The image I adopted for this blog entry is in the public domain with CC0 assigned (Creative Commons license, “No Rights Reserved”). I selected this image because a) it’s freely available for anyone’s use, and more importantly, b) its familiar rhetoric that many librarians use to introduce and promote Open Access with the spirit of sharing and better engagement for researchers, students and the communities. However, the more I investigated this significant movement in scholarly communications associated with open access, open science, or open scholarship, the more I became cautious about using the same “optimistic” or “catchy” rhetoric. While the promotion of new ways and new infrastructures in scholarly publishing and sharing is indeed a necessary professional responsibility and an important task as a librarian, I want to explore the literature and conversation addressing unequal power relations inherent in knowledge production processes and practices. The power inequality inherent in scholarly communication shapes a new open scholarship landscape. For example, the domination of the western science system dominant in North America and Western Europe that we historically inherited continues to be reproduced and further strengthened with the shift to Internet technologies and in the increasingly digitized environments. Can the new technological innovations help address the power inequality in defining what knowledge is and advance diversity in different approaches from different regions in the world or those relevant to the local communities? It requires a lot of innovations to imagine new possibilities to shape a new scholarly communication ecosystem/landscape.
Where Do We Begin? – 20 Years Ago
The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) made its 20th anniversary on February 2022. In 2002, the Initiative started the movement promoting the self-archiving of peer-reviewed scholarly journal publications and a new generation of open-access journals. The rationale was that because of Internet technologies, the fruit of research in scholarly journals could be shared with unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and anyone curious:
Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge (2002, para 1.)
In the dominant scholarly communication practice, researchers gave up the copyright of their research output in return for publishing it in commercial scholarly journals. The established practice exposed the misalignment of the business practice of commercial publishers in the new digital environment. The stakeholders, therefore, focused on their experimentations in making journal articles freely accessible according to the open-access mandate of the funders. Access has been the primary focus. In 2017 Scholarly Kitchen blog entries (part 1 and part 2), Anderson observed that even though the ultimate goal of open access is making articles freely accessible for readers, competing visions of the open access movement exist. He points out that what each approach was trying to achieve is sometimes incompatible. For example, he observed variations on how soon the publication should be freely accessible and to what extent it is reusable (reusable rights)–which depends on publisher copyright agreements–rendering some confusion in the open-access publishing landscape.
Furthermore, there is a difference between fully open-access journals and hybrid journals. Hybrid journals are those traditional subscription journals that incorporate open-access articles when the authors want to publish their articles open-access in the same journals with the payment of Article Processing Charge (APC). APC creates the burden for the authors to come up with the payment. Therefore, it continues to be disadvantageous for those without the resource. It works the same with fully open-access journals with the APC model. The APC model helps in establishing an unequal framework baked into the system.
Refining and Reorienting – 20 Years Later
The 20th-anniversary BOAI statement lists four high-level recommendations looking back at the growth of open-access experimentations in various forms and aspects of scholarly communication in the past 20 years. The recommendations identify systematic barriers to the facilitation of the open access movement. Interestingly, it acknowledges and clarifies the rationale for the Initiative 20 years later! It writes that it is “a means to the equality, quality, usability, and sustainability of research.” When you contextualize the open access movement in this light, the ultimate goal is not open and unrestricted access for readers, which had created confusion in its different initial interpretations and implementations, as Anderson observed in his blog posts. Freely accessible scholarly output is the feature of open scholarship and open science. However, it would be short-sighted to set it as the ultimate goal without addressing the existing scholarly communication enterprise dominated by commercial interests and profits. In addition, the report reiterates the open access movement as a wide range of scholarly artifacts, including research articles, preprints, open data, open metadata, open citations, open code, open protocols, open books, open theses and dissertations, open education resources, open courseware, open digitization projects, open licenses, open standards, open peer review, and many other aspects that comprise open science.
The four points of recommendation are:
- Hosting and publishing OA texts, data, metadata, code, and other digital research outputs on open, community-controlled infrastructure.
- Reforming research assessment for funding decisions and for hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions by universities and research institutions.
- Inclusive publishing and distribution channels that never exclude authors on economic grounds.
- Favouring publishing models that benefit all regions of the world, controlled by academic-led and non-profit organizations.
In 2022, the 20th-anniversary BOAI statement laid down the basic foundational principles that all stakeholders can refer to further facilitate the open access movement.