If your article falls in a forest of print journals does anyone read it?
April 13th, 2012

If your article falls in a forest of print journals does anyone read it? Oh sure, it exists as an entry on your cv, but that might no longer be good enough as a measure of your scholarly impact. Today, if no one is reading your work, to some it doesn’t exist at all.

This week our University Senate passed a motion encouraging researchers to deposit electronic copies of their scholarly work in MURR, the Memorial University Research Repository. This means, in effect, that your work will become freely available to the international world—the whole reading planet, that is. It’s all about access, open access. Attending to the motion is a statement about (encouraging the community) to disseminate scholarly and creative work in open access journals—those without subscription barriers. This is the sign of open access, as designed by the Public Library of Science, worth a glance for its witty simplicity:

The operative verb in the motion on the floor is ‘encourage.’ As our Librarian stated on the floor of Senate, the motion before us was pretty soft, promoting open access, not mandating it the way some other universities have gone forward. What rational Senator, after all, would vote against a motion merely encouraging some kind of behaviour? Of course, the motion passed unanimously, but the brief discussion preceding the vote hinted at how far we still have to go towards a full appreciation of what open access is all about. To be fair, I can appreciate the current of doubt that informed some of the questions. Senators were given a list of examples of approved open access policies at North American universities. The list is shockingly short. It includes Harvard, the standard bearer in the open access debate, as well as Columbia, Duke, MIT, Stanford, and Princeton—not bad company, indeed. In Canada, the list includes Concordia, Queens, and Calgary.

Discussion about open access has been going on for years, with university libraries leading the charge, often battling the publishing industry that has so much to lose—or so they think– in the shift towards an open universe of information exchange. In 2005, the Canadian Library Association endorsed a resolution on Open Access, and our federal granting agencies have done the same. But, typically, lamentably, the academic world spins slowly, way too slowly in this case. So it is that some Memorial University Senators eyeballing the list would wonder about the merits of open access: if it was so good for dissemination why hadn’t everyone joined the bandwagon? Was there a catch? Where was McGill or the thousands of other US universities?

There’s no catch, of course—only ignorance about the benefits of open access, or resistance based on arguments coming from the publishers’ lobby. Look, we all benefit from more popular forms of open access everyday—and everytime we browse the NY Times, the Washington Post, Le Monde, the Globe and Mail, and so on. How is it that our scholarly and creative work is so restricted, still so inaccessible in this day and age?

When the motion passed in Senate I felt like applauding. But the agenda quickly rolled on and with the exception of our Librarian no one seemed to mark the occasion as significant. It was. Although it’s a soft encouragement to the university community to start sharing work, making it accessible to all, this motion is a big step in the right direction.

Dr. Faye Murrin is Dean pro tempore of the School of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of Biology. She completed her B.Sc. (Hons.) at Memorial University, her M.Sc. at Acadia University, and her Ph.D. at Queen's University. Her research interests have always been focused on fungi, in particular the cell biology of insect pathogenic fungi and, more recently, the ecology of mycorrhizal mushrooms in the boreal forest. Dr. Murrin has served in a number of positions on the Council of the Mycological Society of America and was awarded the title of MSA Fellow for her contributions. She was awarded the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Membership Award as founding co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Summer Program. Dr. Murrin participates in public lectures and workshops, and is a Director on the board of Newfoundland Foray, Inc.

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