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Open Access Meeting Reflections—SPARC 2012
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Posted On March 26, 2012


Ten years after the movement was launched through the Budapest Open Access Initiative, open access (OA) is thriving, flourishing, and becoming a core element in the broader “Open Knowledge” movement that includes Open Educational Resources (OER), Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), Open Data, and Open Science among others, all of which share the common goals of providing free, unrestricted access to different types of information and knowledge. This year’s Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) Open Access Meeting was an opportunity to reflect on the progress of OA over the past 10 years; discuss recent battles over proposed legislation that would undermine and set back OA, including the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the Research Works Act (RWA); and most importantly, focus on current and emerging issues. Presentations and discussions implicitly focused on taking OA from its infancy to the next level of maturity—discussions were no longer about how to make the case for OA to researchers, but rather, how do we further advance, support, and assess the impact of OA in a bolder, broader way within the global information ecosystem?

The SPARC Open Access Meeting was held March 12-13, 2012. in Kansas City, Mo. More than 200 people attended to discuss a host of OA themes including policy issues, author rights, OA publishing, and repositories.

Heather Joseph, SPARC’s Executive Director, opened the meeting with a nod to the tenth anniversary of Open Access and celebrated by sharing some key OA indicators. Ten years into OA, we now have the following:

While this is all good news, Joseph encouraged the OA community to take the threat of the Research Works Act and turn it into an opportunity to reenergize the community and take positive action.

Bernadette Gray-Little, chancellor of the University of Kansas, noted that researchers at her university are particularly interested in “feeding knowledge” and “spreading knowledge” around the world in order to make a contribution to solving the “grand challenges.” Gray-Little also discussed peer review and publishing, stressing that in the future we need to maintain the two aspects of the current peer review/publishing model that work well—promoting prestige for authors and their institutions and promoting high quality in publication—while also finding a way to promote Open Access to scholarship. She emphasized that she is not seeking the end of publishers, but rather that we need a new infrastructure—one that supports access but not at the expense of quality and prestige.

John Wilbanks, fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, followed with a keynote telling several stories related to OA and the broader landscape. Wilbanks is an excellent speaker and storyteller, but a few points particularly resonated.

“The story behind the story of research” is becoming increasingly important as an avenue to reach more people. Wilbanks’ anecdote was about an article, “Stalking the Fourth Domain in Metagenomic Data: Searching for, Discovering, and Interpreting Novel, Deep Branches in Marker Gene Phylogenetic Trees,” published in March 2011 in the OA journal, PLoS One. About the time the article was published, one of the authors, Jonathan Eisen, published a companion piece on his blog, “The story behind the story of my new #PLoSOne paper on "Stalking the fourth domain of life" #metagenomics #fb.” The blog post was able to tell the story of the research and explain details about the research process that would not have been able to be captured either by a traditional press release or via traditional research outputs. Eisen tweeted about his blog post and the article, and the result has been a much higher level of visibility than might have otherwise occurred—the article has been covered by a wide range of media outlets including traditional channels (The Economist, New Scientist), new media (Slashdot), and news organizations around the world (China, Germany, Brazil). The PloS One article has also been linked to 279 times in Facebook. Anyone interested in #altmetrics should take some time to dig into the comments on the blog post and look at the article’s citations (publicly available thanks to PLoS One!). The bottom line is: Don’t wait for new forms of metrics to become widely accepted. If you want your material to be read, you need to take advantage of all of the current tools available and do your own outreach via social networks and new tools for researchers such as Twitter, Mendeley, and FigShare.

Another point from Wilbanks: researchers have come to expect access to books, music, and all types of digital content to be available on all devices, whenever they want to access it. Expecting researchers to accept that access to research articles through library-licensed databases does not work the same way “is like believing in magic unicorns.” In short, “we need to begin to expect the same in the consumer world and the scholarly world.”

Ellen Finnie Duranceau, program manager at the MIT Libraries Office of Scholarly Publishing & Licensing, shared strategies for supporting institutional OA policies. Her 12-point strategy is detailed in her slides, but one item of particular note: “[L]everage all sources” for acquiring content —particularly in terms of automated ingest tools and workflows. For instance, consider an automatic deposit process for content in SSRN, a semi-automated process to bring in content from arXiv.org and PubMed Central, and SWORD deposits for BioMed Central. At MIT, they “scrape” the MIT domain to see what other papers they find within their institutional domain. In addition to speeding up the processes to acquire content, all of these processes and tools send the message to faculty that the library is doing everything they can to get content into the repository before contacting faculty and asking them to find their papers.

