Taking the first steps towards institutional open access

At the start of this year, Italy's Istituto Superiore di Sanita (ISS) of Rome announced an open-access archiving policy. Elisabetta Poltronieri and Paola De Castro of ISS's Publishing Activities Unit explain what this will means to the institute's researchers and the wider research community

The open-access (OA) question in scientific publishing is attracting increasing attention among the many different groups involved in the scholarly communication system.

The level of interest in issues such as the economic sustainability of the OA model, the reputation of OA journals, benefits of high citation rates and ethics of OA to research results is demonstrated by the high volume of professional literature being produced on this topic. For example, a PubMed search run in late March 2008 on the MeSH terms Publishing and Access to information provided over 1390 citations dated from 2001.

The parties that favour OA, particularly research institutions, are trying to strengthen the principles of free access to research output. They are doing this by implementing projects to build-up digital repositories that are OAI (Open Access Initiative) compliant and by supporting scientists so that they can afford the OA publishing model. What’s more, institutions are setting internal, possibly mandatory, policies to make research papers of their own research staff freely accessible online.

As effectively pointed out at the Berlin 5 Open Access conference, held in Padua last September, the concept of OA is simple but it is complicated to put into practice. Every research community has its own habits and expectations in publishing practices and the OA scenery has to be harmonised with the existing experience of the single research community.

The Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS, the Italian National Institute of Health), which is the leading research body in Italy in the field of public health and related disciplines, is among the 81 Italian signatories (as of May 2008) of the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Scientific Knowledge and of the Petition to the European Commission in support of free access to the results of research supported by public funds.

What the researchers want

A study of the opinions of a pilot group of ISS researchers revealed that they would positively consider publishing in OA journals provided that their established habits were not undermined. This implies that subscription journals with high impact factor values continue to exert a strong appeal on the authors and affect the choice of where to place research results. Nevertheless, other key factors such as the speed with which research output can be made public are also important when deciding where to publish. The instant access to information allowed by the OA publishing model through the web should also represent a priority in order to rapidly distribute scientific results. This seems to be much more of an issue in the case of research activities that are sustained by public funds.

With this background, ISS has recently set-up an internal policy to favour full, free access to the scientific literature produced by the internal research staff. Signed by the ISS president on 17 January 2008, it mandates all ISS researchers (about 700 scientists, who collectively produce about 1,600 publications per year, mainly journal articles) to make their papers available in the DSpace ISS repository (see box opposite for the policy statement).

The policy applies specifically to peerreviewed articles, although researchers may wish to post non peer-reviewed material too. The efforts of the internal staff in charge of the repository are now concentrated on achieving the primary goal of the newborn policy: populating DSpace ISS. This repository currently holds 19,000 items, mainly represented by metadata, with full-text papers according to the conditions stated by the publishers for copyrighted material. To help with the activity of uploading and transmitting papers to be archived in the repository, instructions for authors will be detailed in an ad hoc brochure to be distributed among internal researchers.

The ISS open-access repository is based on the DSpace platform, which was developed by MIT Libraries and HP Labs.

Initiatives across Italy

The experience gained in ISS in spreading awareness on OA principles has benefitted from the intense advocacy activity promoted by CRUI (Conference of the Chancellors of Italian Universities) over the last two years in favour of full, free access to the scientific knowledge produced by Italian universities and research centres. And, within the CRUI Libraries Commission, the Italian Group for Open Access is committed to providing guidelines addressed to the whole research and academic community in order to foster the creation of open digital archives.

According to the latest data (as of May 2008) provided by the Directory of Open Access Repositories (DOAR), there are 38 institutional repositories currently running in Italy. Among them, two major archives should particularly be mentioned for their important roles as registers of the academic research staff of their respective institutions: Polaris, set up at the University of Trento and AIR (Archivio istituzionale della ricerca), running at the University of Milan.

New and challenging tasks are being faced by the personnel in charge of the management of all institutional repositories (IRs) within the research bodies. By adopting cooperative working methodologies, IRs will represent vital infrastructures that are able to offer concrete services to the whole community of scholars.

Further information:


The ISS policy

The ISS policy states that: ‘All scientific works produced by ISS staff must be transmitted in electronic format (author’s final copy, after peer-review: “post-print”) to the Publishing Activities Unit of ISS, at the moment of acceptance for publication. This unit will immediately make them available on the ISS Intranet. The metadata will also be made available on the Internet, via DSpace ISS and, after the publisher embargo period has expired, the full texts will be made available too.

During the embargo period, individual works can be requested from their authors through an automatedfunction of DSpace. (dspace.iss.it/dspace/bitstream/2198/353/1/Policy_ISS_EN.pdf)


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