How the Success
of Open Access Publishing Can Stimulate Improved Access to Grey Literature
Marcus A. Banks,
Author abstract: With a focus on biomedicine and public health, this paper will demonstrate
that the emerging success of open access publishing provides a model for
improved access to grey literature. It
will describe pioneering efforts to provide access to grey literature, and
recommend ways to build upon these initiatives.
Finally, it will argue that the evolution of electronic scholarship will
eventually collapse the distinction between grey and non-grey literature.
to the Bethesda Principles released in 2003, two conditions must exist for a
scholarly article to be classified as open access: It is available without
charge to anyone with an Internet connection, and it is deposited immediately in
at least one online repository for the purpose of long term-archiving .
The primary rationale for unfettered access is that it will facilitate
more rapid scholarly advances. In
the biomedical field, two open access publishers are BioMed Central and the
Public Library of Science.
business model has the potential to fundamentally alter the economics of
scholarship. During the print era,
publishing companies were essential to the distribution of scholarly materials.
In today’s Internet era, electronic distribution can be more widespread
at a much lower cost. Despite this
reality, many companies have charged annual subscription increases that greatly
exceed the rate of inflation . Therefore,
it is not surprising that these companies have expressed strong opposition to
the challenge posed by open access publishing .
the concerted opposition, it is not inevitable that open access would lead to
the demise of publishing companies. These
corporations could adjust their business models and develop new services in
order to remain viable. Non-profit
societies—which depend upon publishing revenues to fund their other
activities—are at the most risk from open access.
In response to this concern, some commentators have explored how
societies might successfully manage this transition .
a means of capturing its turbulent history, Peter Suber has developed an
excellent timeline of milestones in the movement toward open access publishing
. For much of this history,
widespread open access has seemed like a naďve fantasy.
One major obstacle has been motivating scholars to change their
publishing habits, particularly because tenure systems continue to value the
traditional publishing process . In
addition, publishers have consistently argued that open access publishing
represents an unproven business model .
recent adoption by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of a “public
access” policy has swung the pendulum in favor of open access publishing.
The policy, which took effect in May 2005, encourages authors of NIH-funded
research to deposit their work in NIH’s publicly available digital archive,
PubMed Central. Participation is
voluntary and authors have up to twelve (12) months to deposit their articles
initial NIH proposal called for a six (6) month embargo period .
Supporters of open access were disappointed at the extension to 12 months
before an article is made freely available, which occurred in response to a
strong lobbying campaign by publishers .
I share this disappointment, and also feel that open access should be
mandatory for recipients of tax funds. Although
the proposal could be stronger, NIH’s endorsement of the concept of open
access is nevertheless a significant step forward.
As one of the world’s leading funding agencies, it has the potential to
set a powerful example.
authors will respond to the NIH policy remains unclear.
As it begins to take effect, librarians will continue to play a critical
role in educating scholars about the benefits of open access in furthering
scholarship. Although it is true
that open access may herald significant savings for library serials budgets,
emphasizing this point gives the impression that our deepest concern is
balancing the books rather than furthering knowledge.
the NIH proposal takes effect, it is a good time to reflect upon its political
history. Librarians were among the
stakeholders at the drafting of the Tempe Principles in 2000, which became a
seminal document that has influenced the ongoing definition of open access
publishing . Librarians have
also formed coalitions to lobby on behalf of open access, most notably the
Association of Research Libraries’ Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources
Coalition (SPARC) . These
coalitions have allowed librarians to have a voice in policy discussions on both
sides of the Atlantic [13, 14].
now, the largest achievement of this political process is the NIH proposal.
Although it could be better, it would be even weaker—and perhaps not
exist at all—without the efforts of librarians.
This history should serve as a valuable example as we consider how to
improve access to grey literature.
leading definition of grey literature is, “that which is produced on all
levels of government, academics, business, and industry in print and electronic
formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publishers” .
Although some grey literature goes through a peer review process, peer
review is a prerequisite for scholarly articles published commercially.
Peer-reviewed sources tend to report the most striking results of any
investigation, but the grey literature might contain contrary findings that the
authors chose not to publish . This
is one example of the invaluable context that grey literature provides for
evaluating the peer-reviewed literature.
primary concern of the open access movement is the peer-reviewed literature.
It is usually easy to identify articles of interest, only to face
financial barriers while attempting to access some of them.
Financial barriers do not impede access to grey literature, but
bibliographic barriers do. In many
cases people do not know how to identify sources of interest within the grey
the field of biomedicine, every researcher knows that the premiere database for
peer-reviewed content is MEDLINE. Although
MEDLINE does not have everything, it is an excellent place to begin.
There are no comparable databases for discovering grey literature,
although librarians have made tremendous attempts to capture it within different
disciplines. The webliography for
the 2005 Library Association of the City University of New York Institute
contains a sampling of these efforts, in fields ranging from Asian forestry to
transportation research .
New York Academy of Medicine’s (Academy) Grey Literature Report is included
within the Institute’s webliography. The
Report was begun in 1999 and appears four times a year.
Academy librarians catalog and link to recent reports from foundations,
think tanks, and government agencies pertaining to all aspects of public health.
The genesis of the Report was recognition of the difficulty members of
the public health workforce had in identifying these valuable resources .
Producing it is an intensive effort that requires the efforts of two
selectors and one cataloger .
the community of health sciences librarians, the Grey Literature Report is often
lauded as an example of proactive librarianship.
