In December 2001, the Open Society Institute convened a meeting in Budapest to find ways for scientific and scholarly journal literature to be more accessible to everyone on the planet. From this small conference arose the term "open access" and an initiative, launched the next year, to promote the free and immediate online availability of research articles.
These early champions of open access aimed to provide an alternative to the centuries-old print-based tradition whereby a manuscript is submitted to a journal for acceptance, subjected to a lengthy peer review, and then published, at which point only those who pay the journal's access fee, either per article or via an annual subscription, can view the full text. In essence, the participants at the conference asked the question: If we can rebuild the system of how scientists and scholars share the results of their work, what would such a system look like?
Heather Joseph says that today, 16 years later, that "system" is still a work in progress. But each year, she adds, we're getting closer to their original vision of research for all.
Joseph is executive director of SPARC—the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition—and was one of three featured speakers at "Open Access and Health Equity," the kick-off event for Johns Hopkins' Open Access Week 2018, Oct. 22 to 28.
The event, held in the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Feinstone Hall and sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Alliance for a Healthier World and the Welch Medical Library, was one of six panel discussions and workshops scheduled this week to raise awareness of the new Johns Hopkins open access policy and the current work in open scholarship.
The new policy, which went into effect July 1, states that the university expects that all scholarly articles for which a full-time faculty member is the sole or corresponding author will be available in an open access repository, an online portal that provides free access to published research.
The panelists each made the connection between sharing knowledge through open access and improving health equity for society, especially in low- and middle-income countries.
Joseph highlighted the work of SPARC, a global coalition that seeks to democratize access to knowledge, accelerate discovery, and increase the return on investment in research and education. Specifically, she said, SPARC is developing strategies to create better equity in terms of participation in science, including looking into the "value prioritization model" whereby researchers and organizations often place a high value on publication in major impact journals such as Cell, Nature, and Science.
SPARC, which has worked with major researchers to help them put open access policies in place, recently convened a three-year series of roundtable discussions with U.S. university presidents to address the incentive structure of research publication on college campuses.
"When we're looking at a relatively small number of journals and placing a high value on a set of characteristics, such as how many citations that journal article gets, say under a two-year period, that is limiting," she said. "We can't all publish in the top journals. We want to work with colleges in this research arena to have a strong effect of changing how contributions to science are valued."
Another session speaker, Joe McArthur, assistant director of SPARC's student-focused initiative Right to Research Coalition, discussed some innovative work being done to facilitate improved sharing, such as the Open Access Button he helped create. The button is a free downloadable web browser extension that makes it possible to see the full version of a published study currently behind a paywall. When viewers attempt to open such a research paper, they can click on the button and the extension will search a collection of aggregated research paper repositories, such as CORE and OpenAIRE, for a link to the full-version article the scholars are allowed to legally share. When an article isn't freely available, the system will ask the paper's authors to share it by putting it into a repository.
McArthur also trumpeted Unpaywall, a database of more than 21 million free scholarly articles aggregated from over 50,000 publishers and repositories. The Unpaywall web browser extension claims to make it easier to find, track, and use research articles. Run by the nonprofit Impactstory, Unpaywall has more than 160,000 active users and is accessed more than a million times a week.
"Open information has to be the foundation on which global health equity can be built," McArthur said. "Without it, we have hindered our progress toward that goal."
Johns Hopkins has its own systems in place to facilitate open access. The JHU Libraries created and maintain an open source Public Access Submission System, known as PASS, that allows faculty to deposit their documents for compliance. The libraries also maintain the institutional repository JScholarship, which can be used by full-time faculty in fields that do not have established open access repositories.
Anne Seymour, director of the Welch Medical Library, spoke of the library's efforts to promote open access, at both Johns Hopkins and partner institutions around the world whose own students and researchers don't have the same level of access to research in their own discipline as those here. To address this inequity, the library staff help educate those in the partner institutions how to best access the full range of scientific literature, using all the available tools and resources.
"We do this because open access is core to a library's mission," Seymour said. "Our mission is to bring information and resources to all the communities we serve—openly and freely when we can."
A full list of JHU-associated Open Access Week events can be found on the Office of the Provost website.