Open Access Publishing – feature article

Earlier in 2013, the then Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education invited the AOASG to contribute a feature article to the Australian Innovation System Report 2013 which was published in early November. Entitled ‘Open Access Publishing’, the feature article by Dr Danny Kingsley appears in Chapter 4: Public Research Capacity and Innovation: University research quality assessment. The text of the article is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Department of Industry.


The full report is downloadable as a pdf here 

Open Access Publishing

Opening up access to publicly funded research outputs has been on an increasing number of political agendas across the world. The issue of unsustainable rising publisher subscription costs to research publications has been flagged since the 1980s. In the intervening period developments in technology such as the advent of the Internet have made the sharing of research outputs both possible and affordable.

Making publicly funded research openly available benefits all of society. The biggest issues the world faces require long term cooperative international research, and research is only effective when other researchers are able to see the outcomes of others’ research. As the total volume and pace of research increases, practitioners in any field need to be able to see the latest (quality assured) findings in order to provide the best service, and unless they have an institutional affiliation, they are unable to do so. Start-up innovation companies need access to research to inform their endeavours. Researchers also benefit from their findings having more exposure. And the taxpayer should be able to look up the latest findings if they wish to, for example to access information about health issues.

The Internet has forever altered the way information is disseminated and accessed. The open access movement has developed databases that specifically allow information to be indexed by search engines, and therefore findable. Called repositories, these can be organised by discipline, for example which caters for the physics community, or can be hosted by an institution as a collection of that institution’s research outputs. Most publishers will allow the author’s final manuscript version of an article to be placed into a repository although sometimes they require it not be made available for a period of time, called an embargo. The benefit of making work available in this way is the researcher is not compelled to alter their publishing choices, although they may tend towards more permissive publishers.

Another development has been the rise of open access journals. These make research freely available to all readers without a subscription. The majority of these journals are run through smaller society publishers using open source software. There are some commercial open access publishers, including Springer and Hindawi. The Public Library of Science is a trailblazer in this field. The multidisciplinary PLOS ONE open access journal launched in December 2006. Within two years it was largest open access journal in the world. In 2010, it was the largest journal in the world (by volume). The OA megajournal business model has been embraced by academic authors, and several other commercial publishers have since launched their own versions. Commercial open access publishers charge an article processing fee at the beginning of the publication process rather than charging a subscription for access. Many regular commercial academic publishers now offer open access options.

Over the past seven years many research funding bodies have made open access to research publications a requirement of funding. In 2006 the Wellcome Trust introduced their open access policy in the UK, followed by the US National Institutes of Health announcing their Public Access Policy in 2008. This trend is increasing exponentially with 2012 seeing the “Report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings” from the Finch Group which recommended all UK research be made available in open access journals. In July the European Commission announced that research funded between 2014 and 2020 under the Horizon2020 programme will have to be open access to “give Europe a better return on its €87 billion annual investment in R&D”. In the early months of 2013 the Obama administration in the US has released a policy requiring all US federal agencies to prepare plans to make research available.

Domestically, in 2012 the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) announced its revised policy on the dissemination of research findings, effective 1 July 2012. The Australian Research Council (ARC) released its Open Access Policy on 1 January 2013. Both policies require that any publications arising from a funded research project must be deposited into an open access institutional repository within a 12 month period from the date of publication. There are two minor differences between the two policies. The NHMRC relates only to journal articles where the ARC encompasses all publication outputs. In addition, the NHMRC mandate affects all publications as of 1 July 2012, but the ARC will only affect the outputs produced from the research funded in 2013. Researchers are also encouraged to make accompanying datasets available open access.

Both policies require the deposit of work in the originating institution’s open access repository. All universities in Australia host a repository, many of them developed with funds the government provided through the Australian Scheme for Higher Education Repositories (ASHER). This scheme which ran from 2007–2009 was originally intended to assist the reporting requirement for the Research Quality Framework (RQF) research assessment exercise, which became Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA). The ASHER program had the aim of “enhancing access to research through the use of digital repositories”.

Repositories in Australia are generally managed by libraries and have been supported by an ongoing organised community. In 2009–2010, the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) established the CAUL Australian Institutional Repository Support Service (CAIRSS) and when central government funding for the service ended, the university libraries agreed to continue the service by supporting it with member contributions. CAIRSS ended in December 2012; however, the email list continues a strong community of practice.

In October 2012 the Australian Open Access Support Group launched, beginning staffed operations in January 2013. The group aims to provide advice and information to all practitioners in the area of open access.

Historically Australia has a strong track record in the area of supporting open access. The Australasian Digital Theses (ADT) program began in 2000 as a system of sharing PhD theses over the Internet. The ADT was a central registry and open access display of theses, which were held in self-contained repositories at each university using a shared software platform that had been developed for the purpose. The first theses were made available in July 2000. In 2011, as all these were then being held in universities’’ institutional repositories, the ADT was decommissioned. It was estimated that the number of full text Australian theses available in repositories at the time was over 30,000.

The Australian government is investing tens of millions of dollars in developing the frameworks to allow Australian researchers to share their data. The Australian National Data Service (ANDS) has responsibility for supporting public access to as much publicly funded research data as can be provided within the constraints of privacy, copyright, and technology. In an attempt to provide a platform for sharing information about data, ANDS has developed a discovery service for data resulting from Australian research, called Research Data Australia, which is a national data registry service meshing searchable web pages that describe Australian research data collections supplementing published research. Records in Research Data Australia link to the host institution, which may (or not) have a direct link to the data.

The work of ANDS reflects the broader government position in Australia of making public data publicly available. The Declaration of Open Government was announced on July 16, 2010. This policy position is in the process of practical implementation across the country, providing access to information about locations of government services, for example. The level of engagement between government areas and different levels of government varies. Another government initiative has been the Australian Governments Open Access and Licensing Framework (AusGOAL) which has an emphasis on open formats and open access to publicly funded information and provides a framework to facilitate open data from government agencies. In addition to providing information and fora for discussion, it has developed a licence suite that includes the Australian Creative Commons Version 3.0 licences.

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