University promotes open access

By Colin Minor

Last week, the University of Calgary proudly participated in open access week, an annual international advocacy week promoting awareness and discussion of issues regarding academic freedom of information.

In its second year at the U of C, Libraries and Cultural Resources, in partnership with the Students’ Union, hosted workshops, speakers and displays to raise awareness for open access on campus.

“We want to help people access information,” said U of C open access expert Andrew Waller. “We want to help people deal with the world of information and at the end of the day have that in their hands. Open access makes this happen easier.”

Open access content refers to scholarly journals, data, monographs and other information that is available online at any time. The U of C subscribes to a range of both open access and fee-based content for students.

“As a student, if you are on campus or off-campus authenticated you can get into this content, which is good, but there is a lot of other content that we don’t subscribe to for whatever reason that you can’t get it into,” said Waller.

Content hosted in open access journals is viewed, downloaded and cited more often than non-open access content, according to Waller. Authors can also see how often and from where their content is being accessed.

“You put two things in front of people and say you can get to this one with just a click or there is a barrier to this other one, you have to pay for it or it takes more effort getting into it at the least, which one are people going to use?”

Most Canadian research is funded by tax dollars through large grant agencies.

Both fee-based and open access journals sometimes charge authors page and illustration fees to have their work published. The U of C’s open access authors fund, Canada’s first, will cover these charges for authors who meet the criteria said Waller.

“Having this material made open access brings it back in,” said Waller. “You and me, everyone else who pays for this research through our tax dollars, we can get access to it at the end of the day.”

The U of C has the second largest institutional repository in Canada and is the second Canadian signatory to the Compact for Open Access Equity. The U of C also has a large digitization unit and is the prairie node for Synergies, a nationwide project to host academic journals online.

SU vice-president academic Alyssa Stacy is advocating for open access content on behalf of students.

“We will be promoting open access through our lobbying groups and our initiatives around academic material,” said Stacy “It is more of a long-term campaign for the SU than just this week.”

The SU helped LCR present keynote speaker Jean-Claude Guedon on Oct 20. Guedon is a senior academic who researched the political economy of knowledge and possibilities offered by digital documents since 1991. He also published Canada’s first scholarly electronic journal.

Guedon hopes that open access publishing will reach a tipping point and become the most common source of academic information. He said students should be concerned because they will inherit and live with whatever information system emerges.

“It could take the place of a completely proprietary system controlled by a few very powerful centres for the interest of a few very large companies or countries or combinations of both,” said Guedon, “or it could really turn into a very open system for the benefit of practically everybody. We have got to work very hard to push it as far as we can in the right direction and open it up as much as we can.”

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