Open Access in the Humanities and Social Sciences

I recently attended a workshop for law researchers at my university, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), in which the majority of the attendees were actual academics from the law school. The objective of the workshop was to clarify the open access policies of research funding bodies in the UK, namely HEFCE and RCUK. I have to admit even though I have been to numerous open access workshops and conferences, this was the first time I attend an event where people were not  interested in open access and merely saw it as another hassle that they have to go through to get their job done. I guess it is not realistic to think that everyone would be a supporter of the open access movement, but I was really surprised how the law academics, especially those at SOAS, who teach and study justice and inequality in Asia and Africa, have no interest in open access at all and whether or not what they write can be read by the people in the countries they research.

It was difficult not to compare the vibe I felt in SOAS with the vibe at OpenCon, a conference I was very fortunate to attend just a few weeks before. It is certainly not fair to generalise, but the majority of the attendees and speakers at OpenCon came from STEM fields, there were very few speakers from a legal background, and definitely there were no keynote speakers who were law professors. OpenCon was a conference for people who already knew what open access is, believed in it, and came to share experiences and strategies for pushing it further. There were so many inspirational speakers, such as Mike Eisen and Erin McKiernan, who shared their stories of how they took open access as a matter of principle even though it did not seem as a wise career move, but they persevered and succeeded.

Even though the majority of the speakers and attendees were from the STEM fields, one session at OpenCon showcased a major open access developments from the area of humanities, namely, the launch of the Open Library of the Humanities. This project that is being led by Paul Even and focuses on the academic literature in the humanities. It creates a new business model for publishing open access journals that does not require end users to pay subscription fees or authors to pay article processing charges. This development is important because the current most common open access approach attempts to remove the barriers of access to academic literature by removing subscription fees from readers and requiring the author to pay a fee to have his or her accepted article published in the journal. The Open Library of Humanities relies on partnerships with libraries to fund a collective of journals through a library subsidy system in which each library can pay a few hundred dollars every year to support the publication of the open access articles published by the Open Library of the Humanities. As more libraries join the system, the contribution required to support the Open Library of the Humanities becomes smaller into a tiny fraction of what each library currently pays for subscription fees to commercial electronic journal databases.

The Open Library of Humanities officially launched in September 2015, but it already has the potential of being a major game changer in the publication of open access academic literature in the humanities. It does not publish any law journals yet, but hopefully someone can propose someone to them soon.

Open Data

Oman Ranks #66 on the Global Open Data Index 2015

Oman ranked at 66 on the Global Open Data Index 2015 making it the highest ranking Arab country on the index. The Global Open Data Index is a crowdsourced survey of the performance of governments in the area of open data. It looks at the extent to which governments release their data in a technically and legally open format that permits the public to copy and re-use this data for both societal and business objectives.

Oman has been actively working in the past few years on the ‘government digital transformation’ project, which is spearheaded by the ITA, but the biggest development in the area of open data did not come from the ITA, it came from NCSI. The NCSI launched earlier this year a fully fledged open data portal in which data is published in a technically and legally open manner. This portal publishes statistics relating to Oman in a variety of areas under machine-readable formats that users are permitted to copy and re-purpose.

It is also great to see that the Omani legislation dataset, which is published by MOLA, ranks 16 globally. This score is probably due to the legal requirements for legislation to be published in the official gazette within a maximum of two weeks and the exemption of legislation from the protection of copyright under Omani law (making it legally open). MOLA is very quick in updating the legislation on its website and announces its weekly updates on both Twitter and Facebook. The benefits of the availability of the legislation dataset are not hypothetical: I personally participate in a project that takes advantage of the fact that legislation is an open dataset in Oman.

Oman is definitely moving in the right direction when it comes to open data, but it has the potential of moving even higher up on the index by making small tweaks to its existing websites. For example, the Company Register at MOCI has digital records of all the information needed for the data index, but currently displays a limited amount of data on its search engine results. Allowing users to view small additional details, such as the address and list of shareholders, could make Oman satisfy the requirement for this dataset. This change will not require any serious financial investment because the data is already available to MOCI in a digital format in their system, all they need to do is display it on the search results.

The Omani government should take note of the Global Open Data Index to evaluate its performance and figure out new ways to make its data more open and consequently more easily accessible to the public. The Global Open Data Index is an easy indicator to understand and can give ideas for practical improvements that could actually be implemented.