When I was a kid, I had to walk barefeet, uphill both ways, in knee-deep snow just to get to the city library so I could do my research on tadpoles for my science class. If I was lucky, my mom had given me a nickel or two to make photocopies. Sometimes you could actually make out an image on some of them!
OK…most of that is an exaggeration, expect for the price and quality of those early photocopies. I doubt anyone will disagree that research, at all levels, has changed drastically since those days.
In my day-to-day work at Niagara College and through my Masters’ studies and Royal Roads University, I find myself researching ‘stuff’ all the time. I even assign research projects to my students. Suffice it to say research is a big part of what I do. For the record, I much prefer handing out and marking research assignments!
By its very nature research is exact, detailed, time-consuming, frustrating and, unfortunately, necessary. Research is not my most favorite activity. There! I said it. That’s right…I went there!! I consider myself a more creative, outside-of-the-box, kind of guy. I have been rather successful with this approach, but even I realize the importance and necessity of research. I’m lucky in that, through Niagara College and Royal Roads University, I have free access to many research databases. Even with all that access, I still often run into websites, journals and databases that require a paid subscription to view their documents.
The biggest part of my frustration with this situation is that part of me understands the business and financial side of research. At the same time, I often find myself needing to have access to that research to better understand and advance my own work. I am not claiming to be looking for a cure for cancer or trying to convince anyone that I am so special everything should just be free for me but at some point we need to figure out what the ultimate goal of research is. Should it only be available at a price or should it be accessible by all to continue to build on it and achieve more with it?
Today’s digital students have to come to expect open access for almost everything. They, certainly more than we have, freely make available all manner of information on the internet. Not just social media but it is all linked back to this. Creative Commons is growing by leaps and bounds and yet important and vital research is still hidden away behind the registration-fee curtain.
In her August 4, 2014 blog for Electronic Frontier Foundation, Maira Sutton writes that progress is the result of ideas and research being shared and the internet is the most powerful tool for this. Maria talks about two cases of students who illegally accessed and shared research papers online. The penalties vary from country to country but how can making significant research available to all be worth 35 years in prison?
Granted the above example is extreme and rare and I am not advocating copyright infringements or any illegal activity whatsoever but I do believe it is time that all of us give open access research more thought.