Among researchers who answered the Key Challenges of Research Communication 2015 De Gruyter Open Author Survey, 43% declared that they “quite often” have problems with getting access to a book or an article that might be important for their work. 26.5% confessed that it happens to them “very often”. Counted together it is as much as 69.5% of respondents. And only academic authors were asked this question! So, wait. Almost 70% of academic authors face access problems? Well, it might be surprising for you if you frequently read the Scholarly Kitchen, but not if you talk with scholars from time to time.
What is more astonishing is that there is no strong correlation between the frequency of facing shortcomings in access and beliefs about access problems faced by other readers. 51.7% of academic authors, who themselves very often cannot get access to works they need, agree or strongly agree that “Virtually all the readers that I want to be read by have access to all the important journals operating in my field”.
I like black humour, so I would joke that having a strong belief that is opposite to empirical facts is called delusion, and it might be a symptom of a psychotic disorder, but I know that there is nothing to laugh at. The majority of researchers are probably in good mental health, but they are participating in a communication environment that is insane indeed. Researchers from less wealthy universities want to be read by colleagues from rich, prestigious institutions, and they believe that their imaginary readers have access to the whole literature, despite the fact that they do not have this access themselves.
Nonetheless, 41.3% of authors from the core countries (to see how I define the core and the periphery have a look here). also declared facing access problems “quite often”. It is true that the share of those facing access problems is very often significantly smaller in the core countries (17% vs 35%), but as you can see, medium access problems are also quite common in wealthy countries.
Researchers would probably value open access more as a factor for choosing a journal to publish in if they had a realistic view of the access problems among other scholars. We still talk too little about shortcomings in access to the literature that we face. But, what also should be stressed here, readership among peers is quite important for researchers, albeit less important than a journal’s Impact Factor and chances for getting works published. We are living in a publish or perish reality, where to publish is more important than being read. There is no method in this madness, and it should be changed.