How Do We Make Open Access More Accessible?

In the November 2002 Open Archives Forum’s Interim Review of Organisational Issues, a concern was raised about Europe’s role in adopting Open Archives Initiative’s (OAI) protocols and standards because of “the preponderance of U.S. members, and the dependence on U.S. sources of funding for the OAI.”  This concern appears to have been met head on as the European Union has taken the OAI baton and is running full speed with it.

The EU has established the Digital Repository Infrastructures Vision for European Research (DRIVER) “whose vision and primary objective is to create a cohesive, robust and flexible, pan-European infrastructure for digital repositories, offering sophisticated services and functionalities for researchers, administrators and the general public.”  DRIVER’s search portal contains documents “harvested’ from over 200 institutional repositories from 23 European countries in 25 languages. DRIVER is a large scale project that is funded by the European Commission under the auspices of the “Research Infrastructure” unit.  This collaborative and coordinated effort is an impressive one and appears to be lacking in the US.

In a paper written by Christopher Armbruster from the Max Planck Society, he states that this will give the EU a “competitive advantage” over the US:

“Strategy in the US is not as comprehensive as in the EU… Although innovation has occurred in the US (besides the repositories mentioned, JSTOR and ARTSTOR are also significant central solutions), the present situation is characterized by a lack of coordination and a multitude of solutions that make it difficult for anyone outside the cartel of participating institutions to launch new services. For the EU, this situation allows for the opportunity to increase its competitive advantage by coordinating and implementing a distribution of functions that enables more innovation to happen faster.” (A European Model for the Digital Publishing of Scientific Information?, p. 12)

While Kansas University became the first US public University to join Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and others in adopting an OA policy, the question still remains if adopting OA policies and OAI protocols is enough to make the content readily available. As quoted in a previous post, “a huge challenge facing researchers today is gathering research that is now available from so many different sources. ‘Library silos aren’t much better than publisher silos,’ [Geoffrey Bilder commented during this year’s Society for Scholarly publishing meeting.]”  Although all OA through University repositories are OAI-compliant, there is still a lack of an united infrastructure in most countries to aggregate this data. In addition, there remains a question of who would fund such an infrastructure.

I guess the proof that Europe is taking the lead globally is in the OA pudding. Columbia University’s Economics’ Department joined a collection of European repositories, NEEO. When asked to comment on Columbia’s joining NEEO, Patricia Renfro, Deputy University Librarian of Columbia University, had this to say:

“A goal for NEEO and its related Nereus consortium is indeed to increase access to European research in economics, but the invitation to Columbia to join represented a decision to extend the scope of the group and of its developing product, Economists Online, worldwide. Nereus will be inviting other US institutions to join and to contribute to EO and already has one Australian member, Monash University.

Columbia has already found it very rewarding to be part of this innovative initiative and to have an opportunity to work with European colleagues who are exploring the harvesting of local institutional repositories into a subject-based resource. Economists Online will further expose full text Open Access economics content that we are adding to Columbia’s institutional repository, Academic Commons.”

SSRN supports OA, and I think it provides real value to the scholarly community, but have been concerned about making Open Access more Accessible. DRIVER and NEEO are exciting efforts in this very exciting area. I hope they continue to expand and spur others on to join them.

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