'Academic Spring' Continues With Commentary on Open Access in the U.K.
“As the open access (OA) movement gathers steam and garners attention outside of the academic and library communities, David Willetts, the U.K. Minister of State for Universities and Science, contributed to the dialogue with a speech presented on May 2 at the Publishers Association’s annual meeting and a companion opinion piece published in The Guardian on May 1. Most of his comments reiterated strong support from the U.K. government for making research outputs publicly accessible as a means of enabling innovation and emphasized that the question is no longer whether to make research publicly accessible, but how to do it in a viable, sustainable way. He did, however, introduce a new addition to the U.K. government’s strategy by bringing in Wikipedia’s co-founder, Jimmy Wales, as an adviser, specifically to address issues of reusability and collaboration. Willetts’ remarks are the latest commentary over the past few weeks that many have begun to dub ‘the academic spring’ in the form of uproar from scholars, universities, policymakers, research funding agencies, and others demanding a new model for scholarly communication to fund research publications, disseminate research findings, and enable new types of research and analysis on research outputs... Willetts explained the government’s perspective: ‘Our starting point is very simple. The Coalition is committed to the principle of public access to publicly-funded research results. That is where both technology and contemporary culture are taking us. It is how we can maximise the value and impact generated by our excellent research base. As taxpayers put their money towards intellectual enquiry, they cannot be barred from then accessing it. They should not be kept outside with their noses pressed to the window—whilst, inside, the academic community produces research in an exclusive space. The Government believes that published research material which has been publicly financed should be publicly accessible—and that principle goes well beyond the academic community.’ While Willetts indicated that the government still does not have all aspects of an implementation plan in place, he outlined two activities already under development: 1) An independent working group, The Working Group on Expanding Access, chaired by Dame Judy Finch, was commissioned in 2011 and is ‘examining key issues of principle and practice that would be involved in increasing access to published outputs via the routes of, respectively, (i) greater take-up of open-access publishing, (ii) open-access repositories and (iii) development of national licensing.’ The Working Group is expected to report its findings this spring, and it will serve as the foundation for further next steps. 2) Funding is already in place for the development of a U.K. ‘Gateway to Research’ (GTR) web-based portal that will ‘enable greater public access to Research-Council funded research information and simplify networking between researchers and SMEs.’ It is scheduled for launch in 2013... While few details are available at this time about the portal, Willetts indicated that the team is ‘working to ensure that information is presented in a readily reusable form, using common formats and open standards and helping to make sure that the new government-funded portal for accessing research really promotes collaboration.’ Willetts closed by emphasizing that ‘Open access is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. That end is improved popular involvement with the quite extraordinary output of our research community ... At the end of this we can hope to see science and research brought closer to the wider public.’ Willetts also noted the international nature of the scholarly research ecosystem... In April, Neelie Kroes, the vice president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, addressed the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities Annual Meeting (Rome, Italy, April 11, 2012) where she noted that ‘we are just now beginning to realise how significant a transformation of science the openness enabled by ICT infrastructures can mean. We start the era of open science...’ Throughout the world, researchers have joined together to boycott... Elsevier’s journals. As of May 12, more than 11,000 scholars had signed the boycott. In another statement against the current scholarly communication model, Harvard University’s Faculty Advisory Council sent an email to the Harvard faculty on April 17 with the subject: ‘Major Periodical Subscriptions Cannot Be Sustained.’ The council explained: ‘We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. Many large journal publishes have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive.’ The combination of all of these high-profile statements in support of OA combined with the latest wave of academics refusing to support traditional business models for scholarly communication is shifting the discussion from the domain of libraries to a much broader base including independent researchers, small and medium