Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, April 04, 2008

Richard Poynder interviews Bill Mortimer

Richard Poynder, The Open Access Interviews: Bill Mortimer, Open and Shut? April 4, 2008.  This interview builds on Richard's profile of OA at Open University published last month in ComputerWeekly.  From the new interview:

...But how [does the progress of OA archiving] look on the ground? To find out I sat down recently with Bill Mortimer, Research Support Librarian at the UK's Open University. An advocate for Open Access, Mortimer has played a key role in the development of the OU's repository, Open Research Online (ORO).

What became evident during our conversation is that the OU's experience maps neatly onto the history of the self-archiving movement. As in many universities, the library created an institutional repository some years ago, but struggled to persuade researchers to deposit their papers in it. Without the necessary funds to continue supporting ORO, the library was then forced to put it on the back burner for a while. After Mortimer was appointed, however, the OU's Pro-Vice Chancellor for research was persuaded to adopt ORO as a central resource for the upcoming Research Assessment Exercise.

As a result ORO experienced a rapid growth in the number of deposits and today, says Mortimer, it is the fourth largest repository in the UK. But like so many repositories the bulk of the content in ORO today is metadata, and just 15% of its records consist of full-text....

In short, Open Access is for Mortimer primarily a pragmatic issue. As he pointed out, his job is to ensure that OU faculty have access to all the research they need, not to promote causes. It just so happens that Open Access currently offers him the best hope of achieving this. Indeed, I formed the impression that, while he is happy to discuss radical future scenarios, Mortimer is in many ways a traditionalist, and were journal subscription costs to suddenly plummet, to a level where the OU could provide faculty with all the research it needs, Mortimer would be more than happy to re-embrace the traditional subscription model.

Given this pragmatism I found it striking that, with his colleagues, Mortimer has recently suggested to OU management that the University introduce an "Immediate-Deposit/Optional Access" (ID/OA) mandate. The ID/OA mandate, we should note, is a compromise strategy intended to force researchers to self-archive, but in a way that circumnavigates publisher opposition, and avoids any potential copyright disputes with publishers. And it is also able to facilitate Open Access even where the full-text is not accessible on the Web. In short, it promises a very practical solution to the many hurdles currently besetting Open Access. It is no surprise, therefore, that it should appeal to a pragmatist like Mortimer.

However, if the OU were to adopt such a mandate it would set an interesting precedent. Might it happen? Mortimer cannot say, but stressed to me that senior management is currently "actively considering" the idea....