Focus on Publishing
Open Access Expands Its Reach
By Robin Peek
If I were Alice in Wonderland, I'd say that with each
passing month the scholarly publishing landscape just
keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. Indeed, those who
hoped that open access was just another fantasy in Alice's
vivid imagination had better rethink the story line. At
no other time in history has academia seemed so poised
to abandon the way it has been conducting scholarly publishing
and jump down the rabbit hole to experience a new, perhaps
more imaginative, reality of liberating publishing from
its traditional confines.
Trying to keep up with all the recent twists and turns
in the open-access movement would make Alice a busy
girl. And just in case she isn't certain about what
open access means, BioMed Central would like to help
her out. BioMed Central recently developed a blue "Open
Access" label that it wants used on Web sites to certify
that the content is Open Access as defined by the Bethesda
Principles. As noted in a Dec. 1 editorial in Open Access
Now, "The widespread use of such a label would provide
a clear indication to readers about the status of the
article they are reading and help to prevent confusion.
Adoption of this type of 'Open Access' stamp would be
a service to the wider research community."
The Bethesda Principles were drafted on April 11,
2003, at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's headquarters
in Chevy Chase, Md. Under these principles, Open Access
"refers to primary research literature that is immediately
and permanently freely available online to readers,
is centrally archived, and can be copied, used, distributed,
transmitted, and displayed without restrictions."
Perhaps it's not surprising that BioMed Central is
trying to take the lead in sorting out what's considered
Open Access material since the organization is experiencing
a groundswell of new institutional members. In November
alone, BioMed Central secured membership with three
U.S.-based consortia, including the progressive Ohio
Library and Information Network (OhioLink), which purchased
a total of 84 institutional memberships for the state.
And in December, 17 Australian institutions became BioMed
Central members as part of an agreement with the Council
of Australian University Librarians. There are now 396
BioMed Central members, with more than 300 institutions
signing up in 2003. Of these, 190 are from the U.S.
"I expect there's an opportunity for BMC to add considerably
more institutional members," says Rick Johnson, enterprise
director for SPARC. "We're still quite early in the
process, and SPARC will certainly continue encouraging
more libraries to participate. The quickening pace of
open-access activity will drive broader take-up."
SPARC, PLoS Partner
In November, SPARC announced a partnership with the
Public Library of Science. This alliance aims to broaden
support for open-access publishing among researchers,
funding agencies, societies, libraries, and academic
institutions through cooperative educational and advocacy
"Both PLoS and SPARC recognize that open access speeds
the progress of science and medicine, which is of substantial
public benefit," says Vivian Siegel, executive director
of PLoS. "Working together, we hope to demonstrate these
benefits to scholarly publishing stakeholders on campuses,
in the lab, and at funding agencies."
"What we offer PLoS is a way to connect with believers
at institutions across North America and around the
world who are in a position to work on behalf of open
access," says Johnson. "Moreover, our collaboration
allows us to ensure PLoS and the biomedical community
understand the contribution of libraries in an open-access
PLoS's first journal, PLoS Biology, was introduced
in October 2003 and hopes to take on scientific publishing
powerhouses like Science magazine. Not surprisingly,
PLoS Biology is utilizing the open-access, peer-reviewed
journal model. Publication fees are $1,500 per manuscript
once it's accepted. However, according to the PLoS Web
site, "The ability of authors to pay publication charges
will never be a consideration in the decision whether
to publish." PLoS is using Creative Commons' Attribution
License on all works that it publishes. PLoS Biology
is available at http://www.plosbiology.org.
The print subscription price for 2004 is $160 for both
institutions and individuals.
The journal's online version surpassed 100,000 downloads
in October. "The daily usage of the site in November
has been just as good as in October, and we've seen
a noticeable increase in submissions since the launch,"
says Mark Patterson, senior editor of PLoS Biology.
"It's very early days, but the signs are very promising
that the scientific community, as authors and readers,
are embracing the idea of this new and very high-quality
Open, Transparent Government
And finally, our Alice in Wonderland would find that
a U.S. federal agency is embracing the notion that funding
agencies need to support the distribution of the works
they finance. On Nov. 18, the Environmental Protection
Agency opened Science Inventory (http://www.epa.gov/si),
a new open-access repository. Science Inventory is a
searchable, agencywide database of more than 4,000 scientific
and technical work products, including EPA-funded research
results, contact information, and links to final reports.
The repository is actually several years old, but its
access was previously limited to agency employees.
Calling Science Inventory an example of open, transparent
government, Steve Johnson, EPA's acting deputy administrator,
says: "Americans invest hundreds of millions of dollars
every year in EPA's human health and environmental science.
Now, that very science is easily accessible to anyone
with a link to the Internet."
So it's perhaps fair to conclude that not only Alice,
but indeed the academic community, might be on the threshold
of entering Wonderland. And that which was once viewed
as a fairy tale written by some dream-struck academics
and librarians has in fact turned into reality. Fairy
tales, of course, must have a happy ending, but it's
quite clear that when this story is ultimately over,
not everyone will be happy with its conclusion.
Robin Peek is associate professor at the Graduate
School of Library and Information Science at Simmons
College. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.