Berlin 3, held in the UK in March as a follow-up meeting for monitoring implementation of the 2003 Berlin Declaration, provided a timely opportunity to feel the pulse of the Open Access (OA) movement. How does the patient look? On paper, he looks good. Indeed, he turned out to be fitter than expected: instead of succumbing to factional disputes and bickering, delegates at the meeting agreed a short, very practical action plan for implementing the Declaration. But can the movement now follow through?
The OA movement has never been short on declarations, petitions and exhortations. In 2000 there was the Public Library of Science (PLoS); in 2002 the Budapest Open Access Initiative; and 2003 saw the Bethesda Statement and the Berlin Declaration. And these are just the better known asseverations.
When it comes to "walking the talk", however, the movement has been less successful. Today still only 5% of scholarly papers are published in OA journals, and only 15% of the estimated 2.5 million articles published annually are self-archived.
In short, despite the plethora of fine words and public statements calling on interested parties to "free the refereed literature" — and despite ten years of OA agitation and proselytizing – the vast majority of the world’s scholarly output remains firmly locked behind increasingly-expensive subscription firewalls. This, complain OA advocates, is holding back research, and threatens to slow the progress of science.
But could the OA tide be about to turn? Delegates at the Berlin 3 meeting dared to think so. "I was impressed with the amount of activity going on – specifically with institutional archives," says Barbara Kirsop of the Electronic Publishing Trust. "There seemed no consideration now about 'whether we should support OA', but just 'how can we better support OA'." Indeed, she concludes, the movement is now "unstoppable."
Certainly Berlin 3 provided a good opportunity to feel the pulse of the OA movement. The Berlin Declaration, after all, is now the primary flag around which many OA advocates rally, and it has a truly international membership, and focus.
The 55 signatories include international research institutions like CERN; large national research institutions like France's CNRS and Germany's Max-Planck Institutes, national Academies of Science in China, India and the Netherlands, and a wide a variety of individual universities and research funding agencies around the world. Delegates to Berlin 3 also came from Japan, Scandinavia and Italy.
The two-day event — one of the now bi-annual follow-up conferences for monitoring implementation of the 2003 Declaration — took place in the incongruous surroundings of an English Edwardian Manor just north of Southampton. While the location was certainly pleasant enough ("set amongst 12 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens", boasts the Manor's web site), obtaining an online connection was all but impossible — even when armed with a cell phone data card!
Day one began with a UK satellite session — an event that served to underline the degree to which the UK Science & Technology Select Committee Report and the publication of the final version of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy on public access to research have shifted the emphasis of the OA movement. Where previously the stress was on the gold road to OA (in which researchers publish in new-style OA journals) today much greater weight is placed on the green road (where researchers continue publishing in traditional subscription-based journals but then self-archive the papers — either in a central subject-based repository or an institutional archive).
It was also quickly apparent that some progress is being made. Nottingham University's Bill Hubbard, for instance, explained that — despite the UK Government spurning the Select Committee's recommendation that it fund a network of institutional repositories (IRs) — those repositories are nevertheless being built. The 20 research universities belonging to the SHERPA consortium, for example, have all created their own IRs, and are now starting to focus on how they can ensure that they are filled.
It is clear, however, that creating an IR is the easy bit: filling it far harder. Primarily, Key Perspectives' Alma Swan explained to delegates, this is a question of ignorance. Surveys carried out by Key Perspectives, she explained, indicate that 78% of researchers who do not currently self-archive "are not aware of the possibility of providing open access to their work by self-archiving." Clearly there is a need for greater education and advocacy.
The good news, added Swan, is that were researchers mandated to self-archive, most would comply. 79% of those surveyed, she said, indicated that they would willingly self-archive if their institution told them they had to. She noted, however, that both the UK Government and the US NIH have chosen not to mandate anything.
But at least the UK Government's failure to act gave Derek Law, university librarian at the University of Strathclyde, an opportunity to boast that Scotland is ("as usual") way ahead of England. Thus while the British Government has chosen to sit on its hands over OA, Scotland has been busy developing its own national OA policy — a policy that will shortly see Scottish universities beginning to mandate their academics to self-archive their papers.
