Open access for scholarly publications, part 9 – Sustainable development goals

The National Library of Sweden has held the appropriation directive from the Swedish Government to produce recommendations for the change to an open access scholarly publication system. These recommendations are presented by Henrik Schmidt, librarian here at KIB, in a series of blog posts.

In the spring (2019), the National Library of Sweden (KB) presented sixteen recommendations for transition to an open access scholarly publication system. The recommendations are directed at all involved actors and stakeholders, such as researchers, educational institutions, publishers, research funding agencies, and authorities. We here at Karolinska Institutet are therefore an important recipient of KB’s recommendations.

Despite the fact that a discussion about open access has been going on for a long time, one can probably say that the scientific publication system was largely seen as unproblematic for a long time. A number of factors have changed that. From a European standpoint, Plan S has meant that the issue has received more attention and focus. With important research funding agencies exerting pressure, new methods of publication and information access are being emphasized. New business models and alternative channels of dissemination are being tested. Many research funders are aiming at immediate open access to research results. 

If we raise our gazes and alter our perspective slightly, we can see this process from an international angle as well. Open access to research can be included in a larger discussion about open science, and open educational resources (OER) as part of that. The Paris Declaration about OER states the importance and potential of open educational resources. The advantages are obvious: increased, quick and cost-free access to information for both students and others. The challenges might include quality assurance, limitations as a consequence of copyright, and technical problems, such as access to computers and/or the Internet.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) believes that open access to scientific publications is of crucial importance to achieving at least 10 of the UN’s 17 development goals for global sustainability. Scientific information is highlighted as the most important resource for technical innovation and development (which many of the goals are dependent on). Reaching these goals is made more difficult if important scientific knowledge is not freely available to everyone. ”UNESCO promotes Open Access (OA), with particular emphasis on scientific information (journal articles, conference papers and data sets of various kinds) emanating from publicly funded research.”

The same attitude about open access is expressed in a UN report prepared by a group of independent researchers. The action-oriented report emphasizes the indispensable role of science in achieving the goal of sustainable development. Here at KI, goal number 3, concerning good health and well-being, is perhaps most closely aligned to our mission. As stated in KI’s 2030 strategy, we aim to be a leading actor in the ongoing effort to achieve this goal. But also goal number 4, about quality education and lifelong learning for all, could be prioritized.

In August 2019, the UN’s world health organization (WHO), announced that they are becoming members of Plan S. The decision is motivated as follows: ”The WHO champions the right of everybody to access quality health care services, and our support for open access to the health research that underpins that care goes hand-in-hand with that commitment.” WHO’s membership to Plan S aims to expedite the development of open access to medical research, which in turn will support their strategy to reach a billion more people with health care in the coming five years.

An additional member of Plan S is TDR, a special program for research and training in tropical diseases. A deciding factor in successfully fighting diseases linked to poverty is strengthening the research capacity of countries that are affected by diseases and making that research open and accessible. TDR has therefore established a publishing platform, TDR Gateway, where researchers can publish research results after they have been peer-reviewed. 

In a similar way, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has established a platform where peer-reviewed research, financed by the foundation, is published in an open and accessible manner. BMGF has also allied itself with the 10 principles that are the backbone of Plan S.

One last thing, speaking of the development goals for global sustainability: the international federation of library associations, IFLA, has provided a list of good examples of what libraries can do to contribute to the UN’s development goals. We are, after all, working daily and hourly to facilitate access to relevant, reliable and current information. A large part of our (KIB’s) budget is dedicated to media purchases in the form of journals, databases and books for KI’s users. But we also want to contribute to that research and educational information reaches outside of the university.

The National Library of Sweden recommends that research funding agencies and educational institutions should set aside funds for publishing costs. Recommendation number 9 has as its starting point the recommendation from the Swedish Research Council that books “published by Swedish publishers and that are a result of research financed by public funds, shall be available without cost on the Internet.” 

Recommendation 9 reads as follows: That educational institutions and research funding agencies give their financial support to the publication of open access scientific books.

Find out more about the description of and argument in favour of this recommendation in the report: Öppen tillgång till böcker (only in Swedish).

All blog posts in this series.

Henrik Schmidt

Librarian engaged in research support in various forms. Teaches doctoral students and researchers in areas related to literature search, publishing strategies and publication analysis.