18 November 2007

The EU and Open Access

Thanks, as usual, to Peter Suber for drawing attention to the documents and minutes of an EU meeting on open access. It seems that no general point of access to the files exist, since Peter gives links to each, and I have searched the European site without success.

However, the point I want to make (and I begin to seem like a rusty record) relates to the so-called 'green' and 'gold' routes to open access. One of the points arising out of the discussions and reported in the minutes is:

The debate persists on whether to move towards open access through repositories and funding body mandates (“green” open access) or through paid open access models/'reader pays' solutions (“gold” open access). Are there are other paths towards open access? Can the two options coexist?

So, once again, we have an official body which, at present, equates the 'gold' route to OA with author charging and wonders whether or not some other method exists! Of course another method exists and it is the only one that maximises the social benefit of open access - it is the 'platinum' route of subsidised, collaborative publication of OA journals - and this comment from the EU demonstrates why this route needs to be separated from the 'gold'.

Of course, it is possible to conceive of other methods. From the point of view of what the technology allows, the notion of the quarterly journal issue with its package of papers is something of an anachronism. It would be perfectly feasible to set up a peer-review process which resulted not in an electronic journal, but in an electronic archive. By this, I do not mean the equivalent of the 'green' route, but a new, peer-reviewed repository, which used, say, RSS to notify interested parties of new items admitted to the repository.

It would be relatively easy to do this for languages with a relatively small number of native language speakers and probably easiest there in the humanities and social sciences, where the cultural context is most relevant. So, rather than having, for the sake of argument, the Electronic Journal of Bulgarian Literary Criticism (or whatever that would be in Bulgarian!) one would have the 'Bulgarian Humanities Research Repository' - run by a national research body, or by a consortium of universities - which would include not only papers on literary criticism, but on any other humanities discipline. Humanities scholars of all kinds would have point to which to submit papers and one point from which to receive papers. This idea would also have the secondary benefit of allowing national funding agencies to determine the research performance of departments, through the volume of material submitted and accepted and also through the possibility of developing a national citation index for the disciplines.

It is, of course, in the publishers' interest to encourage the assumption that 'gold' involvs user charging, since if this mode of support spreads, they have income from two directions, instead of being exposed by having only one source - subscriptions. So perhaps the EU would benefit by having less close ties to the industry and exercising a little more imagination about the options.

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