Last week, we reached what I believe to be a significant milestone with ORO: 25% of the research articles ORO contains are openly accessible to all. This compares to 15% just one and a half years ago, at the start of our current advocacy and development programme. During the same period, the number of articles ORO houses has risen from 7,112 to 11,898, which, taken together, I hope reflects a heightened interest and understanding among our academics here at the OU of the benefits of open access to research. In the remainder of this post, I’d just like to take a moment to remind us all of those benefits, and why thinking about open access to research is so important.
For whatever gain, the broadest possible audience for academic research has to be a priority, not only for the individual, or that individual’s institution, but also for society as a whole. Working on the assumption that, somewhere along the line, the research you are carrying out has some benefit to someone, or something, that someone or something needs access to your work.
So, let’s take the most common method of publication for academic research – the journal – and consider the audience you might be reaching by publishing in this way. You might argue that the vast majority of institutions will all subscribe to journals in which you publish and that therefore most people who will want to read and cite your work will be able to. However, the fact of the matter is, that there are so many journals in existence today, and they come at such a cost, that academic libraries simply cannot keep pace. Indeed, I was at an event recently where it was revealed that, based on the journals subscribed to by their two institutions, academics at Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham could, at best, only expect to access around 50% of each other’s research. In short, just because your library subscribes to a particular journal, it certainly does not mean that the next university down the road does. And then when you start thinking about access at poorer institutions, perhaps in the developing world, the access problem multipies even more.
Emerging from the problem of the cost of academic journals, of course there is an understandable tendency for the library community to advocate open access. However, alongside this, there is an equally understandable push from research funders as well, simply because they want the research they invest in to reach the widest possible audience, and thus maximise the chances of it having an impact of some kind. Indeed, in this country, the UK Research Councils all now have mandates requiring the research they fund to be made openly accessible as soon as possible after publication. This, to me, is central to the need for open access, and research funders are quite right to be thinking about and acting upon it. For people, society, and ultimately the world to benefit from research and scientific discovery, it is something that must be shared as openly as possible. In short, those involved in academic and scholarly research must, as part of that role, concern themselves with the effective proliferation of their findings. And the best way to do that, is through open access.
Finally, here’s a reminder of some FAQs on the ORO site for more information: