Thursday, June 11, 2009

What does free mean in "free your information"?

The open space discussion at the EADI IMWG began by asking whether researchers would ever contribute their content for free. In Denmark, negotiations with publishers have led to free access to most journals for the research community. So perhaps the issue is not as clear here to researchers as it is in other parts of the world. The point was made that the whole open access movement derived from librarians who were far more aware of the costs in getting access to journals. This is a big business - it was claimed that Elsevier earns 600 million Euros per year on scientific publications.

The whole discussion on open access may also arise because of the technology issue. In the past, a printed copy of a journal would be bought by a university but then available in a library to a whole range of users. With the change in technology, publishers can now see who reads each article online and give restricted user licenses.

The key issue behind a journal's income was how much this currently relies on the control of copyright and what the future possibilities of creative commons licenses are. It was raised that awareness of copyright issues was still needed - the example video A Fair(y) use tale - was mentioned as a useful resource to raise awareness of fair use.

Initiatives in development talking about opening access rather than open access were mentioned. Here the CIARD initiative was mentioned as an approach to make information not only available but accessible and further to try to ensure it was applicable. Other attempts to improve awareness of open access issues have been undertaken by EADI most notably at last years AGM.

This discussed the costs of making a journal article as open acces as being 2-3000 Euros. If this was the case, shouldn't donors take responsibility for making research outputs open access.

Donors could and do support open access by funding Open Access journals, provide incentives to use OA Journals or fund researchers to publish in standard hybrid journals. At the moment incentives for open access publishing are limited as those journals are ranked too low in Citation index ranking systems such as CERES. Swiss national fund supports open access journals and will pay researchers if they choose to publish in main journals.

Open Access to journals could be a huge cost saving to libraries not just on subscriptions but in saving time at the library to handle links and access to journals and to manage susbcription packages. Information literacy training also becomes far easier as access is straightforward.

Returning to the meaning of 'free', the issue was raised that whilst information may be free on the internet, what about the cost of the pc, connectivity and skills to get there? The idea of "One Laptop Per Researcher" was introduced by Michael Wesseling as a possible initiative to provide access for researchers in developing countries but linked with Internet initiatives working on making bandwidth use more efficient and coping with bad connection, a so-called "internet under the trees" approach.

Finally the discussion concluded with the discussion of the book "Hacking capitalist" published by Routledge which argues that we should consider that information is "free" as in "free beer" as it is the raw material in the new economy.

See also Euforic newsfeeds on climate change; information/knowledge, and from the IMWG 2009 workshop