Open Access: Open Sesame or Opening Pandora’s Box?

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Locating OA Journals
Open Access journals from the Public Library of Science include PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine. Scheduled to launch later in 2005 are PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Genetics, and PLoS Pathogens. Another noted open access publisher is BioMed Central, which is responsible for more than 100 peer-reviewed journals. BioMed Central provides the mechanism for article submis- sions, peer reviewing, and publishing, and actively solicits new open access journals.

Recently, government actions in several parts of the world are mandating, encouraging, or suggesting that scholars publish in open access journals and/or archive in a digital repository. This has had some interesting consequences. In February, Blackwell Publishing announced the launch of Online Open, a service that offers authors an OA alternative for publishing articles. After they pay a fee of $2,500, their articles will be freely accessible on the Blackwell Synergy platform. Note that this is the author's option. It's entirely possible that within one issue of one Blackwell title, some articles will appear on the Synergy platform and some will not. Blackwell intends this as a trial service to last through the end of 2006. The American Chemical Society announced in early March that it would, after a year's embargo, post the peer-reviewed version of authors' manuscripts to PubMed and allow authors to link to their articles.

From a searcher's perspective, the problem with these open access journals is locating them. There's no one search engine that aggregates all open access journals. Nor is there one search engine that searches across all institutional repositories. Several come close. If you're looking for a particular journal, there's the Directory of Open Access Journals. Maintained at Sweden's Lund University, the DOAJ includes 1,525 journals, 383 of which are searchable at the article level. You can also browse journals by title or by subject. More comprehensive searching is available at OAIster, which indexes 5,272,686 articles from 458 institutions (as of April 1). OAIster's advanced search allows for combining terms and phrases using Boolean AND or OR. Field searching by author, title, subject, and resource type is also available. Results can be sorted by title, author, date (either ascending or descending), and hit frequency. Because OAIster pulls articles from hundreds of repositories, you sometimes will find duplicate records.

From, at the University of Southampton in the UK, comes the eprints software that facilitates the technical portions of self-archiving. As part of its Open Citation Project, EPrints has created the Citebase search service. Although bearing the caution that it is an experimental demonstration with incomplete coverage, Citebase can still be useful, particularly since it can rank results by most cited author and most cited paper.

Although not a search engine for OA materials, Scirus, the specialty search engine for scientific literature, will retrieve articles from some open access journals. It will also, of course, find articles from the free PubMed and the fee-based ScienceDirect. Scirus is a product of sci-tech publisher Elsevier, powered by FAST. Although it claims to be a science specialty search engine, you will frequently find scholarly literature from non-science disciplines as well. Since Scirus searches the free Web as well as the journal literature, search results often include interesting and eclectic sources.

Preprints and Working Papers
Not all scholarly articles are peer-reviewed. Several disciplines, notably physics and economics, disseminate preprints (physics) or working papers (economics), which are preliminary findings. The idea is to provide the scholar's peers with data and conclusions of research in progress, inviting their comments and criticisms. In fact, it's preprints that sparked the open access movement initially. The physics preprint service, which started at Los Alamos Laboratories a decade ago but is now owned and operated by Cornell University, is called arXiv. It has expanded to cover mathematics, nonlinear science, computer science, and quantitative biology, in addition to physics. The search capabilities include fields for discipline, date range, author, title, abstract, full record, comments, journal reference, subject, and report number. Boolean operators, stemming, wild cards, nesting, and phrase-searching is supported. Full text-search functionality is in experimental stages.

The preeminent economics repository is called RePEc, an acronym for Research Papers in Economics. This also has been in existence for almost a decade, having had its genesis as a project of the NetEc group. Some institutions contribute subject repositories to RePEc, but if an author's institution doesn't participate, that individual is welcome to submit materials to the repository. Types of materials included in RePEc are working papers, journal articles, software components, books, and chapters. The RePEc database can be searched through various interfaces, one of which is IDEAS, from the Economics Department at the University of Connecticut. It's important to note that RePEc is a bibliographic database. Not all the items in the database are full text; you will have full text access only if the record is labeled as "downloadable."

When Google introduced its Scholar product in November 2004, academic librarians greeted it with a mixture of elation and skepticism. Would this be the new OA search engine? As it turns out, Google Scholar is a good beginning in improving the process of locating scholarly literature, but it searches considerably more than open access—and some open access materials are missing from its results. The literature in Google Scholar includes peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts, and technical reports. When it says "peer-reviewed papers," it includes open access journals.

As with Scirus, Google Scholar too frequently leads searchers to dead ends, unless they are affiliated with an educational institution that has a subscription to, say, the ACM Digital Portal. Although Google is looking for more information sources from the humanities and social sciences, its initial Scholar product was more prone to receive scientific and technical literature. The exception is book literature, which Google retrieves from OCLC WorldCat.

As with most Web search endeavors, finding comprehensive answers to research questions requires using multiple search engines. Each engine will find something the others didn't—along with massive amounts of duplicated materials. Add to the search dilemma the need to include fee-based traditional hosts to ensure you've found all the information you need. It may seem a bit paradoxical, but depending upon the discipline, some natively digital, open access journals are being indexed by fee-based databases.

Is open access equivalent to an Open Sesame or is it opening Pandora's Box? For the general public, the movement has begun to make available resources that were hidden before. It surfaces more of the deep Web than was previously searchable. Yet, while it may not contain the whole multitude of human ills, open access raises a multitude of issues for professional researchers, librarians, and publishers—who as yet, remain undecided as to whether it will benefit them or not.

Companies Featured in this Article

American Chemical Society
Blackwell Publishing www.blackwell
BioMed Central
FAST Search & Transfer

Resources Featured in This Article

The American Scientist Open Access Forum
Association of Research Libraries Task Force
Directory of Open Access Journals
Google Scholar
Open Archive Initiative
Open Directory Project
Public Library of Science
SPARC Institutions Repositories Discussion List
LibLicense list

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