsic good of making research Open Access, which is unfettered access to publicly funded research. I still am.

Now we have the report of the Working Group chaired by Dame Janet Finch on Open Access, the recommendations of which the British Government seem likely to accept and implement almost in full. From the executive summary of that report:

'Implementation of the balanced programme we recommend will mean that more people and organisations in the UK have access to more of the published findings of research than ever before. More research will be accessible immediately upon publication, and free at the point of use.'

The response to the Finch report has been mixed. Many commentators would have liked to seen a more ambitious set of recommendations that gave power to academics and institutions rather than economically adjust the existing publisher-house led scholarly communications environment. As I've argued myself this is difficult territory for Librarians to lead opinion in.

This is difficult for those of us who've worked so hard to establish institutional repositories. Will Green OA collections wilt away in 2 years as Gold transforms the landscape? I think not, but what we should now see is a shift towards the majority of articles written off the back of UK funding becoming OA. I think we should embrace this as great progress. In the main, the report seems to have only disappointed those with a beef against publishers. I'll leave that debate to others - a good place to start would be the recent posts on the LSE Impact Blog.

The transition Finch proposes will surely be a long transition, and I imagine longer than the 2 years posited. It also does not mean that we need to hand over the keys to publishers and leave the goals of most institutional repositories to them (and their interests). Finch's report has some very clear recommendations:

'ix. the infrastructure of subject and institutional repositories should be developed so that they play a valuable role complementary to formal publishing, particularly in providing access to research data and to grey literature, and in digital preservation.' 

I agree with all of that, as I think most repository managers would. Les Carr, in a recent blog post, has looked at Finch, and the response of funders and the academic community, and concluded:

"the RCUK response shows what the UK is actually really good at - pragmatism - and likely means an increased role for repositories and the emergence of a more balanced and thoroughly hybrid environment as the network of stakeholders all seek to come to a new equilibrium."

That's a sentiment I also heard from Chris Awre at OR2012. This report has made me think about the value we've built up with our own institutional repository, and where its value will lie in the post-Finch future. A big strength of LSE Research Online hasn't just been archiving research, it's been making it discoverable. Items in LSERO (Green OA or not) are simply easier to find, either at a local level through our Library-wide search tool, Summon, or through Google Scholar. There is no other database or system at LSE, or anywhere else, that can offer either of the following services that aid discoverabilty:
  • A home for Green OA copies of papers authored by LSE people that remain inaccessible or are hard to discover elsewhere
  • Co-location of references (and/or full text) of an author's (or the institutions) complete output
LSE Research Online's mission before Finch was to "be a complete database of research created at LSE. Our mission is to:
  • include citations to the work of all LSE academic and support staff
  • provide Open Access to full text research where permitted by publishers and copyright law
  • provide stable links to published items and items not held by LSE Research Online
  • be a reliable source of information on LSE research for all audiences
  • preserve research for posterity
  • openly share its information with internal and external services, such as LSE Experts and Google."
The Finch report helps us in our mission and I think the identity of our service will remain strong throughout the transition to Open Access. While the economic models of this long saga work out, I think Librarians and institutional repository managers can find plenty to motivate themselves to keep developing their services.

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