There is no doubt about the Academy’s dedication to public health grey
literature, or of the comparable dedication of the numerous organizations that
have made an investment in identifying obscure resources in other fields.
And yet, for the most part, these excellent portals remain unknown to
scholars. Achieving systematic
access to grey literature will require a different approach than building
standalone databases at different institutions.
is required is a bibliographic infrastructure for grey literature that is just
as sophisticated as what is currently available for peer-reviewed materials.
There are many practical impediments to building a grey literature
equivalent to MEDLINE. Grey
literature is published on an irregular basis, with far fewer conventions than
exist in the traditional publishing environment .
Today’s bibliographic databases could not accommodate it.
legitimate as such concerns are, they are a symptom of a lack of interest in
grey literature rather than a cause. The
peer-reviewed medical literature tends to report clinical advances, such as a
breakthrough drug or new surgical procedure.
These advances—which benefit individual citizens rather than society as
whole—garner significant media attention, both on television and in
newspapers. The majority of the
multi-billion dollar NIH budget supports such research .
Both the media interest and budget priorities indicate that American
society places a high premium upon clinical research.
Publishing companies have responded to this demand by building profitable
resources, which feed seamlessly into the bibliographic databases designed for
health policy analyses and government reports that comprise public health grey
literature are inherently less dramatic than research studies that announce a
new medical procedure. This is
unfortunate, because these documents are essential to developing policies for
improving public health. If
Americans exhibited as much interest in these materials as they did in new
clinical breakthroughs, they would be easier to locate and access.
Ultimately, the contents of MEDLINE are a reflection of society’s
best way to improve access to grey literature, therefore, is to modify American
medical priorities in order to place greater emphasis upon population health.
Such a shift would yield benefits besides better access to grey
literature, of course. But
librarians should recognize the pleasant byproduct of this shift in perspective.
medical priorities is a Herculean assignment, particularly in the current
political climate. It makes the
struggle over open access seem easy; in that case, librarians are merely seeking
to improve access to materials that society already values.
This would be a much harder battle that would require extensive
coordination with health professionals.
is reasonable for librarians to wonder whether we would have any place in such a
debate. I believe we would, because
an increased interest in public health would generate greater demand for quality
information. For strength in this
political struggle, we could draw upon the lessons of library activism on behalf
of open access publishing.
the foreseeable future, the distinction between grey and non-grey literature
will remain. The political argument
outlined above assumes that this is the case.
the long term, however, it seems likely that this distinction will be much less
relevant than it is today. One
reason for this is the mere existence of the Web, which—in comparison to the
print era—has reduced the burden of locating grey literature .
Although it is still much easier to locate the peer-reviewed literature,
the gap between the two has narrowed.
this gap entirely will depend upon further exploitation of the capabilities of
the Web. Although scholars have
embraced the digital environment at varying rates of speed, by this point
scholars in every field of endeavor have made innovative use of electronic media
[23, 24]. It has become imperative
to manage these new forms of scholarship. The
current attempts to meet this challenge indicate an eventual flattening of the
distinction between grey and non-grey literature.
movement to construct institutional repositories at many universities is a
response to the potentially limitless range of digital scholarship .
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s D-Space platform is the
most well known example of institutional repository software.
But the goal remains the same regardless of the software: collecting and
preserving the full range of an institution’s scholarly output, at all stages
of development. Much of what might
appear in these institutional repositories is grey literature.
endeavor related to institutional repositories is the Open Archives Initiative,
which seeks to provide integrated access to the contents of multiple digital
archives . Open archives
protocols would link together numerous institutional repositories.
Assuming that the protocols are robust enough to allow easy resource
discovery, they would provide access to resources that otherwise would have been
difficult to locate—i.e., the grey literature.
This access would be simultaneous with access to traditional
peer-reviewed sources. Because every
facet of the scholarly process would be available through the same search
process, the distinction between grey and non-grey literature would become less
much of the focus on institutional repositories has been within universities,
the concept is transferable to any organization.
In fact, the managers of the Open Archives Initiative state explicitly
that anyone is welcome to utilize the technology .
The traditional producers of grey literature, such as think tanks and
foundations, could also utilize these new technologies in order to broadly
distribute their works.
if grey literature becomes easier to locate, that does not necessarily mean that
there would no longer be a distinction between it and the peer-reviewed
literature. For that claim I am
drawing upon the experience in physics, in which uncorrected rough drafts
(“pre-prints”) of new discoveries receive just as much respect as a
published article . In addition,
several commentators have thoughtfully articulated a vision for scholarly
communication in which published journal articles do not occupy the privileged
position they do today .
the relationship that emerges between peer-reviewed and grey literature,
librarians will be essential for navigating any information landscape in which
grey literature is readily available. Rather
than devoting as much energy to finding grey literature as we do today,
librarians could educate patrons about how these materials relate to more
traditional resources. This
possibility opens up a new domain of instruction, and also provides one way for
librarians to demonstrate their continued relevance in the digital age.
paper discusses the different barriers that hinder access to the peer-reviewed
and grey literature—financial barriers for peer-reviewed materials, and
bibliographic barriers for grey literature.
The open access movement has enjoyed some success in furthering access to
the peer-reviewed literature, and its political history presents one model for
furthering patron access to grey literature.
As librarians continue to pursue better retrieval of the grey literature,
we should also begin to consider the possibility that the distinction between
grey and non-grey literature will eventually become less relevant.
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