Has COVID-19 Changed Access to Scholarly Research?
by Kamran R. Kardan
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live in many ways, exemplified most notably, perhaps, by the advent of remote working and the meteoric rise of online shopping. However, it has also changed the way the academic community is thinking about access to information. The concept of OA is not new. However, the extraordinary challenges COVID-19 has posed to researchers across the globe have accelerated the OA trend. The question is, will the trend continue?
CHANGE IS NEEDED
Traditionally, scholarly databases exist behind crippling paywalls or require institutionally facilitated access, which is a challenge for individuals worldwide, especially in developing countries. Many universities cannot afford the subscription databases required for advancing research and studies.
One of the unfortunate consequences of limited access to information is the rise of pirate sites. The most prolific is Sci-Hub, which hosts more than 50 million papers and has millions of users accessing information daily. This is dangerous in terms of the quality and validity of the content; it is also damaging the scholarly community as a whole. Sci-Hub limits publishers’ ability to pursue and evaluate different access models by corrupting usage reports on readership patterns—even for OA content. However, what is interesting is the sheer volume of traffic that sites such as Sci-Hub attract and what this tells us about the need for change in access to scholarly content.
NOW MORE THAN EVER
The COVID-19 pandemic has created greater awareness of other global threats, such as climate change. To facilitate innovation, researchers need access to all available academic literature. In the future, if we are going to find solutions to some of the world’s greatest problems, we need to remove barriers to information and democratize access to research.
When COVID-19 began to threaten life as we knew it, major publishers—Elsevier, Wiley, SAGE, and Taylor & Francis, to name a few—quickly responded by making COVID-19-related content free to access. This has set an important precedent and is a positive step toward tackling the global issue of fair access to information.
THE WAY FORWARD
Providing open access to research is a valuable and noble movement. However, it will take time for all research to be completely free, as there are many challenges to overcome. In the meantime, at my company Knowledge E, we believe there is a viable middle ground. Our digital library, Zendy, was launched in the Middle East in Jordan in October 2019 and has since launched in Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. Zendy is currently a subscription-based service; the monthly cost of the subscription is less than the price of a single article on a pay-per-view basis. For your average Ph.D. student who is writing a thesis and needs to access hundreds of articles, this represents significant savings, which could be the difference between being able to afford to study or not.
Zendy provides premium academic content from some of the world’s biggest publishers, including Emerald Publishing, SAGE, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley, as well collections from EBSCO Information Services. It delivers access to thousands of articles from more than 120,000 publications across all major disciplines, with no limitations on reading. As would be expected, Zendy has seen peak search volumes for “coronavirus” since the onset of the pandemic. The latest studies, reviews, and reports concerning COVID-19 developments and updates are constantly being added to Zendy’s database.
Knowledge E has made it its mission to take on the global challenge of access to scientific literature. We truly believe that the current situation, which creates barriers for people, especially those from lower-income countries, needs to change. Zendy is our answer to this challenge.
We are also working on providing Zendy users with access to OA content as part of our expansion plans in 2021. Our vision is a more knowledgeable world, and delivering better access to information is the key to achieving this.