ACCESS | Asia 's Newspaper on Electronic Information Product & Service
June 2007 No.61  
   In this issue

Promoting 21st century scholarly communication
The Hong Kong perspective
By Colin Steele


Promoting 21st Century Scholarly Communication: The Role of Institutional Repositories in the Open Access Movement was the title of a conference held at Hong Kong University, 17-18 May. It brought together representatives of Hong Kong Universities with international “key players” to examine how Open Access (OA) and Institutional Repositories (IR) are transforming scholarly communication and what new opportunities and challenges they bring for Hong Kong researchers, librarians, publishers, and research funding bodies.

The speakers were: John Bacon-Shone. Director of the Social Sciences Research Centre, The University of Hong Kong; Diana Chan. Associate Librarian, City University of Hong Kong; Leslie Chan, Program Supervisor, New Media Studies and the International Studies program at the University of Toronto; Roland Chin, Chair of the Hong Kong Research Council; Anthony W. Ferguson, Librarian, The University of Hong Kong; Melissa Hagemann, Program Manager of the Open Access Initiative, Open Society Institute; Heather Joseph, Director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC); Robert Kiley, Head of e-Strategy, Wellcome Trust Library; Colin Steele, Emeritus Fellow at the Australian National University; Paul Tam, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Hong Kong University; and Zhang Xiaolin, Executive Director of the Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The conference presentations are available at the Hong Kong University (HKU) Scholars Hub

The genesis of the conference can be seen in the HKU Taskforce that reported in January 2004 on An Institutional Repository for the University of Hong Kong, which outlined some of the major issues surrounding the introduction of an institutional repository at the University. Other Hong Kong Universities subsequently moved to either institutional repositories or digital initiatives, which are documented by Diana Chan in her presentation to the conference.

The University Libraries, through the Joint University Librarians Advisory Committee (JULAC), worked with HUCOM , a body formed by the Presidents and Vice-Chancellors of all Hong Kong UGC institutions, to facilitate the conference, which was also supported by SpringerLink, and the Hong Kong Library Association. A key role in the organisation of this conference was taken by Hong Kong University, notably through Anthony Ferguson and David Palmer.

   Making research more visible

Professor Paul Tam, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research at Hong Kong University, in his opening speech asked delegates to consider how “the issues to be presented at the conference” could make our “ research at HKU, and at our sister institutions in Hong Kong, more visible to would-be readers…In this regard, institutional repositories and open access can make our HKU research more discoverable, more useful, and more highly cited in Hong Kong, mainland China, and throughout the international community.”

One of the recurring issues throughout the conference, replicating international debate, was the overall desire for OA on the one hand to enhance research availability, but the over reliance, on the other, on traditional measures of scholarly communication to measure research excellence.

Tam thus noted “the ISI Web of Science showed 2,712 publications in 2005 from HKU. Fifty-nine HKU Academic staff have been ranked by the ISI Essential Science Indicators (June 2006) among the world’s top 1 percent of scientists, based on the number of citations recorded for their publications. The article in Scopus today with the most citations of any Hong Kong institution shows that it has been cited 1,032 times.”

Roland Chin, Chair of the Hong Kong Research Council, in the concluding speech of the conference, echoed the need for incentives in order to change academic culture, i.e. what is in it for individual researchers? Speakers emphasised a preference for the carrot approach at the seminar, rather than the stick, although Robert Kiley of the Wellcome Trust, made it clear in his presentation that if researchers accept funding from the Wellcome Trust they must abide by the contractual details and funding support to make the research openly accessible in order to maximise research impact.

Without such incentives, most researchers are more concerned with the need to establish their own reputation or to preserve and enhance the reputation of their university (often at the direction of their Provost or Vice Chancellor) than any dysfunctions in the scholarly communications system.

