Welcome to the second of our special blogposts for Open Access Week 2018! Today we are thinking about this year’s theme of “designing equitable foundations for open knowledge” and focusing specifically on the issues of Internet access and language.
Open Access is about making research freely available to as many people as possible. Additionally, for many disciplines, research becomes less relevant as it is superseded by later research, which means that speed of communication is vital. It is therefore the existence of the Internet that makes Open Access possible, by providing a platform through which the audience for a single piece of content can equate to billions of people and through which research findings can be rapidly disseminated.
However, it is not easy for everyone to access the Internet. According to various sources, only half of the world’s population are Internet users.1 Many people take Internet access for granted, but the reality is that there are still a significant number of people who effectively cannot reach “open access” content because they do not have reliable Internet access. This is the case even in otherwise highly-developed countries – for example, only 90% of households in the UK have Internet access.2 There are many potential reasons for the limited reach of the Internet, including barriers created by a lack of infrastructure, or social-, cultural-, economic- or political factors. As Open Access becomes an increasingly common element of scholarly communications, we must not overlook those potential audiences for whom Internet access cannot be taken for granted.
English is the most frequently used language for Internet content. Online research outputs are no exception to this – a glance at the Scopus database suggests that at least 85% of all indexed research articles are written in English.3 Over time, the proportion of non-English research may increase, particularly because Open Access can make it easier for people to discover non-English research, resulting in that research getting more frequently read and cited, and therefore making it increasingly viable for researchers to publish in different languages. However, as the research environment becomes ever more open, we must remember that research can be accessed only by people who are able to read the language in which it is written, regardless of how “open” it may be otherwise.
Privileges that exist within the world of communication must not be ignored. As well as investing in open research, the community should also engage in solutions for spreading Internet accessibility, for example by supporting government initiatives to extend communications infrastructure into remote regions, or other initiatives that aim to overcome less tangible challenges. As for language, perhaps more work could be done to increase the take-up of translation services within scholarly communications, making it possible for people to choose in which language they read openly available research?
Feel free to share your own thoughts with the community, for example on Twitter (#openaccess https://twitter.com/search?q=%23openaccess), or send us an e-mail at email@example.com! Also, don’t forget to check out our other activities for Open Access Week at https://www.rgu.ac.uk/open-access.
1 Based on information for world Internet usage taken from Internet World Stats (https://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm – checked 16.10.2018), Statistica (https://www.statista.com/statistics/617136/digital-population-worldwide/ – checked 16.10.2018) and the International Telecommunications Union (https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx – checked 16.10.2018)
2 Based on information for UK Internet usage taken from the Office of National Statistics (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/householdcharacteristics/homeinternetandsocialmediausage/bulletins/internetaccesshouseholdsandindividuals/2018 – checked 16.10.2018)
3 Scopus (https://www.scopus.com/ – checked 16.10.2018)