by Rossana Morriello, Research Support Librarian, Politecnico di Torino, Italy
On 1st September the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) released an important statement on open access and a call for action addressed to libraries. This statement comes many years after the previous statement dated 2011 by which IFLA endorsed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, that IFLA signed. The difference between the two documents clearly shows the evolution in these years of the concept of open access and the changes in the general approach to opening the results of scientific research.
The 2011 statement was very much focused on scholarly publishing and the acquisition models for journals, underlying how the business model for acquisitions of digital materials was not sustainable and not addressed to safeguarding the interest of authors, libraries and universities, and generally of the global community.
In the lapse of time between the two statements many things have changed. First of all, the Agenda 2030 of the United Nations was released in 2015. IFLA was involved in planning of the Agenda and worked to recognize the need and the importance of access to information throughout the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The infographic Information for Development: Why Access Matters Across the SDGs? shows clearly the crucial role that easy and free access to information cover in many targets.
This is the a very significant point of the new IFLA statement in 2022, which gives to the topic of open access a new and crucial dimension that goes a step further the mere question of scholarly publishing and access to information for academic library users. In this new dimension, that is in contemporary society, open access means making a choice towards a more equitable and inclusive society and acting in favor of the common good. Open access is now a bigger question, and the emphasis and pressure which IFLA shows by starting the declaration with a call for immediate free access to research outputs, and addressing now to a wider public (not only researchers), makes it clear:
Full and immediate free access to research outputs and publications ensures that everyone – including researchers, policy makers, citizens, scientists, and the public – has the data, evidence, and knowledge they need to address societal, environmental, and global challenges.
The Covid pandemic has shown clearly how strategic open access is in order to allow researchers to work together and in a collaborative manner, all over the world, if they have free access to publications and data. In the first months of the pandemic outbreak, many scientific publishers created hubs of open access publications that allowed worldwide collaboration and sharing. Unfortunately, they were short timed and access was closed quite soon.
Another crucial passage in the IFLA document is that related to the Agenda 2030, that links open science and open access to the increasing complexity of our society and the efforts necessary to face challenges and to reach the 17 goals of the UN Agenda:
OA supports access to quality research that informs the public and broadens the evidence base for policy reform, it makes information available that supports decision making in everyday life, medicine, agriculture, and other pursuits. OA also makes a significant contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals including target 16.10 which seeks to, “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”. Furthermore, OA should be viewed as a means of addressing ‘information poverty’ which identifies gaps in information skills and is, “further characterized by a lack of essential information and a poorly developed information infrastructure.” OA ensures fair and equitable access to information which is integral to the information society.
Open access is potentially a mean of inclusion and equity, and this is perfectly in the scope of sustainable development goals. Moreover, opening up research is a way to let citizens access quality materials and is a way to contrast fake news and the circulation of fake scientific theories.
Therefore, the question now is not only in terms of current business models for publications, there is much more. And we are late. We did not even reach a sustainable business model yet, since the new ones, like transformative agreements, just change the model from a “pay to read” to a “pay to publish,” but still create barriers and paywalls, and consequently they keep many researchers of less rich institutions and of the Global South excluded.
Nevertheless, in the road towards a more sustainable and equitable world the action of libraries is even more important and urgent than in the past. With their activities, like information literacy, collection development and advocacy for open access, libraries can help in creating a more inclusive and open society and help reducing information and cultural poverty. This is a turning point for the role of libraries in society. In this, IFLA has given the example by stating the complete transition to open access of publications in 2022.