Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Back to Budapest

Ten years ago, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations (then known as the Open Society Initiative) gathered together a group of people who believed passionately that publicly-funded research ought to be freely available on the Internet. 

Open Society Archives
It was a somewhat disparate group of people with varying interests and agendas. But over the course of two cold December days in Budapest, the group hammered out a common vision, and an agenda. This was then articulated in a public declaration — a declaration they called the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), and a declaration that  gave birth to the open-access (OA) movement.

The BOAI called for all publicly-funded research articles to be made freely available on the Internet, and in such a way that any user could “read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.”

It also proposed two ways in which this objective could be met. First, by researchers self-archiving any papers they published in subscription journals on the Internet themselves (aka Green OA); second, by researchers opting to publish in open-access journals so that the publisher made their work freely availale online (aka Gold OA).

Thus was born the open-access movement, and a decade of heated advocacy, joyful successes, and sometimes bitter disappointments. In the process, OA has become both the hottest and the most controversial topic within the world of scholarly publishing.

As Open Society Foundations’ Melissa Hagemann put it recently, “Today, Open Access is at the forefront of discussions about scholarly communications in the digital age. Open Access  is taught in universities, debated in Parliaments, embraced and opposed by publishers, and most importantly, mandated by over 300 research funders and institutions, including the largest funder of research in the world, the U.S. National Institutes of Health.”

Hagemann added however, “[T]he fight for open access to research has not been won. The U.S. Congress is considering reversing the NIH mandate in a bill — the Research Works Act — backed by traditional publishers.”

Against this background, last week the Open Society Foundations once again gathered together a group of open-access advocates, along with a number of research funders, and asked them to agree on what they think needs to be done over the next ten years.

The event took the form of a roundtable discussion, with topics discussed including policy, sustainability, new metrics, and research re-use issues.

Once again held in Budapest, in the Open Society Archives, the discussion was chaired by Alma Swan, director of European advocacy at the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC).

“The aim,” explains Swan, “was to agree a list of recommendations outlining where we think energy and funding would be best directed over the next ten years.”

The list of recommendations is expected to be published in the next few weeks. When it is, I hope to publish an interview with Alma Swan.

** The interview with Alma Swan is now available here **

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