Saturday, 22 June 2013

Open Access for All

Issues associated with open access certainly seem to be the discussion topic of the month, or year, or years. And really, why shouldn’t it be? Open access is one of the most exciting developments in making the world seem a little closer to the utopian vision that lives in my head. In essence, it’s about levelling the playing field. Why should information that benefits society be limited to those who are in the financially privileged position to access it? The more people who have access to research, the greater chance there is of producing even better, more varied research.

Of course, it is not a cure all. There is still the rather large obstacle of the digital divide, whether it is within countries or between countries. However, the move towards open access scholarly information provides yet another reason why governments should be investing in communication infrastructure. But developing communication infrastructure is really only the tip of the iceberg. Unless we want a future in which global information flows are further imbalanced.

In a perfect world, open access will enable developing countries to promote more of their research outputs. However, this is not a key focus of current open access discourse. However, it needs to be. I read a great article recently, Open Access Initiatives in Africa — Structure, Incentives and Disincentives, which detailed the obstacles to African participation in the open access era.  According to the author, Nwagwu, the Directory of Open Access Journals reports that there are 384 open access journals in the region. However, 75% of these are Egyptian, which emphasises that many African countries are under-represented. What is more concerning is that repositories in Africa account for only 0.6% of the world’s repositories.1

So what are the major problems?
  • The development of repositories requires experts, hardware, software, all of which cost money.
  • Many educational institutions do not have specific policy statements regarding open access.
  • The same can be said for governments. 
  • Many local journals do not have self-archiving policies.
  • Author fees for publishing in open access journals can be a major disincentive.


Nwagwu suggests that the priority must be awareness building among the interest groups – scholars, libraries, institutions, organisations and governments. This made me curious as to what progress was being made in terms of advocacy and concrete advancements. There is an international not-for-profit, Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), which works to enable “access to knowledge through libraries in developing and transition countries”. Their OA branch has some great examples of how increased advocacy has resulted in some significant changes. I suggest people go have a look at how much is changing in developing countries, and start getting excited about what this means for the future of global knowledge development.

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1. Nwagwu, W. E. (2013). Open Access Initiatives in Africa — Structure, Incentives and Disincentives. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 39(1), 3-10. doi: 10.1016/j.acalib.2012.11.024

Dimity Flanagan is an Information Services Librarian at UNSW Library

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