Colin Steele argued too many articles are being produced for the wrong reasons such as gaining kudos through university league tables and research assessment exercises. Most publications arguably receive low use and are rarely cited, so what is the point of increased ‘publish or perish’, except to benefit multinational publishing conglomerates? (See The Publishing Imperative: The Pervasive Influence of Publication Metrics, Learned Publishing, Steele, Butler, Kingsley

Heather Joseph, immediately after the Hong Kong Conference, flew back to the United States to attend a Panel on Copyright Utopia: Alternative Visions, Methods and Policies (Adelphi, Maryland, May 21-23, 2007). The report on this seminar highlighted some of the issues identified by several of the HK speakers, notably Zhang Xiaolin, of the gap between the researcher as reader and as author. (What Professor Jean Claude Guedon has called the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ syndrome). Science Infrastructure, and the overwhelming support we have received so far indicates a great need in the scholarly publishing community that SPARC Japan has already begun to fill."

   Chinese researchers do not deposit without incentives

Zhang Xiaolin noted that while the 2005 China Academy of Sciences Survey revealed a willingness by researchers to deposit in repositories, unless there was incentive for individual researchers to do so, they rarely did given other pressures on their time. There needed to be “encouragement” for academics to publish in OA and to support leading journals to convert to OA. The Chinese Academy of Science was currently conducting studies of OA policies in other countries.

Joseph in her presentation noted that the internet provided new opportunities for information distribution and that too often research paid for by public institutions is not widely available. She called for a new framework to allow research results to be more easily accessed and used. Copyright was identified as another major issue at the Hong Kong conference with a general ignorance recognised as prevailing in the research community of the issue. Kiley indicated that the major mistake the Wellcome Trust made in its initial agreement with publishers was not to insist on a creative commons licence.

Tam believed “the best proven way to disseminate research is to place the full-text openly on the web, so that search engines such as Google can index it and serve it up to would-be readers… One evidence of success in this regard is the theses at HKU. In 2001 we began to require new postgraduate students to deposit electronic full-text theses with our Libraries. In 2006 the Libraries completed scanning older theses, so that approximately 13,000 HKU theses are online in open access. In 2005/2006 there were 6,300 checkouts of printed theses. During the same year there were 108,200 downloads of online open access HKU theses”.

Asia has 6 percent of the global repositories but only 0.7 percent of material is available in Chinese. Rather than concentrate improving Chinese content (usually in the English language) in Thomson’s scientific citation databases, would it not be preferable, to make as much as possible of the Chinese language research output available to the Chinese diaspora?

Leslie Chan graphically outlined the Canadian OA initiatives and stressed the need for a variety of approaches from defining institutional strategies to publishing in OA journals. Repositories have many purposes but they are essentially about access, combining resource discovery, wide dissemination of research, research evaluation and assessment, institutional and personal impact and not least, information asset management by institutions. He concluded “think globally and act locally.”

No time for tea in this busy conference

   85,000 items but mostly theses

The costs of IRs is not large in the context of total scholarly communication costs, both in the creation of and access to research material, let alone library costs. Diana Chan in an extremely thorough overview of the Hong Kong university repositories, noted that five universities have an IR running on D-Space, while the other three have a variety of digital initiatives. To date IRs in Hong Kong have collected 84,865 items but most of these are postgraduate theses rather than journal articles or conference papers. Key factors to influence future growth would be changes in institutional policies and funding and University mandates.

If mandating does not occur “making the stake holders understand the values of OA may create better results.” She suggested strategies to follow include links to research output systems and a variety of marketing and advocacy programmes. University research output is expensive to create, and therefore it is incumbent on all to ensure effective access and preservation of research for institutions in particular and Hong Kong in general.

Professor Roland Chin, the Chair of the Hong Kong Research Grants Council, seemed to think in his concluding address, that IRs were principally an issue for librarians. If he had attended the preceding talks, particularly by Hagemann, Joseph and Steele, he would have been made aware of the social, economic and political benefits of OA to research outputs.

It is unfortunate that many researchers remain within their disciplinary "ghettos" and do not appreciate the wider aspects of scholarly communication change in the digital environment. As Anthony Ferguson noted, the digital era allows a shift in the ability to disseminate information, in contrast to the print era, where publishers were the predominate option.

