Re: Washington DC Principles for Free Access to Science

From: David Goodman <dgoodman_at_retiree.Princeton.EDU>
Date: Wed, 17 Mar 2004 14:01:20 +0000

> Forty-eight non-profit publishers of 380 journals each year, representing
> more than 600,000 members and posting 800,000 articles on line each year,
> of which more than 440,000 are free have today (Mar 16 2004) signed the
> "Washington DC Principles for Free Access to Science," whose gist is:
> Selected important articles of interest are free online from the
> time of publication;
> The full text of our journals is freely available to everyone
> worldwide either immediately or within months of publication,
> depending on each publisher's business and publishing requirements;
> The content of our journals is available free to scientists working
> in many low-income nations;

These principles are a welcome if tentative step, insofar as they finally
acknowledge the problem, but they are very far from a solution and very
far from free access in any normal sense

The proposed DC "solution," as I understand it, is to provide free access
to selected articles from journals immediately after publication, and
access to the others after a number of months.

The biomedical scholarly scientific publishers who are the authors of
the solution refer to these early-access articles as the "important"
articles, from which it would appear that they regard much of what their
journals publish as not important, or at least less important. If this
was what they intended to say, they must mean that there is really very
little need for the publication of most of their material, except in a
delayed and subsidiary fashion.

What will be the effect of this on the user and the library? Put simply,
the user will not know, for any given article, whether or not it is
available free; for any given biomedical library, it will represent no
savings, as they cannot provide the full content of the journals without
continuing all the subscriptions.

>sh> This is a very welcome step, and if these publishers' policy
>sh> on the 50% of their articles that are not immediately free is
>sh> "green" (i.e., their authors are welcome to self-archive them)
>sh> then one could not ask for more!

Stevan correctly adds that the content not immediately available (which he
estimates at 50 percent) should be available at the individual authors'
self-archiving sites, if they choose to archive them. Of course they
should; many of them will, and some will not.

I cannot imagine any way to produce greater confusion in access to the
journal literature. From the perspective of a librarian responsible for
providing access to this material, I cannot imagine any way to properly
deal with it.

We have been developing software to make links to journal articles
when the library holds the journal, and such systems are at various
stages of partial deployment at most research libraries. They are not
capable of dealing with situations where some of the articles in the same
journal are available. Such programs could be developed, if there were
centralized arrangements for distributing an up-to-date list of just
which articles were considered important enough for immediate access,
and which had reached that particular publishers availability date.

As is, we couldn't even prepare a catalog record or a printed list.
All we can tell the user is: try the journal site; if it works, good,
if not, try the authors' home page; if not, try to guess where the
material might be archived; if not, ask us for a copy by interlibrary
loan and we will try to guess what library actually might have it. Or
try a search engine, as the authors suggest--if all goes well, it will
lead to a site that may or may not let you see the full text

This is not "free access"; I do not think it could even properly be called
"access" at all. The statement is, after all, entitled "Washington DC
principles for free access to science."

Authors who actually want others to access their articles would do well
to avoid all the publishers listed--or at least all those who do not
provide immediate access to all the articles. Those publishers can best
be found if they immediately announce which they are, and dissociate
themselves from their less enlightened colleagues.

The press release ends by giving contact information for those who wish
to interview a member of their group; if any of the members of the group
would like a fuller explanation of what they are doing is suicidal,
my email address is below, and we can set a time to talk.

Dr. David Goodman
Associate Professor
Palmer School of Library and Information Science
Long Island University

and, formerly, Princeton University Library
Received on Wed Mar 17 2004 - 14:01:20 GMT

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