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July 03, 2007

A brief history of OA

Stevan Harnard has posted a nice summary of the key milestones in the development of the Open Access movement to the American Scientist Open Access Forum.

Towards the end he says:

The OA way of the present and future is for researchers to deposit their articles in their own Institutional Repositories.

Is this the one true OA way?  I'm not convinced.  Let's focus on what is important, the 'open' and the 'access' - and let the way of the future determine itself based on what actually helps to achieve those aims.


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There may be room for debate - I would like to think that professors could place material into their own personal repositories, for example - but Harnad has some good arguments.

The primary one of which is this: unless they are required to deposit their works into institutional repositories, professors don't make it available at all.

The participation rate in voluntary systems, measured in numerous instances, according to Harnad, is 15 percent. This, he argues, is insufficient to guarantee open access.

Yes, I think we would all agree that 15% is insufficient to guarantee the future of open access.

The question is, what do we do about it?

I'm arguing that 15% (i.e. 85% failure!) is a result of us not putting a compelling vision in front of researchers. I suggest that this has a number of causes:

- the current tools are not good (i.e. usable) enough - e.g. because the deposit process is too hard??

- the current emphasis in policy statements and the like on the word 'repository' rather than the word 'Web' confuses people.

- the focus on institutional approaches rather than global ones has not resulted in a compelling 'social' framework.

As I said, we can accept our own failure to put compelling services in place and resort to mandating a solution. And at the end of the day it may well be necessary for us to put mandates in place anyway... but it is not yet clear to me that we *have* to do that.

I think there are other things we can try first.

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