Martin Hall, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Salford, came to the OU today to talk about the challenges and opportunities of open access publishing. This was part of Open Access Week at the OU.
The green and gold swamp of confusion
The mire of confusion around the green and gold models of open access – and which is ‘best’ – is trampled by many feet. Too long to rehearse here, I’d suggest a quick definition is that in ‘’gold’, the author pays to publish their work in an open access journal, and it is then instantly openly available. This raises the question of who pays the charges, of course. ‘Green’ open access relies on authors themselves archiving, in publicly-available repositories (such as the Open University’s ORO) a pre-publication version of work that they have published elsewhere.
Institutional repositories are increasingly important and there is some evidence that making work openly available, whether in a repository or an open access journal, increases the number of citations. Citations are important in the academic world; it stands to reason – if an article we want is hidden behind a paywall, we’re likely to turn away and look for another one.
In the long run, Martin suggested, the subscription model for publishing is unlikely to survive, comparing it to the film industry coping with the challenge of video and DVD – a complex and expensive transition.
The copy of record
The academic model is built on cumulative development and understanding and the anchor for this progressive knowledge system is the ‘copy of record’; the final, published, version. This poses problems for green open access, as publisher’s will often only allow authors to deposit the pre-publication version, not the published version, which means critical changes may not be reflected.
Too much information
Once, academics were trained to cope with scarcity – how to winkle information from a small number of publications. Now, we face an abundance of information, so that information literacy, sifting and filtering, learning how to separate the good stuff from the bad becomes key.
We can read manuscripts written in the fourteenth century; we have lost data from projects conducted in the 1980s because it’s held on floppy discs that we just can’t read now. Creating and curating data so that we can keep reading it has to be sorted out; allied to this is the problem of the many and varied routes for digital archiving (dropbox, slideshare, scribd … add method of choice here).
The Enlightenment settlement
Academics are used to the organisational settlement into disciplines – which Martin suggested dates from the foundation of the learned societies. We defend the boundaries of our discipline against interlopers, using disciplinary language and codes to repel boarders and construct tacit knowledge. However, the big questions can no longer be solved by single disciplines – tackling the problem of climate change brings in environmental science, politics, economics … The big questions offer exciting new challenges for universities but will be unanswerable without truly open data and the development of ways to deal with huge quantities of data – the semantic web, data mining, automated searching, strong metadata standards for both digital and analogue information.
The exploding book
Martin suggested the traditional publishing model – the book – is broken. This is vitally important for the social sciences and humanities, where the scholarly monograph is a crucial currency. Ebooks are likely to become increasingly important: they can be created relatively easily, they offer extras – the ability to highlight and save data, push information to social media, embed urls and links to data sources – in short, the book is exploding. Books will become portals that connect scholarship to its data, which will change the way we make claims, scrutinise and verify research.
Students are learning in different ways, Martin suggested, requiring expert assistance to understand how to assemble meaning from a wide range of sources, flexible content and constructed social spaces. However, the university is not about to die; MOOCs have not sounded the death knell. The book, in its day, was a revolutionary technology for distributing knowledge. Academia is revolutionary and deeply traditional at the same time; academics continue to give away intellectual property in return for reputational capital. Open access has always been the key to this bargain; it’s just that the technology has changed.