Exploring Open Access

Over the past two decades, open access publishing has become an integral and controversial factor in advancing the interests of scholars, researchers, and, in many cases, information professionals. Open access is a publishing model offering free and immediate access to online scholarly research articles, with no copyright or licensing limitations. The growth of open access has the potential to accelerate scientific advancements, foster innovation, and augment education. While the concept of open access publishing has obvious benefits to the scientific and academic community, it is also a game-changer for information professionals working in an untraditional capacity.

As I discussed in my last post, many librarians today are working outside of the traditional library role. While open access has clear impacts on the way librarians in academic and public libraries retrieve and share information, this post will hopefully provide a thorough understanding of what open access is, as well as answer the question, “What major challenges does the untraditional librarian face in working with open access materials?” Furthermore, this discussion will explore how special libraries and untraditional information professionals, specifically, are working to overcome the challenges associated with open access in order to maximise the potential, benefit the end user, and encourage more widespread use.

Presently, there are two strategies of open access; green open access and gold open access. Green open access is when authors self-archive their information or research into electronic archives or institutional repositories. Gold open access is the process of publishing in open access journals, which do not require a user subscription cost (p. 18, Grabowsky, 2015). While the green and gold models are both different means of providing open access, they are not opposing forces. For many information professionals, both strategies can be utilized to provide access to the most information possible to end users.

With the growth of open access publishing, those involved are struggling to make this model as beneficial as possible to all parties; authors, publishers, information professionals, and, ultimately, the end user. This publishing model is changing the way information is shared, and procured, however, it is not without its inadequacies.

Untraditional Information Professionals, are a group without a single definition. This group can include, librarians working in special libraries, independent information professionals, and many of the specific branches of information professionals that were discussed in last weeks post. Open access can have its own unique impact on each of these groups, and while barriers to this publishing model have dropped since its inception, there are still many challenges being faced by information professionals who wish to connect users with these materials.

Special libraries are considered untraditional in that they are highly specialized collections of information, often serving a very specific population of users. Because open access publishing is typically reserved for research and studies, it could be argued that special libraries reap the highest benefit of this service. Open access to studies and research relating to a special library’s distinct content area can play an important role in the library’s ability to meet the needs of the users.

Special libraries face the challenge of transitioning their traditional collection management process to fit the open access model. While the selection process for library materials is similar for traditional scholarly resources and open access published materials, it can be more difficult for collection management staff to identify potential open access materials and resources. Often, rather than being able to select title-by-title, when it comes to open access, libraries might have to commit to provide collections of open access materials. As a result, libraries must explore both the gold and green open access models to determine where their interest lies.

Independent Information Professionals face a different set of challenges because they do not work exclusively with a set collection of materials. A dramatic challenge faced by independently working information professionals, when it comes to open access, is that users may no longer need to use information services in order to acquire open access materials. Users may be able to directly find a resources through the internet, completely bypassing the need for the librarian. In a time where access to the internet is so readily available, and users can find information so quickly through search engines like Google, access to large quantities of information without the use of an information professional’s services can pose a threat. With the increase of open access publishing, users are more easily able to access scholarly information, independent information professionals must work to maintain relevance in spite of the easy direct access to reliable, scholarly information.

An additional obstacle to be faced by information professionals, who choose to work with open access materials, is the challenge of maintaining this information. It is reasonable to suspect that open access journals might be changed or updated. Things such as URL changes, updates, and amendments can present a problem in cataloging and sharing resources. Journal splits or mergers might also take place, resulting in access changes (p. 412, Schmidt, 2005). This is a challenge that must be overcome by information professionals providing access to these materials. As a result, librarians must allow time and the appropriate allocation of resources to check and verify these materials, and update them accordingly.

A final challenge to information professionals is the new role they must take on as publishing advisors. Open access, being a relatively new model, has very little standardization. Librarians, in addition to being information providers, must function as publication facilitators for open access materials. If open access is to maintain relevance to the communities which nontraditional information professionals serve, there must be a shift in order to accommodate this early-phase market (p. 208, Fund, 2015).

Arguably, one of the biggest challenges of the librarian, in terms of open access, is the threat of the elimination of their role completely. As previously mentioned, with increased electronic access to information, and scholarly research being available free of charge, the question of whether or not users will seek out the information professional in their search remains. However, research suggests that users expect their librarian to provide indexing information (p. 208, Fund, 2015). Independent information professionals have the unique set of skills and education to not only be providers of information, but also educators. With the threat of elimination, due to advances made in open access, there must be a gradual shift of information professionals to educating users or clients on how to make the best use of open access.

The action which could potentially provide the most positive impact on open access among information professionals comes from sharing. “There’s no point in libraries all over the world laboriously replicating the same work of evaluation, selection, and acquisition when they have the tools, methods, and community to work in collaboration.” (p. 494, Bonn, 2015). There are over 100 university-established open access institutional repositories in existence. Instead of navigating dozens of institutional repositories looking for available information, or indexing open access materials that have already been indexed, the best way to optimize open access, and maintain relevance to users, would be for librarians to put their efforts into establishing practices that make sharing a more streamlined process. This will ultimately result the highest level of service to the end user.

Many government agencies are forming policies surrounding open access. By these publicly funded agencies requiring research be made available through open access, and funding the publication costs, a door has been opened resulting in an increase in open access publications (p. 6, Zhao, 2014). If additional agencies, organizations, and private organizations were to require their research and studies to be published through an open access medium, widespread use would skyrocket, and increased access would surely result.

Many information professionals are still working out the kinks when it comes to cataloging and sharing open access materials. Much like trying to reference a website, with changing content and linkage, open access materials can pose a similar challenge to libraries. However, in order to encourage increased use of open access materials, librarians must work to find a means to do so (p. 411, Schmidt, 2005).

Ultimately, the concept of open access is still in its early stages, and information professionals are still working to navigate this new world of publishing. Many believe that a full transition will never happen, and those involved must learn to balance between open access and traditional publishing. While the potential benefits are endless, transitioning away from traditional publishing will not be without its challenges.

Librarians must work to market open access and its benefits. The negative implication of open access is arguably the result of a misunderstanding, misconception, or lack of knowledge of the matter. Nontraditional information professionals are at an advantage because they service users with a unique interest, often users being authors or researchers themselves. This specific group of librarians must advocate for open access publishing and work to introduce users to the model, as well as the benefits and advances which can result from it. By implementing these changes, and increasing awareness, information professionals can work to build a stronger more advantageous open access industry, forever changing the way information is shared.

 

References

Bonn, M. (2015). Maximizing the benefits of open access. College & Research Libraries News, 76(9), 491-494. doi:10.5860/crln.76.9.9381

Fund, S. (2015). Will Open Access Change the Game? Bibliothek Forschung und Praxis,39(2), 206-209. doi:10.1515/bfp-2015-0025

Grabowsky, A. (2015). The Impact of Open Access on Collection Management. Virginia Libraries, 61(1), 17-22. doi:10.1080/03615261003623187

Schmidt, K. (2005). New Roles for a Changing Environment: Implications of Open Access for Libraries. College & Research Libraries, 66(5), 407-416. doi:10.5860/crl.66.5.407

Zhao, L. (2014). Riding the Wave of Open Access: Providing Library Research Support for Scholarly Publishing Literacy. Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 45(1), 3-18. doi:10.1080/00048623.2014.882873

 

Additional Resources:

https://www.oclc.org/special.en.html

https://www.plos.org/open-access

http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/iftoolkits/litoolkit/openaccess

 

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