While open access (OA) is by far the most well-known form of public access, it is not the only one. Having spent two days last week at Research4Life meetings in Washington, DC and with today’s announcement that more than 80% of UK local authorities have now signed up for the Access to Research initiative, now seems like a good time to take a look at what else is on offer.
R4L – and especially the HINARI program – is, of course, the Big Kahuna of public access programs. Access is free to WHO Band A countries and costs $1,500 per institution for those in Band B, for a collection of journals whose estimated value is around $10 million. Launched in 2003, its stats today are impressive, with 549 publishers providing access to over 15,300 journals and nearly 30,000 books and other publications in more than 7,300 institutions across 116 countries.
However, it should also be pointed out that, while seemingly equally impressive, the downloads generated by HINARI access – 8.3 million last year* – are in fact roughly equal to the total number of downloads by Yale University during the same time period. This is not to underplay the value of R4L, but it is an indication of how far we have yet to go to bridge the access gap between the developed and developing worlds. Even with completely free access to so much content, researchers in the world’s poorest countries are only using the literature a fraction of the amount that their counterparts from wealthier countries do. There are all sorts of reasons for this, including huge variations in R&D funding, fewer researchers per capita, and lack of reliable access to the internet and/or hardware (see for example here).
Many of the same challenges face another key player in providing access to researchers in the developing world, INASP. It operates in fewer countries than R4L and provides online access to a large volume of free or heavily discounted research literature , including over 32,000 journals, both through publishers and via Ebsco databases. A key objective is to help its partner countries move toward self-sufficiency, for example, through programs such as AuthorAid, which connects new authors from developing world countries with more experienced mentors, who provide the support needed to help understand the scholarly research publication process. INASP also helps make journals published in its partner countries more readily accessible through its Journals Online project, 90% of which are open access.
Both R4L and INASP agree that, even if all research articles were available OA, many of the problems that they are working to overcome would still exist. Even EIFL, which is arguably the most active of the developing world access organizations in the OA sphere, both through its advocacy for OA policies and mandates, and its capacity-building projects, is still continuing to work with publishers to make subscription content widely accessible in developing and transition countries through negotiating deep discounts with publishers.
OA brings other challenges for researchers and librarians in the developing world. For example, while most journals offer article publication charge reductions or waivers for researchers from developing countries, many (most?) researchers in those countries are not very knowledgeable about how to publish OA, how to evaluate the quality of OA journals, or how to discover OA articles, especially green content that is only available in institutional repositories. As a result, not only will it continue to be important for publishers to support these initiatives, but also there needs to be more emphasis than ever on the training and development of librarians in developing world institutions to help them navigate our increasingly complex scholarly communications ecosystem. These organizations are, therefore, investing in such training. INASP, for example, provides training, mentoring, and other support for library consortia and their member institutions, in various aspects of e-resource management and use including setting up access, monitoring usage, marketing and advocacy, and IT systems for libraries.
Other developing world access initiatives include the New School for Social Research’s Journal Donation Project, providing primarily print-based and deeply discounted access (though many of the print subscriptions now include online access); TEEAL, which has transitioned from providing its digital collection of agricultural research journals on CD-ROM to providing it on hard drives – again at very low cost; and the Virtual Science Library initiative, which has to date created eight custom national online libraries for developing countries. As mentioned above, the first two of these are especially valuable given the often poor internet connectivity and lack of viable hardware and software in many developing world countries.
And what of public access programs in wealthier countries, where researchers typically already have access to much, if not most of the content they need? How much demand is there for access to content from the general public? Two major pilots – the UK’s Access to Research initiative and patientACCESS – should provide some valuable data about demand and usage of research content from outside the scholarly community.
As noted above, Access to Research is now available in over 80% of the UK’s public libraries. It offers walk-in free online access to over 10 million research articles and, in its first six months, more than 15,000 individual users have taken advantage of it. Feedback from both librarians and library users has been positive, and a review of the top search terms for June 2014 reveals the range of topics people are researching – from dementia (at #1), through Belgian refugees (#3), to Welsh history (#9). Fascinating!
patientACCESS provides patients and their carers with free or very low cost access to research articles on their conditions. As one of the first major publishers to participate, Wiley (my company) makes content from well over 300 journals freely available**; we have seen an average of around 450 requests a month, which has held pretty much steady since we launched the program last August.
Public access initiatives – whether intended to make research content more widely available in developing world countries or to the general public – are likely to continue to be an important element of knowledge-sharing for the foreseeable future. While OA continues to expand, it doesn’t look as if immediate gold access will be the norm for most disciplines anytime soon, and green OA typically involves embargo periods and/or access to the author accepted manuscript. So here’s hoping that publishers will continue to support these other routes to access, which make the version of record available to a wider audience immediately on publication, for as long as they are needed.
*Only includes the 27 publishers for which usage data are available, however, these collectively represent by far the majority of articles available through HINARI
**CCC charges a processing fee of $3.50 per article [clarification added August 6, 2014 – this is a charge CCC make to publishers, not to users]