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With the publishing industry finally realizing that it has an “image problem,” particularly regarding scientific publishing and open access, the UK “Publishers Licensing Society (PLS), in partnership with the publishing industry, represented by The Publishers Association (The PA) and the Association for Learned and Professional Society Publishers,” has launched an initiative called Access to Research, in conjunction with the UK Society for Chief Librarians, “providing access to academic journals and conference proceedings online, from public libraries across the UK.”

“Provision through public libraries in this way will enhance the ‘walk-in’ access already available at university libraries, and would enable anyone to have free access to a wealth of journal articles and conference proceedings at their local public library,” according to the launch announcement. “At a time when public libraries are under pressure, such a move is expected to strengthen their position in the communities they serve, and lead to increased usage and value.”

Publishers listed as participating in the initiative include ALPSP, Bloomsbury Publishing, Cambridge University Press, Dove Press, Elsevier, Emerald, IoP Publishing, Nature Publishing Group, Oxford University Press, Portland Press, SAGE Publications, Science Reviews 2000 Ltd., Springer, Taylor & Francis, Versita, Wiley, and Wolters Kluwer Health. Elsevier, be it remembered, was the subject of the recent controversy over takedown notices against research papers online. Presumably, this move is intended as a sop or a diversion in the aftermath of that furore.

“From January 2014, over 1.5 million academic articles are available, free of charge, in participating public libraries across the UK,” states the initiative’s website. Does this move help the overall situation in open access and academic publishing? The blurb above indicates that publishers are also leaning heavily on the pro-libraries angle, no big surprise given the public hostility to government-led library cutbacks in the UK. The BBC’s reporting of the story has this angle right at the beginning, and also quotes the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) as welcoming the scheme.

Will this move to any degree diminish the calls in the scientific community for a move away from publishers who block open access? The Access to Research launch blurb emphasizes the value of the initiative in answering the recommendations of the Finch Report of July 2012, Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications. However, does it go far enough to meeting the agenda set out by the UK Minister for Science David Willetts in his May 2012 speech to the 2012 UK Publishers Association AGM, “Public access to publicly-funded research”? Given that the journals on offer via the new scheme appear to be still kept under fairly tight control, I suspect it doesn’t. But I’d welcome input from those in the academic research community who have a view.

 
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