Neil Grindley, head of resource discovery, discusses the obstacles for libraries to earmark freely available, open access content.
The transition towards making scholarly communication openly available and accessible for all is a high priority for funding organisations. A tremendous amount of work is underway by libraries to disclose new sets of data to ensure that their collections can be searched and found.
Supporting this trend, Jisc has recently launched the library hub discover offering a fast and convenient way to search for publications held by UK libraries.
The amount of data brought together by this service is growing daily, but at the time of writing, 135 academic and specialist libraries have contributed, adding up to more than 102 million catalogue records. But here’s the rub: among those 102 million records, it’s not easy to find out which electronic books under which topic are free, unrestricted and legally accessibly.
No mean feat
If only it were as simple as typing appropriate keywords, setting a filter for open access, and asking for electronic materials. Well, perhaps it should be that simple, but the reality is somewhat different - and it’s not just Jisc that struggles with this issue. The very large knowledgebase systems, such WorldCat Discovery, Primo, Summon and the EBSCO Discovery Service, all face challenges in making open access materials (particularly monographs) sufficiently visible and discoverable in their systems.
There are a number of obstacles that need to be tackled. One big issue is that the records libraries receive from sources that list and describe open access publications are often described in ways that make it difficult for libraries to seamlessly incorporate them into their catalogues.
For instance, if the name of the publisher is abbreviated or absent, or if any data is inserted into a non-standard field, the chances decrease of that record subsequently being found in a search. If the data is then shared with an aggregator such as Jisc, it can cause problems downstream when an attempt is made to match records across multiple libraries to identify who owns the same item.
If the record doesn’t contain an accurate and persistent URL pointing to an openly accessible full-text version of the publication, then there is no way the user will get all the way to their destination.
Another problem is that publishers tend to work with ONIX format data, which is optimised to support commercial transactions, while libraries rely mostly on Machine Readable Cataloguing (MARC) format data, which is more richly descriptive for the purposes of discovery and research. Conversion between the formats is possible but tends to result in an unsatisfactory record. Yet another (perhaps surprising) issue is that there has not historically been a standard way of flagging whether something is open access in a MARC format record.
Flagging open content
There is good news, however! A lot of different people and organisations around the world are focused on finding ways forward.
In addition to all the work that Jisc has done, the OAPEN initiative has been active for some years and the Knowledge Exchange has undertaken surveys and released reports. The British Library is leading on work and, more recently, the COPIM project has received a substantial amount of funding to pursue solutions in this space.
And just to prove that progress is being made, there has been recent agreement (based on a proposal by OCLC and the German National Library) on the insertion of an open access flag into a MARC record. Anyone interested in the detail can read more from the Library of Congress.
As part of the Jisc library hub roadmap, we have plans to build and release a tool that will help smaller libraries and open access publishers to more easily create good quality bibliographic records that will be optimised for visibility in discovery systems. ‘Library hub create’ will be an easy-to-use cataloguing tool for creating new records in a variety of formats. It will be developed alongside ‘library hub contribute’ which is another tool that will enable libraries, publishers and other contributors to more easily upload records and to keep track of their data as it flows into the national bibliographic knowledgebase.
We are hoping to gather requirement insights and prototype these tools during the next year and will be continuing to work with the community to think carefully about how to ensure that the data we rely on is fit for purpose and maximises the chances of pinpointing open access materials amid the vast haystack of other publications.