Category Archives: OA

Open access debate at CHLA/ABSC: not about OA at all

There was a lot of activity around the topic of open access at this year’s Canadian Health Libraries Association / Association des bibliothèques de la santé du Canada Conference in Kingston, ON:

While the interest group meeting and paper presentation are probably pretty much what one might have expected from such events, the debate merits some special discussion, and I finally have a minute in which to do so. The two presenters were Dr. Udo Schüklenk & Dr. Sergio Sismondo.

The conference blurb about the event states:

Like many others in the academy, Udo and Sergio, both philosophers at Queen’s University, hold considered views on the question of the ‘open access’ versus ‘subscription’ models in academic publishing. As it turns out, they find themselves on opposite sides of the spectrum. Sergio thinks that ‘open access’ is ultimately the way to go, while Udo thinks that the ‘open access’ business model is fatally flawed. Unlike Sergio, Udo carries the baggage of a serious conflict of interest, being the paid editor of a monthly subscription based journal. The two of them have engaged in vigorous debates about the pros and cons of both models on various occasions. During our conference they will put their respective cases to the audience test. Each of them will talk for about 15 min, with a 5 min slot for a rejoinder available to both. Afterwards we will open up the debate to the floor. (emphasis mine)

The debate was lively and jovial, with this clearly not being the first time this pair had engaged in verbal sparring. Neither speaker hailed from a health or library background, and both said things that caused the audience to gasp audibly (e.g., the moment in which Udo said he couldn’t imagine why anyone would ever read the journal Social Science & Medicine!). More significantly, neither demonstrated a clear understanding of the distinction between access models and business models.

As Sergio identified from the start, Udo was intended to wear the “black hat” in the debate. Sergio made pro-OA arguments that might be considered overblown, advocating for the “OA system.” (Not sure what the “OA system” is…perhaps this is like the “gay agenda”?)

Udo, on the other hand, gamely played staunch defender of the possibly-dying print journal (and pointing to the recent JAMA article-revision kerfuffle as rationale), conflating OA with online publishing.

Both debaters tried to pin journals’ ethical transgressions on their access models. While both gentlemen were clearly experts in philosophical-ethical issues, it was evident that they were not experts in scholarly publishing, as they seemed unaware of initiatives such as LOCKSS as well as disciplinary trends in citation behaviour.

When the floor was opened up to the audience, I joined a few others in scampering up to the microphones. It was not long before Sergio had to concede that, no, OA will not change anything other than access. A moment later, Udo had to admit that not only would OA improve access, but he (the alleged anti-OA debater) archived all his publications under “green” OA.

And thus, our “OA debate” was suddenly revealed as a green OA vs gold OA debate.

I started this post claiming that the “OA Debate” at CHLA/ABSC 2010 was not about OA at all. Upon reflection, that’s not true. It was about OA, just not in the way we all expected. It was about how far we’ve come in the past decade+, that nowadays an OA debate is not about “whether OA” but rather “how OA.” Pretty awesome that “opposite ends of the spectrum” can now mean “believing in different OA futures.”

Thank you to all the OA movers & shakers who have been working on this issue since before I even knew it existed.




Filed under digitization, ethics, Health, OA, publishing

CMAJ “No longer free for all”

I’ve been thinking about the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ)‘s decision to convert from being 100% free to read online to only partially so, come January.

Access Change

The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) has been entirely free to read, online, since it first went digital in the mid-1990’s.

This is about to change.

Letters from the publisher and editor inform us that, beginning in January,

“Editorials, news, clinical images, abstracts and previously published articles will also remain accessible to all readers. Access to reviews, analysis, practice, commentaries, humanities and supplements will be restricted [to CMA members and journal subscribers]…although these items will become free of charge 12 months after publication.”

Funder OA Requirement Implications

Research – of key concern to any researcher holding funding from CIHR or the many other research funders who require OA to publications before a year’s embargo is up – will remain free to access. However, authors should be advised that publishing in the “Reviews” or “Analysis” sections will not meet the CIHR OA requirement – and there is no pay-for-OA option to remediate that.

Bucking the Trend?

The reason given for the CMAJ’s access change is that:

We must now adapt our business model to respond to current economic conditions and can no longer provide free access to all of our content.

I think this is interesting, given all the journals that have recently been deciding they cannot afford NOT at least offer an OA option. Is there some sort of OA “sweet spot” that is most profitable in 2009/2010? Or is CMAJ just panicking and hoping to get a bit more cash in a recession here?

I’m also curious as to why CMAJ decided to restrict access to readers, rather than charging publication fees to authors. Author-side fees seem to be the current dominant method for publishers attempting to move from subscription to free-to-read models in biomedicine. (Will this be a later phase for CMAJ, post re-institution of subscriptions, effectively making an early adopter of OA end up as also a late adopter of OA?) My guess is that CMAJ authors are generally better funded than the readers. If anyone reading this has insight in to why CMAJ decided to charge readers rather than authors, I’d love to hear it!

Institutions or individuals requiring immediate access to the entire online journal will need to purchase subscriptions unless they are CMA members. (Haven’t heard much buzz on the library wire yet as far as how this $690/yr is going to affect already-shrinking serials budgets in libraries…maybe there’s nothing to say?)

The journal is also planning to publish more frequently online, and less frequently in print, to speed up publication timetables and save on postage. Wish they could scrap the print all together, but I’m not intimately familiar with the reading habits of practicing Canadian MDs, so maybe there is a reason they haven’t done the obvious yet?

CMAJ will continue to participate in the HINARI and AGORA initiatives to bring free or low-cost access to low-income international readership. They’re also giving “media” free access, and while I am really glad CMAJ’s not planning to limit journalists to lousy “press-release journalism,” I’d be interested to know who qualifies as “accredited” media in 2010.

Effect on Journal Impact?

CMAJ is one of the only Canadian biomedical/health journals to be a serious competitor in the Impact Factor rankings (ISI Journal Citation Reports). Since 1997, it’s IF has grown from 1.6 to 7.5, placing CMAJ within the top 10 general medical journals. This stellar climb in a non-U.S.American journal has frequently (but controversially) been associated with it’s wide availability – particularly since other OA journals – such as PLoS Medicine – have made similar sharp climbs. While research articles (upon which the IF formula is based) will remain free to read, it will be interesting to see whether the journal maintains its high IF ranking or slips in the years following this change. My guess is that it would take a long time to slip, if at all, because it is now fairly widely known internationally, compared with a decade ago.

Open vs Free

A couple years ago, back in July 2007, the editors of CMAJ published a commentary congratulating the editors of Open Medicine (OM) on establishing a new journal. While this congratulatory note was interesting in light of the historic editorial schism at CMAJ that gave birth to OM, the letter itself looked nice and innocuous enough. In said letter, CMAJ wrote:

Like CMAJ, Open Medicine is an open-access journal, available free to all who wish to read it and free for all who wish to contribute to it. As open access remains disappointingly rare among general medical journals (Table 1), this is both commendable and of great significance. The birth of Open Medicine thus provides us with a valuable opportunity to remind our readers why open access to the medical literature is important and necessary.

OM’s editors responded a few days later with their own letter, which struck some as less than gracious. In it, they wrote:

Although the endorsement by CMAJ’s editors of open access medical publishing is welcome, we would like to take this opportunity to clarify several points raised in their commentary.1 First, there is an important distinction between open versus free-access publication. Open Medicine has not only adopted the principle of free access, that is, making content fully available online, but endorses the definition of open access publication drafted by the Bethesda Meeting on Open Access Publishing.2 This definition stipulates that the copyright holder grants to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute works derived from the original work, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship. Given that CMAJ holds copyright and charges reprint and permission fees, it is not in fact an open access journal.