When the main conference began the keynote address was given by Tony Hey, director of e-Science. Talking on the theme of data-archiving and interoperability, Hey put the OA movement into the larger context of distributed global collaboration between scientists. It was a fascinating presentation, and emphasised how academic research — along with the large data collections that much scientific research depends upon — will increasingly need to be readily accessible to researchers if science is to progress at an acceptable rate.
The keystroke strategy
But it was day two that proved the more interesting. The day began with an upbeat presentation from Stevan Harnad, leading self-archiving advocate and professor of cognitive sciences at Southampton University, who explained to delegates the "Keystroke Strategy" OA policy that the University has introduced.
Conscious that institutions are confronted with a potent mix of ignorance and inertia when trying to fill their repositories (and in the light of the failure of government to take the initiative on OA) the Keystroke Strategy exploits the UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) — upon which hangs the fate of academic promotions and departmental budgets — as a tool with which to incentivise researchers to self-archive their papers.
Specifically, to ensure that their research is counted towards their RAE contribution Southampton academics must ensure that copies of their papers are keyed into the University archive. In effect, any research not archived will be "invisible” for RAE purposes.
The point, Harnad explained to delegates, is that the best way to encourage researchers to self-archive is to request they do it "not for the sake of Open Access, but for record-keeping and performance evaluation purposes."
Once a paper is available in the IR, added Harnad, it requires only a simple additional keystroke to make it OA. That final keystroke, he said, would make what was already visible to the institution visible to the rest of the world over the web; and the message to researchers is that “the Nth (OA) Keystroke is strongly encouraged (both for preprints and postprints) but is up to you.”
As the day progressed it became evident that while the UK may have been the main centre of debate about self-archiving, institutions in other countries are also proving effective at building and filling IRs. The manager of the Dutch SURF/DARE programme Leo Waaijers, for instance, explained to delegates how a consortium of the 12 principal Dutch universities has agreed an effective policy of institutional self-archiving.
Representatives from the French national research centres CNRS and INSERM, and from CERN, also outlined their institutional OA policies.
CERN's Joanne Yeomans gave a particularly stimulating presentation. Following the introduction of an institutional mandate, she reported, CERN estimates that around 60% of its research output is now made OA. Moreover, she added, this figure is expected to rise to 100% as a result of new initiatives shortly to be introduced.
In addition, explained Yeoman's colleague Jens Vigen, CERN has started to archive its historical research output. This, however, is not without its challenges, he added. Since researchers historically assigned copyright to the publishers, CERN has first to obtain their approval before scanning the papers. Unfortunately, he said, permission is not always forthcoming: both Elsevier and Wiley, for instance, have refused to allow a number of 50-year old papers produced by CERN researchers to be scanned — even though, in the case of Wiley, the papers are not provided online by the publisher!
In order to be able to provide OA "at source" CERN researchers are also being actively encouraged to publish in OA journals, reported Yeomans. In addition, she added, CERN is exploring ways in which it can support the start up of new OA journals — a reminder that while self-archiving has won the argument for now, many believe that in the long run the gold road offers a more effective and stable way of providing Open Access to scholarly research.
But the highlight of Berlin 3 — and one which came like a bolt from the blue — occurred during the final plenary session. Intended simply as a forum to discuss, and possibly update, the wordy roadmap produced at Berlin 2 last May, the session quickly threatened to descend into a series of bad-tempered wrangles over issues like metadata, copyright, and distributed versus central archives.
At the last minute, however, delegates apparently concluded that, rather than fighting needlessly over minor issues, they could work together for the common good. By now it was also apparent that the roadmap was simply too lengthy and unfocused to provide an effective call to arms. In a remarkably short period of time, therefore, delegates agreed a short statement intended — in the words of the Max Planck Society's Georg Botz — to be "an implementation guide in a nutshell."
The wording agreed was:
"In order to implement the Berlin Declaration institutions should:
“1) implement a policy to require their researchers to deposit a copy of all their published articles in an open access repository, and
“2) encourage their researchers to publish their research articles in open access journals where a suitable journal exists and provide the support to enable that to happen."