During the conference, an article appeared in the South China Morning Post, reporting on a meeting of the Heads of the 8 Hong Kong universities, calling for an increased promotion of Hong Kong as “an education hub”. In this article, and at the conference, Chin bemoaned the fact that Hong Kong only spent 0.7 percent of its GDP on research, a small figure compared to Singapore and Taiwan. However, if all of the Hong Kong research was made Open Access, in addition to traditional publishing outlets, it is arguable that the benefits gained could be utilised to argue for a greater percentage allocation.

Joseph and Steele highlighted how in America and Australia the OA debate has moved into the public policy arena .Government reports in Australia have stressed the productivity returns to society of openly available research, in addition to the fact that public funding should mean public access. ROARMAP highlights the state of play of funding councils and research bodies in making material available through Open Access Mandates or other means.

   Wellcome funded research not available to the Trust

This was a point that Robert Kiley indicated was a ‘tipping point’ in the UK when the Wellcome Trust found much research that it had totally funded, was not available to the members of the Trust nor to many sectors of the National Health Service in Britain because of the transfer of copyright by researchers to multinational STM publishers. Kiley noted that the Wellcome trust distributes 500 million pounds in research grants per annum. Since Wellcome wishes to improve the quality of research by maximising access to research outputs, their grants include final publication costs.

Most of the commentaries on accessibility to research data have focused on STM articles but arguably the greatest benefit relates to material in the Social Sciences and Humanities and in particular to books. Colin Steele pointed out the burgeoning new E-Presses in Australia, and in particular the Australian National University E-Press which has seen significant downloads of complete PDFs, particularly in Asia from its Asia Pacific Press component.

John Bacon-Shone reaffirmed that repositories are not simply about print and the need for data archives for research output. He highlighted the need for a consistent approach for collecting Hong Kong data. Government agencies in Hong Kong had not been as forthcoming as their counterparts overseas in collecting and preserving data for public access.

Colin Steele reflected on the increasing dominance of the large multi-national publishers to the detriment of many smaller publishers. As Professor Peter Suber has written in his May 2007 Open Access Newsletter : ”Big publishers are still getting bigger: merging, acquiring smaller publishers, and acquiring journals. Market consolidation is growing, monopoly power is growing, and bargaining power by subscribers is declining…It gives the usual players - universities, libraries, funders, and governments- incentives to work for OA. And it gives smaller, non-profit publishers, excluded from big deals and competing for subscription funds against the market titans, reasons to consider OA less threatening than the large commercial publishers and, in fact, less a threat than a survival strategy.”

Impressive electronic platforms by publishers such as Elsevier’s Scopus require significant investment and this is recognised. The question however, is what is the “fair”cost of the value-add of publishers when large components of the scholarly communication process derive from the university research communities themselves? Colin Steele quoted the 2006 Houghton report Research Communication Costs in Australia, Emerging Opportunities and Benefits by John Houghton, Colin Steele & Peter Sheehan, DEST 2006 which seeks to identify and quantify all the costs associated with scholarly communication in Australia, and explore the potential benefits of enhanced access to research findings.

   Working party in Hong Kong

In the Hong Kong context, Anthony Ferguson, chairing the final panel session, indicated that Hong Kong universities and institutions of higher learning , will take the draft recommendations from the conference forward to a working party to be established from the Research Grants Committee and the eight Hong Kong institutions of higher learning. All agreed that preparatory work with the key players in Hong Kong was essential in order to ensure a productive outcome.

Issues to be addressed will include the obligation on researchers who receive governmental or institutional research funding to work within OA publication guidelines, including the payment of fees where grant monies are available. Institutions, through their institutional repositories, it is hoped, will cooperate with each other to ensure “the maximum viability of the intellectual output” of Hong Kong’s students, teachers and researchers.

In the end, it is not what Hong Kong can do for Open Access but rather what Open Access can do for Hong Kong in ensuring the maximum exposure of and access to Hong Kong’s research .The same principle can be applied to research from mainland China and other countries in the Asian region. As Zhang Xiaolin reflected, because of China’s “strong planning framework” policy can be quickly implemented once OA decisions have been made – a decided advantage over a number of western countries!

Colin Steele is Emeritus Fellow, Australian National University (colin[dot]steele[at]anu[dot]edu[dot]au)

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