Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Birth of the Open Access Movement

Twelve years ago, on October 21st 1999, Clifford Lynch and Don Waters called to order a meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The organizers, Paul Ginsparg, Rick Luce, and Herbert Van de Sompel, had a modest goal: generalize the High Energy Physics preprint archive into a Universal Preprint Service available to any scholarly discipline. (Currently known as arXiv and hosted by Cornell University, the HEP preprint archive was then hosted at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.)

This meeting constructed the technical foundation for open access: the Open Archives Initiative and the OAI Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH). It coined the term repository. (Yes, it was a compromise.) It inspired participants. Some went home and developed OAI-compliant repository software. Some built or expanded institutional and disciplinary repositories. Some started initiatives to raise awareness.

At the meeting, there were high-flying discussions on the merits of disciplinary versus institutional repositories. Some argued that disciplinary repositories would be better at attracting content. Others (including me) thought institutional repositories were easier to sustain for the long haul, because costs are distributed. In retrospect, both sides were right and wrong. In the years that followed, even arXiv, our inspirational model, had problems sustaining its funding, but the HEP community rallied to its support. Institutional repositories got relatively easily funded, but never attracted a satisfactory percentage of research output. (It is too early to tell whether sufficiently strong mandates will be widely adopted.)

There were high hopes for universal free access to the scholarly literature, for open access journals, for lower-priced journals, for access to data, for better research infrastructure. Many of these goals remain high hopes. Yet, none of the unfulfilled dreams can detract from the many significant accomplishments of the Open Access Movement.

Happy Twelfth Birthday to the Open Access Movement!