Interview with Joachim Schöpfel, author of Learning from the BRICS: Open Access to Scientific Information in Emerging Countries

Joachim Schöpfel is lecturer of Library and Information Sciences at the University of Lille 3 (France), director of the French Digitization Centre for PhD theses (ANRT) and member of the GERiiCO research laboratory. He teaches on LIS topics, including intellectual property. His research interests are scientific information and communication, especially open access and grey literature. Litwin Books recently published his book, Learning from the BRICS: Open Access to Scientific Information in Emerging Countries. Joachim agreed to be interviewed here about it.

Joachim, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I’d like to start by asking you to tell readers a bit about yourself and what got you interested in the topic of this book.

After a PhD in Psychology at the University of Hamburg (Germany), I have been working for nearly 20 years in the French public information industry before returning to academic life. As an author and information manager, I have always been interested in open access as a set of tools and services designed to facilitate scientific communication. Most of my publications are freely available on the French open repository HAL. Also, I am interested in the development of the open access movement, in France and Germany and other European countries, but also in other regions of the world. Because of their economic and demographic dynamics, the BRICS countries play a particular role in global policies, may it be security, public health, ecology, innovation, research or education. This was the reason why a couple of years ago I became interested in open access initiatives and projects in these countries.

For readers’ info, the BRICS countries are the “emerging” economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. What are some of the basic differences regarding the open access movement in those countries, versus the U.S. and Europe?

Perhaps the most important difference is that the scientific output of the BRICS countries has largely been neglected and underrepresented by the international databases and catalogs; and partly still is. Language, culture, politics – all this may explain the underrepresentation but today they want to be visible and have impact on the global landscape of scientific research.

Another difference is that they had and partly still have more problems than the U.S. or Europe to get access to the core of scientific information. Again, language plays a role but also the economics of scientific information and technical infrastructures. Open access, therefore, has another and sometimes more crucial meaning for the BRICS countries, as a vector of global dissemination of their scientific results and as a way to get access to larger amounts of information than before.

So what does the book say about the open access situation in the countries discussed? Could you tell us its scope and outline it?

The book shows that all emerging countries develop an open access policy. Yet, the diversity and differences prevail. Each country pursues its own open access strategy that fits best with its economic, financial, political and scientific situation. Each strategy is specific and different, except for Brazil and South Africa which started a bilateral collaboration for OA journal publishing on the SciELO platform. However, all countries face the same double challenge, i.e. how to increase the visibility and global impact of their scientific output, and how to improve access to scientific and technical information for their research and higher education? Open access can be an answer to both.

Can you give a few interesting examples of the differences between the open access policies in these countries?

The public policy concerning open access journals is quite different between the countries. While Brazil and, to a lesser degree, South Africa, invest into a central public platform for OA journals (SciELO, SciELO-SA), the other countries and in particular China and India have another strategy, based on larger numbers of different OA servers. Another difference is the role of the public sector. Russia for instance, but also Brazil seem to consider that free access to research output is part of the social and political responsibility of the State, i.e. national or regional authorities. Open access, gold or green road, should not be controlled by commercial publishing houses. On the other hand, India and perhaps even more China foster further individual, institutional and often corporate initiatives, without clear distinction between “for profit” and “non for profit” dissemination. A third difference is related to their global strategy. While some countries focus more on regional collaborations, such as Brazil and South Africa, others (China, Russia, India) appear to seek global impact, in competition with Western countries, which means for instance, that for them the question of English content and the visibility in international initiatives are of prime importance.

The title, Learning from the BRICS, suggests that there are lessons to be learned from these countries in going forward with OA in the West. What do you think are some of the lessons to be derived for us?

One lesson is that there is no single solution or magic recipe for open access, and that a pragmatic and flexible approach fitting with local conditions seems more important than preconceived ideas about what should be done. Perhaps there is no unique or dominant model of open access. Perhaps there never will be. Perhaps, too, there is no need for a unique model, be it green or gold. Diversity may be a better option for sustainable development. Another lesson is the need for a strong commitment to open access shared by scientific and political authorities in order to increase the impact of the countries’ research output and the availability of scientific information. With the words of one of the book’s authors, Abel Packer from SciELO (Brazil): “National research policies that favour open access is the main factor to advance open access”. Yet, as our book shows, this commitment must also be shared by the local and domain-specific research communities in order to transform national policy into a success story. This is the third lesson: learning from each other does not only mean learning from failures, mistakes and dead-ends but more so and above all, learning from success. More than the understanding of problems and challenges, perhaps the real message of our book is the importance of success stories. The development of open access depends on the promotion of successful initiatives, such as SciELO in Latin America. Expect success, focus on it, and coordinate scientific and political efforts in favour of open science.

Thank for this interview, Joachim. Your insights are very much appreciated, by me and I’m sure by our readers. Litwin Books is privileged to have published this title.

Thanks to Litwin Books for support and interest!