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Free and open?

Nick Rogers -

Leader, Geoscientist 17.2, February 2007

Your Publications Secretary ponders Open Access publishing, and a major and lasting legacy for the Bicentenary…

"Open Access" has been causing a bit of a stir in academic publishing of late and contributing to the widely held belief (in the publishing world at least) that there is a crisis in academic communication. "Crisis? What crisis?" I hear you cry - and sense that you expect me now to enlighten you. Unfortunately, having recently attended a workshop on scholarly journal publishing, I am still asking the same question.

The workshop brought together senior players in publishing, librarians, a sprinkling of apparatchiks from various parts of government, and representatives of learned societies to discuss the results of a report into data on scholarly journal publishing.

Don't go away! I promise not to bore you with the details; but suffice to say, despite the thoroughness of the report there remain more gaps than knowledge. What I did come away with, however, was a clearer idea of what "open access" is, and what it might mean to the Society as a publisher.

"Open access" is a misleading term. ‘Open’ has of course been interpreted as meaning ‘free’ - as in ‘free of charge’ - whereas, in reality, open access is nothing more than another business model that publishers have to consider when developing a new product. If you read the RCUK guidelines on this matter, ‘free of charge’ is not implied at all. After all, a bookshop is "open access" - just try walking out without paying.

For the Society, such issues are critical in the future development of GeoSscienceWorld (GSW) and the launch of the Lyell Collection – the Bicentenary project that will make the Society's complete published archive available to all. Publishers add value to the product of scientific research; what we are doing with the Lyell Collection (to which you will all have access by the summer of this year) is adding value to our published archive and improving the service we offer to future authors and the Fellowship. Fellows will have electronic access to the complete archive of their journal of choice and, in addition, free access to all Society books published prior to the current year plus three (i.e. in 2007 you will be able to access all books published in or prior to 2004). What is more, for a modest extra charge, you will be able to access all books from the date of publication.

Like GSW, the Lyell collection will be fully cross-referenced and searchable, and will place our prestigious Special Publications in a prominent and accessible form on the Web. They will become more like a journal series to which libraries subscribe, opening the possibility of their being blessed, in due course, with an impact factor.

The Lyell Collection represents a substantial improvement in the service we offer both to Fellows and to libraries. But will it contribute to open access? I maintain it will. Like a bookshop it will allow anyone to browse, see what we have available, read a summary or abstract and buy what they need. In essence it will be both a first-class virtual library and a bookshop. What we won’t provide of course is coffee and muffins - but perhaps that should be left those who do that best.