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Margin Notes

Open access becoming a reality

The launch of PubMed Central Canada is the latest step in improving the free dissemination of research.


Slowly but surely open access initiatives aimed at improving the dissemination of research and scholarly work are gaining ground. It’s been a long time coming, judging from a piece in our archives from February 2006 entitled “The bottom line on open access”.

As we recently reported, the University of Ottawa has a new institution-wide open-access initiative. The university described it as the first in Canada, although we quickly received a note from Athabasca University notifying us that Athabasca was in fact the first, in 2006.

Now, Concordia University has announced it, too, is “open[ing] its research findings to the world” via a new open-access agreement. Concordia claims it is “the first major university in Canada where faculty have given their overwhelming support to a concerted effort to make the full results of their research universally available.” I’m wary of claims of being the “first” (see above), so if other institutions wish to contest that, leave us a comment.

And the biggest recent news for open-access advocates is the launch last week of PubMed Central Canada, created through a partnership between the National Research Council’s Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the U.S. National Library of Medicine. With the launch of PMC Canada, says the CIHR announcement, “Canadians have a freely accessible national digital repository of the latest peer-reviewed health and life sciences literature at their fingertips, including research resulting from CIHR funding.”

PMC Canada supports CIHR’s Policy on Access to Research Outputs, which requires CIHR grant recipients to make their peer-reviewed publications freely accessible online within six months of publication. As well, by becoming a part of PubMed Central, Canada joins with the U.S. and U.K. as a member of the larger PMC International network, giving Canadian researchers access to much of the content available on the U.S. and U.K. versions of this central repository.

The first phase of PMC Canada includes a basic bilingual interface, a manuscript submission system for CIHR researchers and a bilingual help desk. Plans for the second phase of the repository will incorporate a customized web front-end along with enhanced reporting and alerting features for system funders and users.  An advisory committee of Canadian health researchers and other stakeholders will guide PMC Canada’s future development, says CIHR.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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  1. Ronald Rudin / May 4, 2010 at 12:43

    I am responding to Concordia’s claim about having achieved a “first” in regard to Open Access policy. What is not clear from the quote in regard to our policy is that the resolution passed by our Senate (and approved as well by all of our faculty councils) did, in fact, require all Concordia faculty either to deposit their journal publications in our institutional repository or to provide some explanation of why they chose not to (which could well be due to the restrictions imposed by the journal). I do believe that our effort to make compliance a requirement places Concordia in a unique position, one that comes on the eve of our hosting the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, with the theme of Connected Understanding.

    Ronald Rudin
    Professor of History
    Academic Convenor, Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, 2010
    Concordia University.

  2. Stevan Harnad / May 10, 2010 at 08:00


    PubMed Central Canada is a welcome advance if what Canada needed was more space (to make its research Open Access [OA]). But what Canada needed was to fill available space with OA content, not to make more space available — and the only way to do that is by mandating (i.e., requiring) deposit.

    In the case of the high-profile NIH Public Access Policy, the difference between a “Request” and a “Requirement” turned out to be substantial. Formulated initially as a “Request,” the policy failed to elicit more than 5% compliance for two years. Within a year of being upgraded from a “Request” to a “Requirement,” the compliance rate rose to 60%, and is since steadily approaching 100%.

    It is for this reason that U. Athabasca’s Open Access (OA) Policy is not listed as a mandate in ROARMAP, but only as a policy. By the very same token, however, U. Ottawa’s policy is not listed at all in ROARMAP, since it is merely a commitment to provide some funds to pay to publish some U. Ottawa research output in OA journals (“Gold OA”), not a mandate to provide OA to all of U. Ottawa research output (“Green OA”) by self-archiving it in an OA repository, as NIH requires and U. Athabasca recommend.

    By this criterion, U. Concordia’s is the first university-wide Green OA mandate in Canada. Canada also has 3 departmental OA mandates (Calgary, Guelph, Queens) and 8 funder mandates.

    There is not much point in being the “first” to do something if one does not do it right: The only university that has done it right university-wide so far in Canada is Concordia. Let us hope that Concordia’s policy will now inspire many emulators.

    The other important course-correction Canada could benefit from making is to make sure that all OA mandates (university-wide, departmental and funder) are convergent and cooperative, not divergent and competitive. Here too, Concordia has adopted the right policy, promising not to require double-deposit on the part of their researchers (i.e., having to deposit in both the Concordia repository and, say, PubMed Central Canada). Universities (and research institutions) are the universal providers of *all* research output, funded and unfunded, across all fields.

    Let us hope Canada’s funders will have the good sense to mandate direct university deposit rather than central deposit. Central repositories like PubMed Central Canada can then harvest from Canada’s network of university repositories. Deposit should be institutional; a central collection is just that — a collection — not a locus for direct deposit.

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