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Beyond the repository? The CERN Innovation in Scholarly Publishing Workshop (OAI7). June 22-24 2011

I was in a very expensive and sultry Geneva in late June to attend the CERN workshop on innovations in scholarly publishing, among a record attendance of over 260 delegates. Perhaps this level of attendance is a sign that Open Access is maturing and becoming mainstream as it moves on from an emphasis on access alone to the exploration of how openness enhances the effectiveness of science and increases the impact of the contribution that it can make. The programme also reflected a level of maturity in the system, a second-generation approach that took it for granted that we were talking about a well-established system with repositories already set up and functioning and open access journals well established (and growing fast). The focus was less the setting up and management of scholarly repositories or the creation of digital publications than the semantics of an integrated research communication system. In fact a key perception at the conference was William Nixon’s suggestion that the ‘repository’ will disappear into the wider workflow of research communication (an ironic statement from someone who is the Service Development Manager of the University of Glasgow repository).

The overall focus was therefore on how to get extra mileage from repositories, interlinking data, publishing effectively and garnering government support for Open Access and Open Science. Cameron Neylon, Senior Scientist in Bio-molecular Sciences at the ISIS Neutron Scattering Facility at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), argued in his talk on the Technical, Cultural and Legal Infrastructure to Support Open Scientific  Communication that repositories are a ‘temporary scaffolding’ awaiting the time that we have ‘reasserted the traditional values of research and built the pillars and foundations that will make openness an embedded part of what we do’. Neylon’s core argument was that, while we can resolve the technological issues to build a viable architecture for data analysis, reuse and discovery and have the legal infrastructure needed, what is not there yet is the cultural infrastructure – the commitment, the communities, the assumptions and the practices that could make open science work. The ‘real values’ that he articulated were those of reproducibility, making a difference to the community, getting process, data and narrative to relate to one another and ensuring accuracy and validity.

Related to these perceptions, there was a very useful session on advocacy. Monica Hammes from the University of Pretoria spoke on the Open Access Conversation, a cogent and detailed account of the mind-changing process that is needed and the partnerships that need to be developed to get a university to adopt and mandate open access, arguing that one has to anticipate the emotional responses of the people one is trying to persuade, recognising where their interests lie. Heather Joseph of SPARC in Washington, speaking on advocacy at the national and international level, demonstrated how the wording and the logic of arguments have to be distilled and clarified in order to reach government.  Given the powerful lobbying capacity of the big publishing companies in their push for enclosure, she argued that any advocacy initiatives have to be well argued, supported by persuasive data, be very strategic and need to be built on alliances and communities. Continue reading