That it proved possible in a very short time to agree two very practical measures that signatory institutions can take in order to enact the Declaration they had signed evidently provided a real fillip to delegates. "I was quite surprised," says Kirsop, "but this was good and shows that people wanted something more positive to come out of the meeting."
Even the normally rumbustious and argumentative Harnad was taken aback at such an apparently satisfactory outcome to the meeting. "The distillation into a short clear action plan had in fact not been on the formal agenda, and its adoption came as a total surprise," he says.
Time will tell whether the statement agreed at Berlin 3 will prove to be a brief moment of harmony, and proactive intent, or just one more paper wish list. History certainly suggests that the latter could prove to be the case.
On the other hand, the progress reports from Holland, Scotland, and CERN — not to mention Southampton — suggest that the movement now has sufficient momentum to ensure that the Berlin 3 statement becomes a reality.
The question then, of course, becomes not whether but when. The fact that many of the Berlin Declaration signatories have yet to demonstrate a concrete commitment to the Declaration they signed suggests there may still be a long road to travel. On the other hand, since it had until Berlin 3 been completely unspecified exactly what they were meant to commit to, the concrete policy proposal now gives them a basis for acting — if they are minded so to do.
Key to what happens next will presumably be the fate of the statement. Is it now an official statement, and will it be integrated into the Berlin Declaration? Might it still be further edited?
For the moment, replies Botz, the statement "remains provisional." Moreover, he adds, it is not expected that the Berlin Declaration will be changed in any way "because that would require asking all signatories whether they agree."
Clearly the danger is that the signatories (particularly those who did not attend Berlin 3) may just ignore it — an outcome all the more possible given that the Berlin Declaration did not create any formal structure or organisation. Rather it acts merely as a consensus group. "Each organisation," explains Fred Friend, who chaired the plenary session, "takes the Berlin process forward according to the situation in its own environment."
Nevertheless, insists Friend, it would be wrong to conclude that this will lessen the impact of the statement agreed at Berlin 3. "Do not assume that because the statement is not a condition of being a signatory to the Berlin Declaration that it is only a wish and therefore ineffective," he says. "There are other examples of very effective statements from organisations without formal structures — for example, the International Coalition of Library Consortia, ICOLC, likewise has no formal structure but its various statements have been very influential in setting standards for licensing and usage of electronic content."
In fact there is absolutely no need to re-word the Berlin Declaration, says Harnad; nor is there any need for the original signatories to re-sign it. "It merely needs a 'commitment' rider which describes the new implementation policy and invites institutions to sign it, separately, to register their commitment to implementing the Berlin Declaration and to describe their own institutional self-archiving policy so other institutions worldwide can see how progress is being made and can emulate their example.
"This 'commitment' sign-up site already exists," he adds, "and institutions can already begin registering their commitment and their self-archiving policies." ***
PLoS' Andy Gass is also upbeat, arguing that following Berlin 3 the signatories now have both a declaration of intent and two concrete components to work with. As he puts it: "Presumably, all the institutions that signed the declaration did so with the intention of following through on their commitment to 'encourage[e] our researchers/grant recipients to publish their work according to the principles of the open access paradigm'."
Adds Gass: "Now that it's a bit more clear what that should mean in practice, it makes sense that the signatories should simply act on the recommendations of delegates to the follow-up meeting. The left hand and the right hand just need to come together."
Only time will tell if the Open Access movement has finally reached the point where it will "walk the talk". What concerns Harnad is that, until it does, valuable time is being unnecessarily lost, to the detriment of scientific progress.
"The danger is that we just keep signing declarations, scheduling meeting after meeting, and drafting a long, and increasingly complicated 'roadmap' — while daily/weekly/monthly access and impact just keep being lost. With the statement agreed at Berlin 3 we finally came up with something concrete that signatories can formally recommend, and commit to doing, and do. I hope they now do it."
What do you think? Is it time for the Open Access movement to walk the talk? Can it? Will it? E-mail your views to me at email@example.com, or to comment publicly hit the comment button below.
*** Shortly after this article was posted CNRS signed the "commitment".
(A report of the Berlin 3 meeting written by Stevan Harnad can be read in the March issue of D-Lib.)