The Acceleration of Open Access

New projects to support the open sharing of scholarship are springing up all over.

August 18, 2016

Does it seem like a lot is going on all of a sudden, or am I just old and out of touch? (Don’t answer that.)

I noted with loud applause the launch of SocArXiv just in the nick of time. SSRN had been a for-profit but pretty useful place to store papers in the social sciences, but it was fairly old-school; since it didn’t have the resources to make renovations, it teamed up with Elsevier and that makes it no longer useful for those who think making research findings public should be in the public interest, not in shareholders’ interest. While SocArXiv builds out its infrastructure, it’s got a place where you can put your research and good reasons why you should.

One of the reasons Elsevier acquired SSRN was to branch into supporting scientists’ entire workflow, because that’s where the action will be as the ways we share our research evolve. Well, as it turns out, there’s a non-profit that is already doing exactly this, and it’s playing host to SocArXiv. The Center for Open Science has developed a sweet platform – the Open Science Framework - where scholars can put their stuff, creating an open source infrastructure for researchers’ entire workflow. (Yes, you can! Right now! And librarians, we can explore their institutional option.) Other projects of the Center for Open Science include encouraging reproducibility and finding ways to align practices with principles, such as rewarding openness instead of incentivizing publication of research in places that are not public to most working scientists. It’s all pretty ambitious, but it’s exciting to see that people are thinking big thoughts about how to build new structures and practices that help scientists do their work while living up to their better natures. (And if you’re wondering how we got into this mess in the first place, Kevin Smith has just reviewed Catherine Fisks’ Working Knowledge, which helps explain how corporations altered our concept of copyright, authorship, and intellectual property. Yet another book I haven’t read.)

So we have a Center for Open Science building a fantastic platform for storing and sharing and Cold Springs Harbor with its bioRxiv, and MLA, which has built the MLA Commons for its members with a place to share your research and teaching materials, and now, holy smokes, the American Chemical Society, which not too long ago lobbied against open access to federally funded research, is now looking into creating their own preprint server.

And today I discover the Humanities Commons is coming?!? I feel faint. So much going on. So much positive change in the air.

One fascinating aspect of this is trying to figure out how exactly the culture is changing. Librarians found out with their institutional repositories that building it alone doesn’t make them come. Hard work doesn’t necessarily bring on a cultural shift, either; institutional affiliation has less gravitational pull than disciplines and societies. Even within disciplines, it’s hard for projects like bioRxiv and MLA Commons to attract scholars and scientists who feel the systems they are familiar with are good enough, or that making their work open is too risky or too much work. But with so many projects taking off, and with such robust platforms rolling out to challenge whatever the big corporations will have to offer, I’m feeling pretty optimistic about our capacity to align the public value of scholarship with our daily practices – and optimistic about the willingness of rising scholars to change the system.

I may have trouble keeping up with it all, but that's okay. It's moving in the right direction.


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