Re: Free Access vs. Open Access

From: Jan Velterop <>
Date: Mon, 27 Oct 2003 12:20:21 +0000

    [Forwarded from a separate discussion thread on the Humanist list
    concerning open access to monographs. Redirected here because it
    now focusses on the "free vs. open" distinction. -- SH]

If online material is 'open' in the sense of 'free' that is of course a
great step forward, but if it's only available in pdf I'd have to agree with
Gradmann that that is decidedly sub-optimal to say the least, as we have
really moved on with regard to the technical possibilities. Not being
optimal in itself shouldn't be an excuse for not making freely available
what can be made freely available by (self)archiving in open access
repositories, but at the same time we shouldn't lose sight of the ultimate
and patently feasible goal, 'open' access (as defined in the Berlin
Declaration, the Bethesda principles, by Wellcome, PLoS, BioMed Central, and
others) as opposed to merely 'free' access. It doesn't help to be
sub-ambitious; 'free' will come in the wake of the open access movement, but
I doubt if the reverse is true. If one really wants to use literature
efficiently that often involves nowadays electronic tools to analyse,
data-mine, and text-mine the material, for which it has to be in a
machine-readable format.

Open Access really is more than just an economical goal (although it goes
without saying that being able to access literature without having to be at
an institution that can afford the access tolls helps enormously).

Perhaps the difference in approach between open access publishing and
self-archiving, while both working in parallel to strengthen one another, is
the sense of priority of a qualitative (in terms of usability) versus a
quantitative one.

Jan Velterop

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Stevan Harnad
> Sent: 24 October 2003 18:20
> To: Stefan Gradmann
> Subject: Re: Open Access and Humanities Monographs
> On Fri, 24 Oct 2003, Stefan Gradmann wrote:
>sg> [Willard,] as you state, the online version of a
>sg> book is not satisfying (and this already has caused the death of the rather
>sg> silly e-book paradigm), and thus self-archiving of book material (even if
>sg> it was available for the authors) may not be a solution at all. Open
>sg> access to electronic information only gets attractive in our context once
>sg> this material is published in a way that is appropriate to the electronic
>sg> environment and that makes use of ist innovative potential in a way
>sg> PDF-documents modeled on the printing analogy simply don't!
> I *completely* disagree! Consider the following (I think much more
> realistic) logic:
> (1) It is a *good* thing that online access to full-text monographs is
> not as attractive as having the book on paper. That removes one
> prima-facie obstacle to self-archiving them and thereby providing open
> access for those who cannot afford to buy the monograph yet
> might still make some use of the text!
> (2) Once open access -- reminder: that means toll-free full-text online
> access for anyone on the web -- becomes widespread for monographs, there
> will be much more motivation for designing ways to make online access
> more convenient, useful, effective.
> It makes no sense whatsoever *not* to self-archive a monograph merely
> because online access may not be optimal! It's certainly 100% better
> than no access! (This reasoning is simply the flip-side of the equally
> self-paralytic reasoning that they should not be self-archived because
> they *would* be preferred over the paper version! At least the latter
> would have a publisher, and possibly a royalty-seeking author to endorse
> the reasoning; but with the online-is-nonoptimal argument it is purely
> a rationalization for inaction! No losers; no winners.)
> >wm> "Open" is a word like "free", whose meaning and import
> >wm> greatly depends on the preposition that implicitly follows.
> >
>sg> You are perfectly right in pointing out some facets of the connotation aura
>sg> of a term like 'open' (and much more could be said here). I would only like
>sg> to add that the same kind of reflexion could be made regarding the term
>sg> 'access' which may have very different connotative values depending on
>sg> whether you use it with a 'text culture' or with an 'empiristic' background
>sg> ...
> It is here that I feel that we non-hermeneuticists and non-semioticians
> may have a bit of an advantage, in not getting too wrapped up in
> far-fetched connotations. Here is a black and white distinction:
> (1) 2,500,000 articles in 24,000 journals can only be read
> online if the user's institution can afford to pay the access tolls.
> (2) Open access means being able to do the same thing as those lucky
> users, but without having to be at an institution that can afford the
> access tolls.
> Open access is not about access to the printed edition. (But
> the online edition can always be printed off, if one wishes.)
> No philosophical problem. It is clear what we do not have now, and what
> we would have if there were open access to the journal article
> literature. Ditto for the monograph literature. (And note that nothing
> was said about the superiority or even parity of online access compared
> to on-paper access for monographs. It's only about about tolled
> vs. toll-free online access.)
> Cheers, Stevan
Received on Mon Oct 27 2003 - 12:20:21 GMT

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