The fourth Q&A in a series exploring the current state of Open Access has been published. On this occasion the questions are answered by Heather Joseph.


A former journal publisher, Joseph has in her time worked for both Elsevier and the American Society for Cell Biology. In 2005, however, she changed direction and became Executive Director for the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), an alliance of academic and research libraries created in 1998 by the Association of Research Libraries. SPARC’s original mission was to “use libraries’ buying power to nurture the creation of high-quality, low-priced publication outlets for peer-reviewed scientific, technical, and medical research.”


Subsequently SPARC also changed direction, becoming an OA advocacy group. And under Joseph’s able leadership SPARC has proved extremely effective at making the case for OA, and persuading researchers, institutions, funders and governments to embrace OA. In particular, Joseph led SPARC’s efforts to secure the US National Institutes of Health Public Access Policy, and the recent White House Directive on Public Access to the Results of Publicly Funded Research.


In May last year, for instance, Joseph — along with OA advocates John Wilbanks and Michael Carroll, and publisher Mike Rossner — met with John Holdren and Mike Stebbins of the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSPT). As a follow-up to the meeting they organised a White House petition calling for “free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research”. The petition quickly attracted the requisite 25,000 signatures needed to trigger a response from the government, which came this February in the shape of the White House Memorandum.


Importantly, the Memorandum directs “each Federal agency with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government”.


But for me there is no better evidence of the efficacy of SPARC’s activities than the contents of an exchange I had a couple of years ago with an employee of one of the larger traditional scholarly publishers. When I suggested that perhaps publishers ought to stop lobbying against OA and learn to love it, my interlocutor’s face expressed a complicated mix of emotions — including exasperation and muted anger, but also (I felt) some admiration for the OA movement. He replied, “It’s not just publishers who are lobbying you know.” Then a few seconds later he added, “I’ll tell you what, if you can get SPARC to stop lobbying against us we will stop lobbying against Open Access.”


Since then the OA movement has gone from strength to strength, in what has become a classic David and Goliath contest — a smallish group of impecunious but tireless OA advocates lined up against an army of well-heeled corporations determined to stop them.


But how things will end we do not yet know. What is certain, as Joseph concedes, is that “much still needs to be done” before the OA movement can claim to have succeeded in its aims.


Earlier contributors to this series include palaeontologist Mike Taylor, cognitive scientist Stevan Harnad, and former librarian Fred Friend.


Joseph’s Q&A can be read here: