Open access publications are very important for promoting knowledge sharing, innovation, collaboration, and so on. Many research publications are still proprietary, however, and hidden behind high copyright walls. On the Community Informatics Researchers mailing list, an interesting discussion is being conducted about this topic, triggered by the invitation to one of its members to contribute a chapter to a research handbook to be published by a commercial publisher. Here's my response to the invited author who refuses to contribute as the handbook is not open access:
In principle, I agree with your point. I think we should all strive for open-access publications wherever possible. However, I think there is a large grey zone in between which we cannot afford to ignore.
I have been co-editor myself of a research handbook in the same IGI series (the "Handbook of Research on Socio-Technical Design and Social Networking Systems"). My mistake was that I didn't check beforehand what the pricing would be, which, frankly, is outrageous: US$ 495 for a two-volume handbook, all the hard work basically having been done by authors and editors! Afterwards, I solemnly pledged never to publish with them anymore unless they radically change their business model, as this model stifles, rather than promotes open research.
Now, where's the grey zone?
- First of all, there are many non/less-commercial, yet still non-open ways to publish, often provided by professional societies. Think the ACM Digital Library:http://portal.acm.org/dl.cfm
ACM is doing a lot of soul searching about whether to make this library freely available. They have a valid point, however, that the costs of maintaining a quality, indexed library need to be covered somehow. I think US$ 99 for a full year's access is reasonable. The costing model debate is not over yet, so I am sure that creative ways will be found for providing access to the many who also cannot afford this amount.
- Second, even with the very commercial publications, there are ways to work around their inaccessiblity. For instance, many commercial publishers, even IGI, allow an author to make a copy of a chapter available via his/her personal home page. In the case of our handbook, we made an index page to those chapters, so that many handbook chapters can now be easily accessed (unfortunately, not all authors took this effort, but that's beyond our control):http://brianwhitworth.com/STS/
This triggers a concrete idea: perhaps we could turn a section of the CIRN Living Knowledge Basehttp://cirn.wikispaces.com/
into a "CI Digital Library" that makes accessing this "grey zone" in our field easier? Any librarian (student) volunteers out there to think this through and set it up?Aldo