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Magazines > Information Today > January 2004
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Information Today
Vol. 21 No. 1 — January 2004
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."

Membership Grows

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 activities.

"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 environment."

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 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-access journal."

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 (, 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
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