Not long ago when print ruled, scholars who published in peer-reviewed academic journals were contractually prohibited from copying their papers for students or colleagues. The only way to gain access to their work was to read the journal. What if you couldn’t afford the hundreds of dollars for a subscription and the university library didn’t subscribe to that journal? You were out of luck.
In this Internet age, such barriers to research information are disappearing fast, thanks to the open access movement – which the York Libraries have embraced – and government funding agencies who insist on public access to research that receives grants. Now papers by York faculty and researchers can be made freely accessible and (bonus!) preserved forever on YorkSpace, a virtual institutional repository of scholarly materials.
“YorkSpace is one of the ways we support the open access movement,” says York librarian Andrea Kosavic. Journals come and go, and what they publish may or may not be preserved in perpetuity. But because “we are committed to providing enduring access to research,” says Kosavic, “YorkSpace is a platform for ensuring that York’s scholarly record persists.”
Created in 2006, YorkSpace offered access to scanned items from the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, the works of H.S. Harris and the Changing Urban Waterfront collection. It was redesigned last fall with more content and an easier-to-browse format.
Still in its infancy, YorkSpace features a small, eclectic mix of material in PDF format and as scanned images. For instance, in addition to the popular Toronto Telegram photographs and a special York 50th Anniversary Photograph Collection (right), there is a dissertation on the Don River; a scanned copy of a 1968 Mariposa Folk Festival program; essays by Design Department Chair Wendy Wong on Hong Kong cartoons, TV and newspaper ads; and scanned images of Dime Bag, a 1971-1977 Glendon student poetry publication.
But YorkSpace is growing as Kosavic and fellow librarian Stacy Allison-Cassin talk up the site at meetings with faculty. As co-chairs of the Scholarly Communications Initiative at York, they are keen to explain the benefits of digitizing York-based academic journals and are encouraging faculty and researchers to self-archive as much of their published research on YorkSpace as possible. The benefits are obvious – research is more visible, more read and more cited, and therefore has a bigger impact than if it had been published only in a print journal. And because the contents of YorkSpace are electronically tagged and sorted by title, author, issue date, subject and fonds, they are instantly “discoverable” – preferentially ranked – when searched on Google. Individual scholars get more exposure and so does York.
“YorkSpace will enhance York’s reputation,” says Kosavic. “It supports York’s commitment to knowledge mobilization and making research accessible, in keeping with the University’s Academic Plan.”
YorkSpace is one of about 1,300 institutional and disciplinary (e.g. Physics arXiv) repositories in the world. Many, like YorkSpace, have been created to support the international open access movement, which aims to democratize knowledge, to create a universally accessible intellectual commons.
Traditional barriers remain, chiefly subscriber-based academic journals that prohibit copying and sharing published articles. But that’s changing. Many publishers are beginning to allow pre- and post-article reproduction in contracts with authors these days. They may have little choice as more and more government agencies, such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, make research grants conditional upon public access to that research, says Kosavic.