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Berlin 9 OA Conference Urging More, Faster
Posted On December 5, 2011
In 2003, international research, scientific, and cultural institutions issued The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities promoting the Internet as a medium for disseminating global knowledge. In order to support continued adoption of the principles outlined in the Berlin Declaration, as well to track progress on their implementation, the original 19 signatories agreed to support regular follow-up meetings. During the first 4 years, the conferences were designed to explore strategies for building open access (OA); presentations during the next few years took stock of various efforts within the OA movement. Last year’s conference in China highlighted the need for access to information to build an informed citizenry.

Berlin 9 took place on Nov. 9-10, 2011, at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md., the first of the annual meetings to take place in North America. The theme of this year’s conference, The Impact of Open Access in Research & Scholarship, drew 260 researchers, research funders, OA advocates, commercial publishers, and policymakers. Presenters stressed the benefits of putting research “quickly and freely into the hands of scholars, students, innovators, and the general public.”* Most of the speakers highlighted the need for the following:

  • Go beyond traditional journal articles as the primary means of sharing research
  • Make more data available to researchers AND the public sooner, within the workflow process (as opposed to the end of a research effort)
  • Adjust the copyright/intellectual property laws and contracts between researchers, publishers, and employment agreements so as to provide incentives for publishing in OA publications that are equal to those for peer-reviewed journals, recognizing the additional efforts and expertise involved ongoing curation of data and creating metadata.

According to the conference website, “the Berlin Declaration builds on the widely accepted Budapest Open Access Initiative, which calls for the results of research produced by authors without expectation of payment to be made widely available on the Internet, and to carry permissions necessary for users to use and re-use results in a way that accelerates the pace of scholarship and research.” The Declaration has been signed by the leaders of nearly 300 research institutions, libraries, archives, museums, funding agencies, and governments around the world. A list of the institutions endorsing the Declaration can be found at

The Program

The conference began with a review of OA policy. Jean-Francois Dechamp, policy officer of the European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, presented an update of the EU initiatives aimed at promoting OA to scientific information. Harold Varmus of the National Cancer Institute lobbied for a change in the reward system that does nothing to encourage researchers to publish in the OA environment. Cyril Muller highlighted the World Bank’s Open Data project that opens up much of the bank’s data, significantly altering the business and research-sharing model that was built on sales of print materials. The bank needed to rethink the business it was in, its purpose, and develop a model that would support those efforts.

This introductoion was followed by another session, Transforming Research through Open Online Access to Discovery Inputs and Output, featuring professor Philip Bourne of the University of California at San Diego who gave the researcher’s perspective. Instead of “open access,” Bourne sees today’s access as being more of one with the door opened a crack, with the majority of literature still not accessible, and the remainder that “cannot be parsed by computer in a reliable way.” He suggests that funding agencies and institutions consider a different reward system that encourages researchers to make their data available and “to leverage the emerging content and put it in the context of the research workflow.”

Neil Buckholz, chief of the Dementias of Aging Branch of the Division of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging, described the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) that posts all of its data on a public website—making thousands of brain scan images and clinical and neuropsychological data available to researchers around the world. Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania also addressed the need for the OA movement to think beyond traditional papers to data and code so that research can be reproduced. If we do wind up making large amounts of data widely available, says Liberman, we must address legitimate privacy concerns.

The final panel on Day 1 of the conference was Creation of innovative New Opportunities for Scholarship and Business during which:

  • Michael Carroll of American University stressed the need to consider terms of access and use that apply to research literature. “To achieve the full innovative potential of open access, control over reuse asserted through both copyright and contract can be, and has been, relaxed through open licensing to enable a broad range of creative and productive reuses of the research literature.”
  • Robert Kiley of the Wellcome Trust presented data on the costs of OA publishing and his view that dissemination costs are research costs.
  • Eliot Maxwell of the Committee for Economic Development offered suggestions “drawn from experiences with open standards and open source software development on how companies are competing when a central input is available on equal terms to all.”
  • Cameron Neylon of Britain’s Science and Technology Facilities Council noted the “many and significant barriers” to realizing the full potential of open research practice, asking what stakeholders can do to advance an open research agenda “that delivers more effective, more efficient, and more exciting research in the medium and longer term”?

Day 2 of the conference began with a discussion of issues surrounding digital cultural heritage and peer review in a session titled The Impact of Open Access and Open Repositories on Research in the Humanities. Chad Gaffield of the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council described “open” as “a complex concept with challenging and inspiring implications for individuals, institutions, and jurisdictions. Dean Rehberger of Michigan State University emphasized how humanists now have more access to large digital repositories and streams of digital data from which they can conduct qualitative research.

The Open Education session dealt with the use of OA to link learning and research. According to Michael Crow of Arizona State University, “access is a crucial aspect of the knowledge enterprise at all levels, from the creation of new research and scholarship to the education of students and the public.” Crow champions the model of the New American University, pioneered at Arizona State, “committed to academic inclusiveness for a broad demographic, and maximum societal impact.” His presentation highlighted an example of new interactions between scholarship and education: “The PLoSable section of the ASU Ask-A-Biologist website offers an example in which open access research articles published in PLoS Biology provide an important research an education tool. Undergraduates write edited and peer-reviewed summaries of papers for middle-school students and the general public that are published in an OA environment.” Laura Czerniewicz of the University of Cape Town focused on a different aspect of unequal access. She centered her talk on the use of OA as an opportunity for local knowledge to be shared more widely and resources traditionally referred to as “grey literature” becoming an essential part of OA. Hal Plotkin, a senior policy advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, reviewed the Obama administration’s efforts to support Open Educational Resources.

The final formal session of the conference dealt with Public Interaction: the Range and Power of Open Access for Business, Citizen Science and Patients. Professor Sophia Colamarino of the Stanford University Medical School represented the patient advocacy and researcher funding perspectives, pointing out “why public access is specifically important for patient groups, how this information must be used to educate patients, caregivers, and health professionals, and how she effected a policy change in the non-profit community.” Stephen Friend of Bionetworks spoke about a 2-year old initiative “where open data sharing of pre-competitive approaches are used as the norm to help drive innovation in drug development and building models of diseases.” In addition, he explored “the involvement of the public in terms of contributing everything from data to personal genome information.”

Pre-Conference Events

Several pre-conference events took place on Nov. 8:

Open-Access Publishing explored “the growth and development of the rapidly developing open-access publishing market segment and how Open Access can fuel innovation in both research and commerce.” Speakers elaborated “on the fundamental characteristics of growth in the OA publishing segment, business models that are emerging and evolving to support it, and on steps needed to ensure the potential for open-access publishing to fuel advancement is fully realized.”

Open-Access Policy Development offered “a description of the main types of Open Access policy, presented by the people who implemented them in a number of prestigious universities in Europe and the US.” The presenters described their policies and how effective these policies have been in collecting OA content. The Q&A part of the workshop allowed “participants to dig into the details of implementation, the difficulties and how they were overcome, and to learn how the policies were championed through the institutions in the first place.”

Open-Access Infastructure: OA in the Scholarly Environment—Making things work! “The development of a firm infrastructure is indispensable for the full realization of Open Access and has yet to be clearly defined. The first part of this preconference session addressed “components in the vast landscape of enabling Open Access to research outputs.” This was followed by “a panel discussion with experts on the different opportunities and challenges within this field.”


As is typical of these conferences, the final session featured a conference summary and “next steps,” based on the presentations and discussions of prior sessions. This year’s conference highlighted the outcomes we’re beginning to see now in terms of OA amplifying scientific productivity, enabling public interaction, and evidence of its ability to assist in the commercialization of science. What we now must do is make everyone understand that OA is not just good because it makes an article available at the end of the research process. Rather, OA is a key element of the research process and we must redesign systems for scholarship and research that not only provides access to data, but the rights to build on that data. As Heather Joseph, executive director of SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition) put it, we must align all of the OA movements—OA publishing, data, access.

Berlin 10 will take place at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The date and program will be announced on the website Ellen Tise, senior director of Library Services at Stellenbosch, has declared OA as a human right, so we’re likely to see more on this theme in 2012.


* Jennifer Howard (Nov. 11, 2011) “At open-Access Meeting, Advocates Emphasize the Impact of Sharing Knowledge.” Wired Campus Blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Accessed Nov. 21, 2011 at

Barbie E. Keiser is an information resources management consultant located in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.

Email Barbie E. Keiser

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