Friday, 22 March 2013

Preaching to the converted...

  Sometimes when you try to argue on controversial issues - say for instance you consider that the coverage of sex abuse in the media is biased and lacks objectivity - you'll be accused of not being interested in figting sex abuse. Regardless of how frequently found around the place these days, it's the sort of argumentation that will drive you mad, since its sole purpose seems to be to avoid discussing the issue itself.

Open Access is no exception in this regard. I do not think my personally being pro-Open Access or anti-Open Access should be part of the discussion here, but you may check posts below should this paragraphs raise any doubt about it. Incidentally I happen to be a physicist and have had the opportunity during my extensive Open Access dissemination activities (and have taken great pleasure in it) to discuss it with dozens of researchers from all fields, possibly hundreds of them, many of them Open Access-friendly, some of them reluctant, nearly all of them interested in a sensible dialogue on the future of scholarly communication.

As a result of these experiences, plus again lots of work for implementing OA at institutional and cross-institutional level, there are two relevant points I would like to make in this post:

1) Librarians ('shambrarians' would probably be more accurate) should refrain from going too far in telling researchers how to perform their professional activity. Librarians/shambrarians usually do not know enough about research and scholars can easily perceive that out of a five minute conversation. This is possibly the main reason for the huge divide among both communities - and the one that does actually explain why repositories are nearly empty. Underpopulated repositories is by no means just a 'keystroke issue' I'm afraid (although solving the 'keystroke issue' will help of course). Asking for strong mandates has lately become a mantra from the 'shambrarian' community, but when you listen to researchers' thoughts about this many of them are far from being convinced this is the right way to deal with Open Access implementation.

2) Open Access success is mainly a technology issue and not a policy one (or not to such extent anyway). Ideally the technology and policy strands should work in parallel, but technology can do without policy, whereas the opposite is not true. If you try to sell researchers an Open Access mandate for depositing their papers on the equivalent of a shack in architectural terms, they will very likely laugh in your face (this is the story of the last 20 years Stevan Harnad often talks about). You need to have a solid technical foundation with solid added-value services for talking researchers into Green Open Access. And that is presently far from being a fact. Regrettably far, I feel obliged to add. Not only that, it is kept far from being a possibility by the regular advocates ignoring most about technology and making emphasis on what they do know about: dialectics. I will not mention particular examples here, since it's not the goal of this post to get personal, but if Open Access is to succeed, the debate should clearly become more technical and less political.

No offence meant in any of this, I should warn. I read as much as I can of what gets published on OA, especially blogposts, and there's not too much I like out there I must say. But I do usually keep my opinions to myself since I believe there may be many different ways for OA to succeed - and fights between passionate Green OA supporters and their critical friends is certainly not one of them.

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