by Kgomotso Radijeng, Member of IFLA’s Copyright and other Legal Matters (CLM) Advisory Committee (radijengk[at]bitri.co.w)
Open Access (OA) is one of the key methods of ensuring free access to information for all. There is no doubt that OA has liberated access to information and many institutions across the whole world have embraced it. OA is also increasingly becoming relevant as countries, especially the least developed, experience economic difficulties, with libraries experiencing extensive budget cuts.
However, there is a gap in terms of assessing the impact that OA has had on the challenges that it is meant to address such as copyright restrictions and budget constraints. Earlier this year a small survey was carried out to find out if the use of open access resources has had any impact on alleviating copyright challenges to access to information and budget constraints. The target group was academic institutions in the South African Development Community (SADC) region. Five institutions responded, namely: University of Botswana, University of Zambia, Botho University, University of Zimbabwe, and National University of Lesotho.
What the survey revealed is that OA has been well received as evidenced by the level of usage of the institutional repositories. For example, the University of Botswana (UBRISA) was set up in 2010 and has had 1,895,120 downloads while the National University Lesotho was set up in 2014 and has had 414 254 page views.
However, it was also apparent that access to OA has not helped much with copyright challenges and cost reduction; the respondents stated that OA has assisted a lot in terms of quantity of information resources and not necessarily on reduction of costs.
While OA has helped to free some money for other needs, there is still a lot of reliance on commercial databases. Some of the reasons advanced for continued reliance on commercial databases were:
- Some academics still associated OA with predatory journals and feel that its quality is inferior to commercial publishing.
- Commercial databases are seen as having higher “integrity”.
- Commercial databases have a wider subject coverage compared to what is available under OA.
- Academics still demand access to material in subscription journals.
The respondents were also asked to recommend efforts that should be put in place to promote OA. There was resounding support for advocacy; that the library fraternity needs to work with other stakeholders to raise awareness on benefits of OA and available OA resources.
Other initiatives that are necessary for the success of OA are: institutional leadership support, change of attitudes by researchers and academics towards OA publishing, government investment in ICT infrastructure, establishment of policy structures at institutional and national level, more OA publishing by commercial/reputable publishers, and more promotion by libraries of existing OA resources for the benefit of their users.
The success of all initiatives for promoting OA depends a lot on education, advocacy and awareness among key stakeholders and libraries can take a leading role in this. There is also a need for a more comprehensive impact assessment on the effect that OA has had on copyright challenges and cost reductions. There is recognition that OA can reduce the effects of subscription costs and licensing restriction where it is implemented efficiently, but it is imperative to collect and analyse relevant data that can demonstrate that effect.
For more information, check the power point of Kgomotso’s presentation at the Copyright and other Legal Matters Session during this year’s World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.