Swan, Alma. (2012). Policy guidelines for the promotion of open access. (Open guidelines series). Paris: UNESCO. ISBN: 978-92-3-001052-2 Available: http://bit.ly/LXaiKK
This is a book about using mandates and sanctions to promote open-access publishing.
The author of this work, Alma Swan, currently the Director of European Advocacy for SPARC, is a zoologist and former publishing executive. The book is directed at administrators in higher education and in grant-funding agencies who are considering establishing open-access publishing policies.
Published by UNESCO, the work is prefaced by UN bureaucrat Sanjaya Mishra, who states, “Open Access is at the heart of UNESCO’s goal to provide universal access to information and knowledge, focusing particularly on two global priorities: Africa and Gender equality” (p. 6). It seems that UNESCO’s real mission is the north-south transfer of wealth, and open access to scholarly literature is one way to achieve this, thus the motivation to publish this work.
Overall the work is prolix and UK-centric. It’s mostly about open access in the STM fields (science, technology, and medicine); the arts and humanities are not considered.
The author does not hide her biases. For example, she uses the terms “double-dipping” or “double-dip” eight times in the text. Here double-dipping refers to toll-access journals that give authors the opportunity to make their work available to all; an open-access, alternative publishing model.
Moreover, Swan uses the term “mandate” in its various forms over fifty times in the work. Mandates are the chief means she recommends for getting open-access publishing up and running.
While describing open-access mandates, Swan is not shy about recommending sanctions against researchers who fail to comply with her recommended, onerous open-access mandates; she uses the term “sanctions” fifteen times in the text.
The chief failure of the book is that it fails to address the ever-growing quality problem in open-access publishing. Swan assumes that all open-access publishing is benevolent and worthy and neglects to cover the numerous publishers that have appeared in the last several years that exploit the gold open-access model for their own profit.
Also skipped is the problem of digital preservation in open-access publishing. Where will the content go when a particular open-access publisher or repository becomes defunct? The high costs associated with other aspects of the publishing process, including copyediting, managing peer-review, and information technology are also not sufficiently described.
Finally, the glossary at the end is poorly done; many terms used in the book such as “libre open access” are omitted. The book’s emphasis on enacting mandates and sanctions to enable greater access to scientific information brings to mind an important question: If the scholarly community is so supportive of open access, why do we need mandates and sanctions to make it work?
Verdict: This is not a general work on open access. Instead, the guidelines are directed mainly at policymakers who are planning on implementing mandates and sanctions to achieve their open-access goals.