Monday, March 30, 2020

Viral Open Access in Times of Global Pandemic

Vincent W. J. van Gerven Oei, co-director of open access punctum books, shares his thoughts about global information privilege. As American universities and schools, educators and administrators, support staff and families, scramble to meet students' educational needs and institutional performance indicators, our gratitude to publishers and others freeing up access must be understood within a broader context.

Viral Open Access in Times of Global Pandemic 

by Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei

This post was originally published on March 19, 2020 and is available at

In recent weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to numerous calls for scientific research concerning the virus and the disease to be made open access and freely available to the public. These calls stand in a tense relationship not only with the profit-driven approach to medical research by pharmaceutical companies,1 but also with the business models of the for-profit academic publishing oligopoly, dominated by a few companies making excessive profit margins that are essentially subsidized by public funds.2 The current pandemic makes abundantly clear that the public availability of public knowledge indeed saves lives – but it doesn’t do so only now, it always does.

Let’s recap.

The initial report of the WHO on an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, dates to December 31, 2019. The first articles in medical journals appear in mid-January, for example in the open-access International Journal for Infectious Diseases. Rather than wait for publishers to release publicly funded knowledge to the public, a massive online archiving project publicly released more than 5,000 unpaywalled articles on coronaviruses on Sci-Hub in the same month.3 On January 30, 2020 the WHO declared a global health emergency.

On January 31, a statement was published on the website of the Wellcome Trust, in which a number of publishers and journals, including publishing oligopolists Elsevier, Springer Nature, and Taylor and Francis, agreed that
all peer-reviewed research publications relevant to the outbreak are made immediately open access, or freely available at least for the duration of the outbreak
The term “COVID-19” was announced on February 11, and on March 11 the WHO declared the COVID-19 public health crisis a “pandemic.” Two days later, on March 13, chief science advisors from twelve countries released a statement, relayed by the Office of Science and Technology Policy of the White House, urging “publishers to voluntarily agree to make their COVID-19 and coronavirus-related publications, and the available data supporting them, immediately accessible in PubMed Central4 and other appropriate public repositories.”

In response, several of the signatories of the January 31 declaration, including the oligopolists, agreed to further make “all of their COVID-19 and coronavirus-related publications, and the available data supporting them, immediately accessible in PubMed Central (PMC) and other public repositories.”

The Wellcome Trust statement raises the fascinating question concerning what type of research is exactly “relevant” to the outbreak. As the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is not only tied to the DNA of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, its protein structures, and the way interacts with the human body, but also the field of medicine, and therefore also healthcare, and healthcare funding, and health education, and thus also much broader questions of state organization, economic structures, educational resources – in brief, all the ways in which humans have ordered the world. If we want to come to a full understanding of the outbreak, all peer-reviewed research in medical, STEM, social science, and the humanities is potentially “relevant” and should therefore be made open. But that is certainly not how Elsevier c.s. see it.

Then there is also the question of what “duration” means here. The outbreak started officially when the WHO declared it a public health concern on January 30, and for-profit publishers acted a day later. But when will that end? When is all this research that is not temporarily released to the public going back behind lock and key? If predictions that COVID-19 may become endemic to the human population and circulate on an annual basis like the flu becomes reality, its duration is indefinite, but the free access to medical research most certainly won’t be. As HIV/AIDS researchers have long known, even though a pandemic may claim millions of victims, the paywall remains shut as long as the spotlight isn’t on.

The criminal hypocrisy of the publishing industry’s current professions of minimal decency becomes clear once you check the archive of the Wellcome Trust and find similar calls for open access concerning the Ebola epidemic of 2018 and the Zika outbreak in 2016. In neither case do we find the compassionate and understanding signatures of Elsevier, Springer Nature, Taylor and Francis, or many others. One gets the impression that only now that a disease affects the Global North, suddenly open access is something of a moral obligation, an obligation that was not so urgently felt when tens of thousands died in Africa. The position of academic for-profit publishers is therefore clear: the deaths of some are more problematic (for their bottom line and “reputation”) than others.

Pilfered from Ernesto Priego.

Opening access went properly viral when schools and universities closed down in the Global North. Suddenly, also non-medical research was made freely accessible. Cambridge University Press opened up its textbooks “until the end of May 2020”; more than 75 publishers made their publications freely accessible to any institution with a ProQuest account “through mid-June”; Harvard University Press made its Loeb Classical Library freely available to school and libraries “until June 30”; and several university presses made their books freely available on Project MUSE until May 31 or June 30, 2020.5 Again, only now that school children and students in the Global North are confronted with a limited access to physical learning materials – a daily problem for millions of students around the globe – it appears possible to open up those precious digital files.

As with the temporary opening of access to COVID-19-related articles, the academic presses offering “discretionary” unpaywalling – to a random subset of their catalogs with unknown or poorly argued relevance for the catastrophe that has hit our education systems – are doing nothing but engaging in last-minute, haphazard PR, hoping that the realization that publicly funded knowledge is inaccessible to most of us will not dawn too soon on the anxious tax payer, confronted with their restless child at home or scrambling to assemble an impromptu online “learning experience.”

It is not only in times of crisis that publicly available knowledge can save lives. It always has this potential, and it’s our choice.

  1. The attempts of the Trump government to buy the exclusive rights to a potential German vaccine are a case in point.
  2. Enough for RELX, the parent company of Elsevier to buy back 1 billion GBP in stock during 2019 and 2020. Its CEO, Erik Engstrom, earned £80.3 million in the last decade.
  3. This is a good example of “pirate care.”
  4. PubMed Central is a freely accessible database for medical papers managed by the NIH.
  5. So apparently publishers think that this is all going to be over (in the Global North) by June or July.

You may cite the original work as

van Gerven Oei, V. W. J. (2020). Viral Open Access in Times of Global Pandemic. Punctum Books. Retrieved from
License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0)

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Use Stuff from the Smithsonian

Doing a presentation? Creating art? Writing a blog post? Need an image?

On February 25, the Smithsonian launched Smithsonian Open Access. From the Smithsonian Magazine:
For the first time in its 174-year history, the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million high-resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections onto an open access online platform for patrons to peruse and download free of charge. Featuring data and material from all 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo, the new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose—be it a postcard, a beer koozie or a pair of bootie shorts.

And this gargantuan data dump is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting.
This means that anyone with an internet connection can (legally) download this content and use it (e.g., post it to social media, add it to that scholarly article you're writing, add it to an open educational resource, and more) without needing to ask for permission--which was a requirement in the past. Got questions? