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Free knowledge

Knowledge for everyone: quick, global, free. Facilitating precisely this is the goal of the Open Access Infopoint Schleswig-Holstein, which went online in the last few days.

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Open Access, which means access to scientific literature and its use on the Internet without technical, legal or financial barriers, has been an important topic for a number of years. Dr Rüdiger Schütt, head of PR at the University Library, emphasised: “A lot of new knowledge is funded by taxes.” One main problem, in his opinion, is some of the globally operating scientific publishers who take advantage of their market power at the public's expense by selling the knowledge back to universities for a lot of money, when it was their research processes which made the discoveries possible in the first place. Many journals charge the authors themselves fees in order to be able to publish a research paper. And then the readers need to pay to read it. But Dr Schütt is not alone in his belief that this kind of information should “really be available free of charge”, mainly based on where it came from.

The key trigger for corresponding initiatives arose from the “Budapest Open Access Initiative”, an equally international and interdisciplinary scientific amalgamation, which pleaded for free availability of scientific literature in journals and other forms of publication back in 2001. As a consequence of this, Open Access became an issue. Yet as captivating as the idea may seem, it still has its pitfalls. Particularly at the beginning, Rüdiger Schütt explained, the new, freely available scientific e-journals had a much less prestigious reputation than their commercial competitors. This reputation then directly affects the so-called impact factor of a journal, which is calculated as a figure from the number of times it is cited. Authors whose scientific status also depends on how much they publish and where they publish it, continued to strive towards conventional media with a high number of impact points, despite Open Access.

Dr Sabrina Stockhusen, who is also part of the editorial team at the Open Access Infopoint Schleswig-Holstein together with Dr Rüdiger Schütt, Arne Klemenz and Dr Kai Lohsträter, named another hurdle: in the natural sciences, she says, people are generally more open-minded towards digital publications because the knowledge in these fields usually needs to be updated quite quickly. This is different to the strength of the printed words in the humanities. “They need a bit more convincing,” said Sabrina Stockhusen from Kiel University Library.

In spite of these misgivings, however, the trend is now clearly heading in the digital direction. The German Research Foundation (DFG) is a large contributor to this, because it has meanwhile started preferentially funding scientific projects under the condition that the results are published via Open Access. At the same time, in Schütt and Stockhusen’s opinions, it is becoming more apparent that while access to the knowledge itself should be free, money is still required for the publishing. So Open Access is demanding a conversion of financing models for scientific literature - some of which are centuries old. Publication servers on the Internet, like MACAU by Kiel University Library, need to be operated, managed and maintained, the individual papers require bibliographic details like metadata and keywords so that they can actually be found – and last but not least, quality assurance is also necessary. Scientific publishers usually have the papers submitted to them reviewed again by external experts. The high quality level this results in should also be achieved for Open Access publications, of course.

The new information platform on Open Access in Schleswig-Holstein received financial support from the Ministry of Education, Science and Cultural Affairs. “The Open Access Infopoint’s job is to pool and share news about the regional initiatives on free distribution and unrestricted exchange and use of digital scientific literature and materials,” explained Dr Kai Lohsträter from the platform's editorial team. The topic is a complex one and often complicated for beginners. This is why the Infopoint is providing general information, boosting regional networking between all parties involved, and providing initial compacted, easy to understand and practical assistance.

The concept of taking part in the new portal is important to Kai Lohsträter and his team. Everyone who would like to get involved can place articles in the news blog and, for example, introduce their Open Access publications or their projects. Information about the legal and technical foundations of freely distributing knowledge is conveyed, because there is high demand for information in the institutes and departments. For those who need it, the team also offers consultations at the institutions at Kiel University, to answer any questions you might have about this topic. The old fashioned way.

Author: Martin Geist

Link to the Open Access Infopoint https://oa-info.sh