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back to article UK libraries trial free access to scientific research

Hundreds of thousands of journal articles are to be made available to the public in Blighty's local libraries after a government consultation on how to expand access to publicly funded research. The Access to Research Initiative is kicking off a two-year pilot programme today, after major publishers like the Nature Group, …

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Anonymous Coward

Good.

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Headmaster

Indeed.

But in this day and age, why should I have to go to a library?

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Re: Indeed.

Quite.

I use my library regularly to borrow books, but I've never been there in person. I am not certain why these papers should be limited to a physical presense when a book isn't.

That said, if I wanted to really read a physics paper, I'd probably want to be in a library where it's nice and quiet. I'd like the choice though.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Indeed.

The two libraries here aren't quiet. The smaller, village library is quiet much of the time but is also a place where mothers bring young children, who run around making lots of noise, naturally. And when I've been there a couple of times in the late afternoon it was quiet until the schools disgorged. Naturally.

The main library, in town, is never - at least when open - without people using mobiles. One time a few months ago I was there for a couple of hours and the entire time some guy with a US accent kept making and receiving calls, using the place as his office. As always with the type there was no attempt to be even slightly quiet.

The town library has wifi, so people go there with laptops, so you don't just get mobiles ringing and loud, one-half-of phone conversations, you get those awful sounds Windows makes if you don't know enough to disable them. I imagine this is so at all public libraries today, just like on public transport.

I expect the staff long ago resigned themselves to the futility of trying to do something about it. I can just imagine a new wing being opened (vivid imagination I'll admit) and the mayor comes to cut the tape. And his/her mobile starts ringing. And he/she puts the scissors - having cut only part way through - down, to have a loud one-half-of conversation. Finally he finishes, then rushes the rest because he wants to tweet about it.

Later he'll log in to The Register to down-vote someone for saying he's a useless, ignorant twat.

(Nb. I decided he was a he. Most twats are)

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Re: Indeed.

I visit my library to collect books,, but I use its online presence to renew them, request them, check to see which ones I need to find. I also use their subscriptions services from home to access OED, and other reference works but some subscription services can only be accessed from a library terminal.

I'm guessing the last is to with the licence, to be sure access is not abused for eg commercial purposes.

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Re: Indeed.

"I'd probably want to be in a library where it's nice and quiet."

It's a while since you were last in a local library.

Quiet? What's that? Kids story times, the local kafe klatch, the knitting club and $deity knows what else is all going on in there these days.

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Meh

But,

Why should paper publishers be given the rights to digital publication of publicly (including charity) funded research in the first place?

And does this apply to Elsevier et al, who extract a significant slice out of research budgets?

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Every tax payer should have access to *any and all* research which is even partially funded by the tax payer or any public body (such as an organisation claiming charitable status).

As an extension to this, any patent or invention created as the direct result of public funding would also belong to the public (at least partially) and as such 'we' would all get a return on the investment via royalties rather than the entire proceeds being syphoned off to an individual, single rich institution or to a patent troll.

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Every tax payer should have access to *any and all* research ...

Well, I agree. But the funding doesn't work like that yet, although here in the UK we are making the transition. Personally, I try to avoid publishers with illiberal redistribution policies, and put a version of all my output on arXiv irrespective of its appearance in a journal.

There are costs in the new model though - notably authors (mostly taxpayer or charity funded) will (now) have to pay publishing costs themselves, typically in the range £1000-£2000 per article, so the tax payer/charity donor will end up paying this. Further, anyone without funding - say an independent researcher, one whose funding/employment has just terminated, a new PhD trying to write up work independently, someone trying to publish work their institution doesn't care about (or perhaps even doesn't like) - now also has to (will have to) pay these costs, which are not negligible. The "author-pays" model on which your proposal rests will narrow the range of people with the ability to publish their science.

Further, when this new model is in place in the UK, you will perhaps notice that UK taxpayers and UK charity donors are making UK research free-to-view for a global audience, but the arrangement might well not be reciprocated. Some may be unhappy at such a situation.

Lastly, I find that I am inclined to feel that if a journal charges authors, they should also pay the reviewers (such as myself), who currently do it for free. Should peer review turn into a paid-for process?

So: the simple proposal you advance (and with which I generally agree) is not necessary so simple execute in a fair manner, there may well be unintended consequences, and it isn't "free", even to taxpayers & donors.

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"Every tax payer should have access to *any and all* research which is even partially funded by the tax payer"

At the moment I have to ask why? Most scientific research is readily accessible to the scientific community, and outside of it there's precious few able to understand the content of research papers. An interesting idea would be to require publicly funded papers to have (in addition to the normal scientific abstract) an "intelligent layman's summary". Some research scientists might find that writing for that audience is a bigger challenge than the research itself.

"As an extension to this, any patent or invention created as the direct result of public funding would also belong to the public (at least partially)"

An attractive, even populist move. But in the shorter term most universities do already seek to benefit from commercialisation of their research. Arguably they tend to see this too narrowly, and miss out on the benefits of prior research that (at the time) didn't have an obvious commercial application, or which do not give rise to a patent, but you can't patent the outcomes of all research.

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"there's precious few able to understand the content of research papers"???

That's why you give yourself the handle 'ledswinger' I guess?

Some of us paid attention at school and university. And still like to learn. And if we've paid for it already there's no reason why we should pay for it twice. One of the reasons why universities fail to commercialise stuff is because they are produced by twenty year olds with experience in whatever they are researching and little else. Commercial companies that haven’t dumped all their experienced staff will have people in their 40's 50's and sometime into their 80's who can take advantage the myopia of university research and for them a few hundred quid is nothing. There are however all the people that have been outsourced who could equally take advantage of this research - or even laugh at its naivete. There's no need for the person writing the paper to do anything new - just make it available online for the public if the public paid for it. The research is ours - not the few commercial companies who want to keep if out of our hands

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Re: "there's precious few able to understand the blinkered perspective of Tom 7

"Some of us paid attention at school and university. And still like to learn. And if we've paid for it already there's no reason why we should pay for it twice"

You arrogant twerp. I do have a science degree, and a masters to boot, but obviously I take my hat off to polymaths such as yourself, able to divine the true meaning and signficance of any research paper in any field, recalling every single thing you were taught in university. And of course, you're quite right to ignore the wider and less well-educated audiences than self-proclaimed experts such as yourself.

However, I must confess I did enjoy your post, which managed to be both pompous, and yet at the same time to be infused with a sad, bitter, lefty tone.

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Re: "The research is ours "

Tom 7, that's not necessarily true - even on a directly taxpayer funded grant, you just paid for /some/ of it. I do not want to deny the very significant claim the taxpayer/donor might have as a result of their funding, but if you really wanted to claim the lot - lock, stock, and barrel - then you really should have been paying more than you did.

E.g. EPSRC grants are now calculated on a "full economic costing" basis, which is indeed an attempt to charge for everything associated with a grant (even overheads like fractional office space, etc), whereas before that was not the case. As a result, the taxpayer now pays more, and, I suppose, also gets more claim. I do hope you are enjoying that sense of ownership over your personal fraction of the 1/4 of a room in a 50's office building that I inhabit while at work :-) Some charities (as I understand it) refuse to pay (some types of) overheads, and so, I suppose, have less claim.

In this specific context, note that taxpayer funded research has not always included money for publication costs. If the taxpayer didn't pay publication costs, then they didn't pay to get free access to read the results. Maybe things should have been different, and, as I said above, things are changing now, ... although the result will not be some kind of utopia. Notably, taxpayers/donors will pay for the extra access for everyone that you & I want, but the vast majority of those granted access to the literature will either not bother or find it beyond them.

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Not true

"Every tax payer should have access to *any and all* research which is even partially funded by the tax payer or any public body (such as an organisation claiming charitable status)."

...doesn't go far enough. Publically funded products should be free to all funders. This includes charts and other services. Which would kick the Thatcher out of a lot of agencies damaged by her grasping little clause.

The rest of your post is silly, unless you intend to have restitution made for the land grab that was Thatcherism. Best of luck with that.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "there's precious few able to understand the blinkered perspective of Tom 7

> I do have a science degree, and a masters to boot

Obviously not in how to contribute constructively to a discussion.

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Anonymous Coward

Publically Funded

So let me get this straight - if you work your balls off in a University coming up with a new theory on how to cure cancer or avoid climate change, you have to give it away for nothing.

But if you lounge around on benefits writing fairy stories about boy magicians, you and your descendants get to keep any profits in perpetuity and anyone who tries to get away without paying for it gets their door kicked in by the DRM police?

No wonder Western civilisation's going down the pan. They'll be paying footballers more than doctors next.

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Re: Publically Funded

You should probably look up how open access papers work before talking crap... Open access is not the same as giving it away for nothing, and it is not the same as copyright.

Oh, and novels have been available for free at libraries for a ling time.

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Believe it or not, Texas has cracked this.

Here, anybody can walk into their local public library and obtain (at no charge) a flimsy piece of card, called a "TexShare Card". That card, when presented at any university library, gets you a proper library card and full privileges (again at no charge).

Sure, there's a (thin) layer of bureaucracy and there's probably some behind the scenes accounting going on that means that it's all paid for out of my taxes, but it's still a rather fine approach to the system as it stands.

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Anonymous Coward

Isn't this just an extention

Of already existing open access?

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Anonymous Coward

Lets start ...

with free public access to the "research" used to define "public policy". Lets see how *that* stands up to scrutiny.

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Re: Lets start ...

I agree. But before you cackle with glee at the thought of how you might cleverly dismantle the data or assumptions behind some research finding or other, you might want to consider that you'll actually have to engage with the technical content, rather than the simanglified version of it reported by your favourite news provider. You will almost certainly find the experience a chastening one - even as a scientist, peer reviewing papers in your own field can be extremely hard work - so how might it be for the non-specialist?

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Public library services

Many UK local authority libraries subscribe to the British Library's Document Supply Service. Check it out1. In the dim distant past, I've used the service (or more precisely its predecessor) as a library member without the charge being passed on, but I've got no idea how your library might work.

Even with a cost attached, this is a phenomenal resource; BL currently subscribes to 40,000 serials titles2.

1 Document Supply Service [bldss.bl.uk] Warning: requires JavaScript and Flash. *sigh*

2 Serials acquisition policy [bl.uk]

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A work-around

Worth mentioning that academic researchers themselves can usually open-access their own publications, through publishing "preprints" of their articles, either via their own website or through a publicly-accessible repository such as http://arxiv.org/. In my experience journals tend to tolerate (or at least turn a blind eye to) this practice.

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Presumably its a 2-year trial because thats how much longer they expect the public library system to last.

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