Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, March 27, 2009

Richard Poynder interviews Hélène Bosc

Richard Poynder, The Open Access Interviews: Hélène Bosc, Open and Shut? March 27, 2009.  This is another richly textured interview, unearthing details about the early history of OA, OA in France, OA in Europe, and the career of one of Europe's first and most influential OA activists.  It's difficult to excerpt, but here's a little to whet your appetite:  

Former INRA librarian, [convenor for the EuroScience Working Group on Science Publishing,] and passionate champion of Open Access (OA) in France, Hélène Bosc began advocating for OA in 1995, before the term even existed and just one year after Stevan Harnad had posted his seminal Subversive Proposal on an Internet mailing list.

Like other librarians who have embraced OA, Bosc's starting point was the so-called serials crisis....

Also like other librarians Bosc was hard pressed to see any obvious solution to the problem. Moreover, to her growing frustration, INRA appeared to be conspiring in the process: Although it had been publishing a number of its own journals since the 1950s, in 1989 INRA decided to outsource the task to Elsevier, the largest scholarly publisher in the world, and the for-profit company that many believe had played a major role in creating the serials crisis in the first place. Either way, after Elsevier began publishing INRA's journals the cost of subscribing to them began to rise steeply.

In 1995, however, Bosc attended a conference at which French-Canadian academic Jean-Claude Guédon presented a paper on the serials crisis. Rather than simply describe the problem, Guédon proposed a solution: If the research community used the Internet as a publishing platform it could reduce the costs of producing journals, and make the contents freely available. Intriguingly, Guédon's proposal was not just theory; it was based on practical experience. In 1991 he had founded Canada's first electronic journal — Surfaces; a journal that continues to be published today.

Inspired by Guédon, Bosc determined to try and persuade INRA that it should stop being part of the problem, and start working towards a solution. In other words, rather than restricting access to its journals, and stoking the inflationary fires, INRA should make them freely available on the Web so that any scientist in the world could access them without being confronted by a paywall....

RP: So how would you present the case for self-archiving mandates both generally, and within the context of France?

HB: Mandates are necessary to fill up repositories. All the author surveys and outcome studies that have been undertaken worldwide show this to be so, including studies in France: In a study I did, for instance, I showed that by assisting researchers to archive Ifremer has managed to capture 80% of recently published papers in the institution's repository, Archimer. By contrast HAL has captured only 10-15 % of French research output....

RP: How would you describe France's take-up of OA as compared to other Western countries?

HB: As we said, HAL was created over seven years ago, and following the signing of the protocole d'accord in July 2006, all French researchers were supposed to deposit their publications in HAL. That would seem to suggest that we were ahead of other countries, and yet today we are not: In spite of our technical lead, HAL has achieved the global default deposit rate of only 10-15 %....

RP: What is at stake?

HB: What is at stake is that if France wants to be in the research vanguard, it must embrace OA quickly, before all the other countries pull ahead.

My view is that as the first French universities see the deposit rate in their repositories approach 100% they will understand the OA citation advantage, and start to benefit from all the other advantages provided by OA....