It’s significant to note that these letters were written before the Suber-Harnad agreement on the terms gratis OA and libre OA to indicate free-to-read/access vs free-to-read/access/reuse/redistribute. There was more talk about what was and wasn’t “real” OA just a couple years ago. Even taking into consideration the context of the day, though, the OM response could be read as a bit snitty.

However, in light of this recent “Access change” by CMAJ, the OM letter suddenly seems more relevant, almost prescient. Another difference between gratis, free-as-in-no-money OA and libre, free-as-in-freedom OA emerges when journals highlight their ability to take their toys and go home. CMAJ is not saying they’re moving anything that is currently freely available back behind subscription barriers, and they are currently planning to make everything free to read 12 months after publiciation, BUT…we are reminded that CMAJ’s articles are CMAJ’s articles. Whereas Open Medicine’s articles are ours.


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Filed under copyright, digitization, funding, Health, OA, publishing

Hark – PubMedCentral Canada on the horizon!

Thanks to Dean Giustini for the original heads-up on this:

In a press release titled “Canada joins international effort to provide access to health research,” the NRC (parent organization of CISTI, the de facto Canadian national library of science & medicine)

PubMed Central repository will open new pathway to Canadian health research

July 06, 2009, Ottawa, Ontario

Accelerating the development of discoveries and innovations and facilitating their adoption through free and open access to research findings. This is the aim of an important new initiative that will provide researchers and knowledge users free access to a vast digital archive of published health research at their desktop and connect them to an emerging international network of digital archives anchored in the United States.

The National Research Council’s Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (NRC-CISTI), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) have announced a three-way partnership to establish PubMed Central Canada (PMC Canada). PMC Canada will be a national digital repository of peer-reviewed health and life sciences literature, including research resulting from CIHR funding. This searchable Web-based repository will be permanent, stable and freely accessible.


This has been a long time coming, and I know I’ve been but one of a gazillion nags pestering folk at CISTI and CIHR about when PMCCanada was going to actually happen. Between translation issues (the two existing PMC repositories are both English only), funding cuts, and who knows what all else, it’s taken quite a while for PMCC to go from drawing board through discussion to reality.  And to be sure, this is still short of reality, but an official press release gives reason to hope!

PMCCanada could really help Canadian health research funders, many of whom now have OA policies requiring free access to research outputs within 6 months of publication, guide grantees to a specific deposit location if they so desire (or at least offer a clear option to those without institutional repositories). CIHR sort of already guides researchers to PMC, but the CIHR policy came about much more quickly than the Canadian PMC repository did, so this could only be one of multiple options.  I wonder if CIHR will now require deposit in PMCCanada, similar to the NIH’s PMC deposit policy.

I know some Canadian journals have worked to become accepted into PMC by now, and I’m not sure if they will get shifted over, or exactly how the territory between PMC affiliates is divvied up/shared.  It’s a bit of a confusing time for authors these days, with some journals depositing automatically into PMC, some not (or not fast enough to comply with all funder mandates), some not even eligible to do so, and multiple deposit processes still required to deposit into multiple repositories (e.g. a university institutional repository and PMC).

Anyway, kudos to those who have worked long and hard on this project. It will be great in principle to have a PMCCanada, it may make it easier for CIHR (and possibly other finders) to check on compliance with their access policies, and we’ll just have to figure out what the existence of PMCCanada means in practice.



Filed under government, Health, OA, preservation, publishing

Conflating OA with other issues we like

At the 2nd International Public Knowledge Project Conference‘s CLA pre-conference, a bunch of librarians and a few assorted others got together to talk about open access (OA).  One thing I kept finding myself coming back to is something I’ve been thinking about for several months now: whether we who are advocating open access should perhaps be more careful about when we are speaking about OA, and when we are speaking about other, related, topics which we may care a lot about but are not at core essentially about open access.

Most definitions of OA I have seen run along the lines of: free online access to scholarly research, which is often also free of many licensing restrictions.

To me, that definition says the primary goal of OA is Access to Read.  The secondary goal, then, is Access to Reuse. To me, that definition does not say anything about disrupting the economics of scholarly publishing.  To me that definition does not say that OA is about resisting the commodification of knowledge.

Radical change in the functioning of scholarly publishers may be a goal many of us share, but is it essentially about OA?  I would venture to say no.

Two topics that are related to changing the status quo of scholarly publishing, and often associated with OA, which came up for me at the preconference were the Serials Crisis & Conflicts of Interest in journal publishing. I’m going to argue that these are not really about OA.  Feel free to counter argue if you wish — I’m hammering this out in my mind yet.

Conflict of Interest

I think that, although some significant OA endeavours have been created in the spirit of general openness and inspired by closed editorial situations that have masked conflicts of interest (particularly in health/medicine; yes I’m talking about situations like the editors who moved from JAMA to Medscape and left CMAJ to found Open Medicine), we can generally agree that OA journals are not essentially in any way impervious to conflicts of interest.

OA journals can be as in-conflict, as corrupt, or as anything-else-you-want as closed access journals.  Why not?  It’s part of the beauty of open access that it is not tied to any one particular business or operating model. It’s about end-user access.  Period. With regard to conflicts of interest, I think we (and especially those of us dealing primarily with health information) just need to be mindful of not conflating OA with conflict-free (or even necessarily conflict-transparent).

Serials Crisis

However, the serials crisis is stickier. A lot of publications and presentations given by librarians about OA (including some presentations I have given) mention the “serials crisis.”  I understand the significance of the shrinking library budget, and the need on the part of librarians to get the word out about this, but I have some doubts about the approach that uses the serials crisis to justify OA.

  • The first one is that use of the phrase “serials crisis” strikes me as one of those signs that one has completed a ML/IS program: once jargon such as this make sense to you automatically, it is time to graduate.  To most of the non-library world, the phrase means nothing and, frankly, sounds a bit hysterical. How is something that we have been living with (some without even knowing about it) for decades now a “crisis”? You tell me how this is a compelling argument to most faculty/researchers.
  • The second doubt I’ve developed is that, while the serials crisis crunching library budgets and forcing cancellations of subscriptions may have been part of the push toward the OA tipping point, I’m not convinced that OA will really make any difference to major research libraries in the end, in terms of their serials budget. Particularly in light of academic libraries and research funders increasingly paying money (via publishing fees or membership schemes) to to pay-for-OA publishers, I see OA – at last gold OA – moving, but not necessarilydoing anything to reduce or eliminate, the cost burden.

Lynn Copeland gave some historical perspective at thie preconference that helped illuminate for my why librarians associate support for OA with the serials crisis.  I need to read the full 2002 ARL-commissioned report, “Igniting Change in Scholarly Communication: SPARC, Its Past, Present, and Future” (<- link is to PDF), but my understanding is that it recommended encouraging new entrants into the oligopolistic scholarly publishing market as a method of trying to slow/stop the serials crisis.  This makes sense to me: the increasing commodification of knowledge as scholarly publishing has become more of a for-profit business and less of an academic endeavour is certainly a problem in my view.

Open Access, and the general arrival of electronic publishing, has reduced the entrance barrier into the scholarly publishing industry, so in that way I get how can be seen as an enabling factor in tackling the serials crisis. In this way, I see how, for librarians who are aware of this history and are stuggling to stretch shrinking collections dollars, the serials crisis is a motivating factor for some types of OA publishing.

However, I don’t think OA, at core, will solve the serials crisis.  Frankly, as we see more of the big traditional closed-access journals converting (in part or wholly) from pay-to-read to pay-to-publish, and more academic libraries experimenting with paying publication fees in addition or instead of subscription fees, it seems highly likely to me that OA will only “solve” the problem OA is designed to address:  Access.

