Access issue open for debate

Awareness week promotes free online access to academic research

The near-limitless access to scholarship and research university students enjoy may soon become universal if John Willinsky has anything to say about it.

Willinsky, Stanford University education professor and an advocate for open access in the academic community, is the keynote speaker at Open Access Week @ Queen’s. His talk is today at noon in Dunning Hall, room 12.

Willinsky said he thinks knowledge is a basic human right.

“Open access refers to free online access to the peer-reviewed public research and scholarship of the academic community,” he said, adding that research carried out at universities is publicly funded. “This work is done on behalf of the public.”

Willinsky said open access benefits university students because it gives them greater access to research, but said he thinks it’s more important to alumni who no longer have library privileges.

“I think that students, when they’re in the universities, have very good access.”

About 20 per cent of academic scholarship is currently open to the public, Willinsky said, adding that he thinks online resources such as Wikipedia would benefit if anyone could retrieve the research behind the articles.

“Wikipedia has demonstrated a huge public thirst for knowledge,” he said.

Willinsky said he thinks open access is becoming more widespread, largely because the Canadian government insists research it funds be made publicly available.

Many academics contribute to open access by putting their research on their websites to make it available, Willinsky said, adding that he thinks the majority of researchers haven’t embraced the open access movement yet.

“People haven’t thought about it,” he said. “It wasn’t possible before the Internet. … The economic model is still the old subscription, print model.”

Willinsky said he thinks the public increasingly expects research to be made available.

“Within 10 years, it may be commonplace,” he said. “I think, to be realistic, it may never be 100 per cent.”

Queen’s English Professor Laura Murray spoke at an Open Access Week event yesterday about Canadian copyright law’s effect on open access.

Murray, author of the book Canadian Copyright: A Citizen’s Guide, said Canadian copyright law allows every rights holder to decide what to do with their work. She said Creative Commons, a non-profit organization that allows users to license their work for others to legally build upon and share, is something that encourages freer access to research.

“Open access is a decision on the part of a copyright holder not to collect cash,” she said. “The open access movement in a way depends on copyright.”

Murray said academics usually don’t generate significant income from their research.

“Our salary is what we live on.”

Copyright in Canada lasts 50 years after the death of the author, she said. If the 50-year term were to be extended, it would take away from the public’s ability to build upon a shared cultural resource.

“The public domain isn’t just a garbage can; it’s a resource.”

Murray said many universities are beginning to share their research on the Internet. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shares all of its courses and courseware online for free.

“Universities are doing a lot to enrich the Web,” she said. “The ivory tower doesn’t have to be just so isolated.”

Murray said she thinks many professors haven’t heard about open access, citing academics who agree to have their research published by journals that insist on acquiring the rights to the work.

Murray said buying subscriptions to journals can be expensive, which has budget implications for universities.

“Why are we buying back stuff we produced in the first place?”

John Willinksy delivers his lecture, “The intellectual properties of learning in the digital age,” at noon today in Dunning Hall, room 12.

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