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New technology and access to scholarship the focus of conference

 

by Aurora Herrera

In this era of new technology and a knowledge-based economy, open access to scholarly publications is a major challenge –- an issue which U of T Scarborough social sciences professor Leslie Chan is working hard to bring to the forefront.

Chan is the supervisor of studies for the new media studies program at the University of Toronto Scarborough. He is also a member of the Knowledge Media and Design Institute, a collaborative graduate program at the University of Toronto.

He served as chair of this year’s International Conference on Electronic Publishing (ELPUB 2008), held over three days in late June at U of T’s Bahen Centre for Information Technology on the St. George campus. This marks the first time this annual conference has been held in Canada, and the event drew some 150 people from six continents and 24 countries around the globe.

Issues around scholarly electronic publishing and sustainability models were the focus of the gathering. Participants included researchers, lecturers, librarians, developers, business executives, entrepreneurs, managers, information technology users and others interested in issues regarding academic communication in a networked environment.

The conference series is now entering its 12th year, with previous host countries including: the United Kingdom, Hungary, Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Brazil, Belgium, Bulgaria and Austria. Chan, a member of the executive committee, has been actively involved with the conference for the past eight years.

This year’s theme -- Open Scholarship: Authority, Community and Sustainability in the Age of Web 2.0 -- examined how knowledge for research, science and education can best be disseminated in a networked environment and what new funding models are best suited for supporting new modes of scholarly communication..

“A great deal of publicly funded research is being carried out worldwide, but price and permission barriers are restricting access to the results of that research,” said Chan. “People must subscribe to high priced journals or purchase articles in order to obtain the information they need for their research. Much of these should be openly accessible, but we are not using the internet and its associated technology to its full potential. Open access provides more opportunity for everyone to learn, collaborate and share discoveries and new ideas from different knowledge domains and cultures. Access to knowledge affects everybody and it is a global issue.”

Roger Persad, a recent U of T Scarborough graduate from the new media program and a volunteer at the conference, has been interested in open access for years, even before he started university.

“The more open and accessible information is, the better,” said Persad. “Open access is completely beneficial, especially for students. If we want to access any information, regardless of the field, it should be there for us to use. One of the conference speakers talked about Harvard and other major universities making their research output more open, and I’d like to see U of T moving towards that.”

According to Chan, U of T does provide some support to the open access movement, but more is needed, especially monetary support. When the benefits of supporting a project are clearly visible, the government and senior administration tend to help out, he said. Everyone needs to be educated on the value of such projects, and although they may not see immediate monetary returns, the knowledge is disseminated and will have subsequent impact.

Marla Miller, a librarian who works for the collection development department at U of T, is currently responsible for acquisitions at the U of T Scarborough campus. She was previously the chief librarian on this campus for 10 years and is now part of the team trying to raise awareness and support for open access.

Miller recalls the story of a humanitarian aid worker in the developing world who was visiting a seriously ill refugee and did not know the best way to treat the patient. The worker traveled to a United Nations outpost that had Internet access and searched through online journals in an attempt to find an answer. Much of what she found was written for a very different part of the world and the journals were commercial publications that required subscriptions for access. She then came across information available through Bioline International, a not-for-profit, open access project for publishers in the developing world. The information she needed was freely available and relevant to her situation. In that instance, open access may have meant the difference between life and death.

“The cost of journals has been going up and up,” she said. “Commercial publishers put a toll on research when it becomes available, and then libraries have to pay to access it. Publicly funded research needs a public outlet, and we need to get out of the mindset that our library acquisitions money is meant to buy publications; we need to see our responsibility as investing in making knowledge available.”

More information about the conference can be found at www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~elpub2008/index.html. To contact Leslie Chan, email chan@utsc.utoronto.ca .

Aurora Herrera is a fourth-year student in the joint journalism program offered by U of T Scarborough and Centennial College. She is currently working as an intern in the office of marketing and communications.




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