The price burden/barrier will not dissapear, but rather move from reader-side to author-side (or in academic cases, will possibly just remain within the library budget, just renamed from subscription to membership or publication costs). Large publishing companies are not likely to give up their awesome revenue streams, and as for-profit companies they “should” not, as it’s their mandate to make money (can you tell I’ve bene working with a lot of economists?). And even when we’re talking about “green” OA rather than the “gold” OA that can create significant revenue streams for publishers, there is requisite cost on the researcher-author-institution side, as someone has to manage the repositories, deposits, etc.

Is this a disappointment?

Well, yes and no.  I guess it depends on your perspective.

I would venture that “merely” removing the barrier to read and reuse scholarly content is a HUGE thing, and definitely change for the better.  No, it’s not revolution, but it is progress.  (Call me a sellout, but I’m a Gen-Xer, not a child of the 60’s, and I tend ot think of revolution as more of a process than an event.) When I think of community-based researchers, students, or health practitioners who are unaffiliated with academic institutions or even hospitals, there are so many examples in which “just” open access is very, very important.

I know there’s more to unpack here, but I have to go back to the conference and soak up more interesting stuff! So much rattling around my head right now…



Filed under academic libraries, IP, OA, publishing

Another Canadian Health Research Funder OA Policy: CHSRF

The Canadian Health Services Research Foundation (CHSRF) now has an OA policy for grantees!

Apparently the Policy on Open Access to Research Outputs (FAQ here, actual policy in PDF here) went into effect in October, but perhaps it was quite a soft launch at the time, as it’s not in Sherpa JULIET funder mandate list yet (don’t worry, I submitted the notification form, so it should be soon), I I don’t recall seeing it on Open Access News and I wasn’t aware of it myself until a colleague tipped me off today.  (Launch is soft no more, however, as there’s a big banner about it on the website!)

CHSRF is an organization that does an absolutely amazing job with KT, from their Mythbusters publication series to their “Researcher on Call” conference calls. I’m so pleased to see their thoughtful dedication to transparency and KT reflected in their new OA policy.

From their FAQ on the policy:

Why does the Foundation support open access?

  • The Foundation wants to improve access to Foundation-funded research in peer-reviewed journals.
  • Open access to research indicates that we, as an organization, acknowledge the growing importance and potential of digital technologies and the internet in allowing instant exchanges of knowledge between researchers and research users. Because the Foundation is ultimately accountable to the Canadian public, open access encourages the transparency of, and access to, its funded research results by the widest audience possible, without barriers.
  • Greater dissemination and use of peer-reviewed research will serve to enhance the timeliness and impact of sponsored health services and policy research.

I love how honest and real that sounds.

Mushy stuff, aside, the policy details appear similar to the CIHR Policy:

Individuals and teams who receive funding from the Foundation for research and related activities are required to make every effort to ensure that the results of their research are published in open access journals (freely available online) or in an online repository of published papers, within six months after initial publication.

6-month embargo seems to be emerging as the Canadian standard, which is interesting since publishers are largely hung up on the NIH’s 12-month embargo.  This can be a pain when dealing with copyright forms from journals that don’t think Canada is big or important enough to cater to, as you have to sort of cross things out and add bits in, or else try to attach an addendum.

The CHSRF policy does allow an “out” if a publisher refuses your copyright transfer amendment attempt, and also says that researchers can use research dissemination funds for OA publication fees. No mention of data, but this is unsurprising since health services data is stickier than many other types of data, seeing as so much of this data is very privacy-sensitive.

My only criticisms of the policy are:

  1. the lack of indication (again similar to the CIHR policy) of what sort of “teeth” the policy will have – i.e., will researchers who fail to comply be subject to some penalty, be ineligible for future funding, etc.?
  2. the lack of specificity about where to archive.  Particularly given that some of this research will be published on websites of organizations rather than via journals, if CHSRF wants to ensure these research results are preserved in accessible format (which it seems to, from my reading of the policy), I think they need to be clear about a copy needing to be archived somewhere, in an institutional or subject repository.

