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Thursday, June 26, 2008

UNESCO report on journal access programs for developing countries

Improving Access to Scientific Information for Developing Countries: UK Learned Societies and Journal Access Programmes, a new report from the Improving Access to Scientific Information Working Group of the UK National Commission for UNESCO, May 2008.  Excerpt:

...While the open access movement continues to gain positive ground in increasing access to research findings, most up-to-date scientific literature is at present still made accessible on a subscription-only basis. Strengthening scientific capacity in developing countries has therefore been greatly hampered by their inability to afford essential scientific literature due to the combined forces of the high cost of journal subscriptions, declining institutional budgets and currency weaknesses. In a survey conducted by the World Health Organization in 2000, researchers and academics in developing countries ranked access to subscription-based journals as one of their most pressing problems; in countries with annual incomes of US$1000 and less per person, 56% of institutions surveyed had no current subscriptions to international journals....

This report was undertaken by the UK National Commission for UNESCO?s Natural Sciences Committee to assess the participation of UK scientific learned societies in existing journal access programmes which provide free or low access to scholarly literature to developing countries. It is based on the results of a survey of 40 scientific learned societies in the UK, conducted between August and October 2007....

Based on the findings detailed in this report, and the conclusions drawn from these, the UK National Commission for UNESCO makes the following recommendations...:

Participation by All Scientific Learned Societies and Organisations

  • ...Journal access programmes for developing countries play a hugely important role in providing essential access to up-to-date scientific literature.
  • Those learned societies, and their third party publishers, which participate in these access programmes provide a highly commendable service for countries in need. Wider participation is urgently required to make journal and other relevant content, such as databases and reference books, available to institutions and readers in developing countries....

Also see Naomi Antony, Journal access programmes 'need wider input', SciDev.Net, June 25, 2008.  Excerpt:

Wider participation in access programmes is essential to make journals and other relevant content available to developing country researchers, says a report....

The survey found that 25 of the societies participate in one or more journal access programmes, with the PERI (Programme for the Enhancement of Research Information) programme of the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) the most popular.

Societies who currently did not participate in access programmes cited lack of awareness as a key reason....

Richard Reece, a member of the working group that produced the report and a professor of life science at the University of Manchester, told SciDev.Net that, in the past, there might have been reluctance from some learned societies to participate in such programmes due to fears regarding intellectual property ? perhaps from those whose work they publish.

But he added, "I don't think that is the case [now]. I think that we have to try and level the playing field out and give those that don't have access to this [scientific] information much more ready access." ...

[According to Natasha Bevan, natural sciences programme secretary for the UK National Commission for UNESCO,] "We need to see whether or not, based on this feedback, UNESCO would be able to play a facilitating role. It all depends on the interest that we get."


  • The chief differences between these journal access programs and OA are that (1) OA literature is free for everyone with an internet connection, not just for those at designated research institutions in designated developing countries, (2) OA requires no passwords for access, and no methods for sharing passwords with beneficiaries and hiding them from everyone else, and (3) OA journals can easily remove permission barriers as well as price barriers, but TA journals in an access program cannot easily do so.
  • The UNESCO report urges society publishers to participate in a journal access program, but doesn't urge them to support OA, not even green OA (allowing author-initiated self-archiving).  The report discusses OA, but makes no recommendations for or against it.  This may be due to the report's narrow focus on access programs.  But it recommends access programs in part for their "hugely important role in providing essential access to up-to-date scientific literature", a criterion on which OA is clearly superior.  The omission is especially regrettable in light of UNESCO's past support for OA.