Tyler Walters, dean of the University Libraries at Virginia Tech, spoke about repositories and the broader e-research infrastructure. He described how “repositories are being woven into ‘virtual ecosystems’—they are holistic and support Communities of Practice.” He noted that repositories are increasingly being designed to support research groups “from beginning to end.” We should be looking at new ways to “move curation upstream in the data/information lifecycle” by incorporating ways to automatically capture metadata as defined by the data producers and provide ways for researchers to mark up their data. Walters also shared several examples of services being incorporated on top of repositories: toolkits designed to support different ways to view and work with data (by subject, by data type, create subsets, perform analysis, create visualizations), support collaboration and communication by research teams, and provide general tools to support working groups.

In conversations with researchers, what we say and how we say it matters. Thornton Staples, director of the Office of Research Information Services at the Smithsonian, suggested that “capturing the ‘story’ of the research is the organizing principle, the story of the repository is not relevant.” Researchers need to be able to tell the story of the research—why they did the research in the first place, what they do with that research.

Michael Carroll, director of the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at the American University, focused on author rights and copyright issues. One interesting tidbit: Carroll indicated that whether or not text mining is allowable is not a copyright issue but rather a contractual issue, based on the language in a particular contract—at least within the U.S. If a library signs away this right, it is a user right you are giving up, not an author’s right. According to Carroll, data mining typically includes creating a temporary copy that exists for only brief second or two—it does not make a permanent copy—therefore, this type of processing is not affected by copyright law.

SPARC Executive Director Heather Joseph closed the meeting by sharing some common themes:

  • “Language matters.” Wilbanks emphasized this point in his first presentation, and several other speakers brought it up again throughout the meeting. The consensus is that the OA community needs to use the Budapest definition of OA (i.e., free access to scholarship in terms of cost and free access to scholarship in terms of use/re-use rights). We can’t allow for rebranding of OA to take away usage rights.
  • It is critically important that we allow for machine reading of scholarship and data in order to unlock the full value of research. In order for this to occur, content needs to be stored in standards-compliant, interoperable repositories and content needs to be appropriately licensed with Creative Commons licenses that allow for reuse.
  • OA to knowledge is a “human right.”
  • “Impact, not impact factor” (Heather Joseph). OA has the potential to amplify real impacts and in a variety of ways. We need to start exploring alternative ways to measure impact of OA policies, OA outputs—what are the right ways to measure impact?

Many of the speakers’ slides are available from the SPARC Meeting’s website, and the Twitter backchannel is available via the hashtag #SPARC2012.

While the SPARC meeting was this year’s only North American meeting in which OA will be the central theme, upcoming international meetings include Open Repositories and Berlin 10. Open Repositories (July 9-13, Edinburgh, Scotland, hosted by the University of Edinburgh, EDINA, and the Digital Curation Centre) is the main annual event for repository managers and practitioners. Berlin 10 will be held in Stellenbosch, South Africa, Nov. 6-8, hosted by the University of Stellenbosch in partnership with the Max Planck Institute and the Academy of Science for South Africa. This year’s meeting is the first time the global event will be held in Africa. More details will be announced soon.

I attended the meeting on behalf of the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR), one of the sponsors for the SPARC meeting. COAR is a new organization that aims to enhance the visibility and application of research outputs through global networks of OA repositories. COAR represents more than 80 institutions from 25 countries throughout Europe, Latin America, Asia, and North America. COAR’s emphasis is on providing support for the practical aspects of OA repository management and implementations. Current activities are clustered around providing professional development resources for repository managers, investigating methods for acquiring content for repositories, and supporting the infrastructure and interoperability of repositories. COAR partners with several international organizations involved in other aspects of OA support such as SPARC, IFLA, and LIBER. In addition to being a sponsor for this meeting, COAR executive board member Alicia López Medina (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Spain) served as a member of the SPARC Meeting’s Program Committee, and COAR Working Group chair Kathleen Shearer (from CARL, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries) moderated the session on Digital Repositories. More information about COAR is available on the COAR website. This NewsBreak has been adapted, with permission, from a report posted to the COAR site.


Abby Clobridge is the managing director of Clobridge Consulting, a boutique firm specializing in knowledge management, information management, and open access. Abby has worked with a wide range of organizations throughout the world, including various United Nations agencies; colleges and research universities; nonprofit, intergovernmental, and multistakeholder organizations; the news media; and private sector companies. She can be found on Twitter @aclobridge.

Email Abby Clobridge
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