Open Access and Global Information Divide

Editor’s note: Throughout Open Access Week (Oct 19-23), the UI Libraries will be sharing the views of our UI colleagues on the topic of open access.

by Edward Miner, Ph.D., International Studies Bibliographer

Although Open Access movements are unfolding within the legal frameworks of individual countries, their most dramatic potential benefits are really global in scale. One critical aspect of the North-South divide is structural inequality in access to current scientific and scholarly research. This disparity in access existed under the traditional (print) publishing system, and was actually exacerbated by the advent of electronic publishing technologies as not-for-profit scholarly societies in the developed world sold or outsourced their journals to for-profit commercial publishers. Scientists and scholars create and disseminate knowledge to advance their disciplines and serve the public good, and those values transcend national boundaries. Indeed, much scientific and applied social scientific research is specifically intended to combat poverty and social inequality – so the increased inaccessibility of such research to resource-poor universities and scholars in the Global South is a most grim irony.

Scholars who are concerned about the role of new knowledge in driving socioeconomic and political development have a duty to retain the rights they need to make their peer-reviewed research freely available on the Internet, either in open access journals or institutional/disciplinary repositories. But given that affordable Internet access is out of reach for many of the most resource-poor institutions and scholars in the poorest countries, open access on the Internet doesn’t go far enough. To really maximize the potential of new digital publishing technologies to level the playing field in access to current research, scholars need to disseminate their work through mechanisms like the eGranary, an offline digital library of scholarly information produced by the University of Iowa’s WiderNet Project. Through donations of content from copyright holders, the eGranary Digital Library moves a massive assortment of scholarly content onto the local area networks of institutions in Africa and elsewhere, saving significant amounts of money for institutions that have an Internet connection and providing an Internet surrogate for those institutions that have no Internet connection at all.