Today, my colleagues and I are issuing a “Call for Action!”
Diversity is an essential characteristic of an optimal scholarly communications system. Diversity in services and platforms, funding mechanisms, and evaluation measures will allow the research communications to accommodate the different workflows, languages, publication outputs, and research topics that support the needs and epistemic pluralism of different research communities. In addition, diversity reduces the risk of vendor lock-in, which inevitably leads to monopoly, monoculture, and high prices.
We are living through unprecedented times, with a global pandemic sweeping the world, leading to illness, death, and unparalleled economic upheaval. Although our concerns about bibliodiversity have been growing for years, the current crisis has exposed the deficiencies in a system that is increasingly homogenous and prioritizes profits over the public good.
Stories abound about the urgent need for access to the research literature, as illustrated, for example, by this message by Peter Murray-Rust posted to the GOAL mailing list on March 31, 2020
“My colleague, a software developer, working for free on openVirus software, is spending most of his time working making masks in Cambridge Makespace to ship to Addenbrooke’s hospital. When he goes to the literature to find literature on masks, their efficacy and use and construction he finds paywall after paywall after paywall after paywall ….”
For those who were not in favour of open access before, this global crisis should settle the debate once and for all.
We must move away from a pay-to-read world in which researchers, practitioners and the public cannot afford to access critical research materials, or have to wait for embargo periods to lift before they can develop life saving techniques, methods and vaccines. Access to the research is simply too important. Yet, pay-to-publish, the open access model being advanced by many in the commercial sector, is also inappropriate as it places unacceptable financial barriers on researchers’ abilities to publish.
It is time to reassess some of the basic assumptions related to scholarly communications, including competition, prestige, and the role of commercial entities. The same values that underlie our research and education systems should also guide research communications.
To that end, we are calling on researchers, policy makers, funders, service providers, universities and libraries from around the world to work together to address the issue of bibliodiversity in scholarly communication.
The problems we encounter have never been more complex and urgent, nor has the need for solutions been greater. There is a real danger that new budget constraints and an increasing proportion of funds directed towards large commercial entities could lead to greater homogeneity and monopolization, further hampering the free flow of research needed to address the critical challenges we face.
Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director, COAR