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Home > iSGTW 25 November 2009 > Feature - OpenAIRE: archive access anytime, anywhere

Feature - OpenAIRE: archive access anytime, anywhere


Peggy Bacon in mid-air backflip, Bondi Beach, Sydney, 1937. Open Access can breathe new energy and productivity in to the work of research. Image courtesy State Library of New South Wales, Australia

If scientific progress was a living organism that could be fed and nurtured, the swift, free exchange of ideas would be a key nutrient.

“Easy and free access to the latest knowledge in strategic areas is crucial for EU research competitiveness. This open access pilot is an important step towards achieving the ‘fifth freedom,’ the free movement of knowledge amongst Member States, researchers, industry and the public at large,” said EU Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potočnik last year. “Beyond, it is a fair return to the public of research that is funded by EU money.”

Formally embracing the open access ethic, the European Commission has decided to require that results from research it funds in some fields — such as health, energy, environment, information and communication technologies, research infrastructures, social sciences and humanities —  become freely available. Authors will deposit a copy of their articles in a “digital repository,” a kind of electronic library accessible through the Web.

While many institutions or subjects have their own, pre-existing repositories for published documents, these are not comprehensively linked and searchable. And some institutions hosting EC-funded researchers are without digital libraries for keeping research papers.

Stepping in to provide this open access e-infrastructure is the OpenAIRE project, which will be launched on the first of December, 2009. The project will run for three years in its first phase. OpenAIRE’s proposal, with a budget of about €5 million, was approved in September after the EC put out a call for a project that would create the e-Infrastructure to disseminate scientific results to anyone, anywhere, at anytime.

Researchers approaching OpenAIRE with a document will first be directed to the repository of their home institute, if one exists. If the researcher is in a discipline which has a repository structure for the entire discipline (the high energy physics community, for example, frequently uses arXiv.org) they will be directed there. If  the document is still without a home, the researcher will use an “orphan” repository, hosted at CERN, which will provide everyone a chance to submit their results — which would otherwise be lost.

OpenAIRE technology is based on two technologies: DNET, developed by the DRIVER consortium, will connect the existing repositories, while the orphan repository technology is based on Invenio, a digital library software that has been developed by the CERN Document Server team in the IT department at CERN over the past 15 years — serving the basis for CDS. Other partners, about 35 in total, will provide service help to users. OpenAIRE will therefore be not just a technical infrastructure, but a human one as well.

“Ideally, each researcher will have a help desk in their own member state,” says Salvatore Mele, Open Access Project Leader at CERN, also working for OpenAIRE.

Image courtesy CERN  

Learning to love repositories

OpenAIRE strives to contribute to the wider open access movement. Unrestricted circulation of scientific ideas through OpenAIRE and other initiatives will increase the productivity of researchers, enabling individuals who could not afford access to scientific information to enjoy a level playing field.

(Journal subscriptions can be very expensive. For example, the chief reference librarian of a major state university told iSGTW that an institutional subscription to a single print journal typically costs thousands of dollars, with one physics journal alone costing the university in excess of $20,000 per year.)

At the same time, the general public will benefit of increased access to scientific results, satisfying their curiosity in a climate of openness, ultimately restoring the public trust in science.

Mele co-authored a 2009 paper “Citing and Reading Behaviours in High-Energy Physics: How a Community Stopped Worrying about Journals and Learned to Love Repositories,” which studied the effects of swift and freely available scholarly communication. The study focused on practices within the high energy physics community, where open access has been standard for decades.

Beyond the advantage to authors and their disciplines, Mele is keen to point out society also stands to benefit.  He said, “For example, if a person is researching a rare medical condition, she or he can stay up to date on the latest studies. It makes a lot of sense to give tax payers access to work they fund.”

Tim Smith, one of the driving forces behind OpenAIRE and INSPIRE, holds a PhD in physics and worked as a researcher on the Large Electron–Positron Collider at CERN for 10 years before moving to IT.

“CERN and the entire HEP community has long embraced Open Access,” said Smith. “It is excellent to see the rest of science moving towards this paradigm as well.”

Danielle Venton, EGEE

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