I know without Canadian PMC we are at a bit of a loss as to where all this mandated stuff should be going, but I think a future revision of the CHSRF policy could be strengthened by requiring that all grantees submit copies of their works to be archived (perhaps with their final grant report) to be collocated in an OAI-PMH compliant CHSRF archive — perhaps a collection within one of the many Canadian university repositories.

For those who are counting, this policy makes 8 Canadian funder mandates in JULIET, 7 of which are health research funders.  It’s such an interesting time to work in the field of Canadian health research information, really.



Filed under copyright, funding, Health, OA

Canadian Net Neutrality Consultation

For people who found this page while looking for info on April’s CRTC  “traffic shaping” consultation, go here.

The CRTC’s “traffic management” (throttling) consultation is accepting comments from interested individuals right now.

This is the “Net Neutrality” consultation we’ve been waiting for. Many of us have asked the CRTC to hold this public consultation and it is happening.

Let’s make our voices heard!

The CRTC says:

“Members of the public who wish merely to file written comments in this proceeding, without receiving copies of the various submissions, may do so by filing such comments with the Commission by 16 February 2009 at the address or fax number noted above, or by filling out the online form.”

I know these CRTC “public” consultations can be byzantine and hard to know how to respond to.   If you want to participate, here are two options:

  • The online form to submit comments is here.


  • You can quickly & easily send a boilerplate comment via the Campaign for Democratic Media’s Save Our Net coalition, right here.

Comment period closes Feb 23, so don’t procrastinate.

Need Some Background?

  • The CRTC public notice can be found here.
  • The Save Our Net coalition has background info in language that is comprehensible by regular people here.
  • The Canadian Library Association’s 2008 resolution in support of Net Neutrality explains why this is a library issue here.
  • Michael Geist’s take and useful links on this consultation cam be read here.
  • For “Net Neutrality 101” see my backgrounder from last spring here


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Filed under government, Intellectual freedom, net neutrality, OA, technology, Uncategorized

OA Day – of course I support it, but I’m kinda bummed about the planning

I’ve been conflicted about whether to write this post, and finally decided to just get it out there. I’m psyched about the momentum OA is gaining, thanks in large part to the years of hard work done by information folk and activists (starting long before I even considered library school as an option). I’m a fan of SPARC, ATA, Create Change, and the like.

But – and in part due to this very momentum we’re gaining – I think it’s important for those of us in the movement to look at ourselves critically, and question whether we are (to paraphrase Alice Walker) being the change we wish to see in the world.

To me, OA is at heart about fairness and inclusiveness.  (Some may disagree and say it’s all about “speeding progress” or some such, which is cool, but not what lights my fire the way justice does.)  Therefore, I want to look at the public face of the OA movement in North America where I live and work, and ask how fair and inclusive we are being.  Because I think there are a couple areas in which we could use some recalibrating. To begin with, there’s…

Open Access Day

OA day is on Sukkot; the first day of Sukkot to be exact.  I’ve complained my fair share about the Canadian federal elections being called for a pretty major Jewish holiday, but at least you can vote in advance.  And, well, Prime Minister Stephen Harper isn’t really about fairness, access and inclusiveness, so it’s not really any surprise that he’d ignore the holiday of a major world religion in his election call.

However, OA is about fairness, access and inclusiveness. So I expect better from us. You can’t really celebrate OA day in advance, when the coordinated international efforts, complete with live streaming webcasts, are happening on a day you’re hanging out in your Sukkah.

I think OA Day is a fabulous idea — kudos to SPARC and whoever else may have thought it up!  But really folks, most desk calendars these days are printed with the holidays of the major world religions on them, and it wouldn’t hurt us any to look at the calendar before sending out an international press release. We might even go the “extra mile” and google the date to see if there are any big major news media stories relating to this upcoming date, like, oh, a neighbouring country’s federal elections. When we don’t, it feels a bit like we don’t care that some won’t be able to participate in the OA festivities. Really.



Filed under inclusion/exclusion, OA, The Profession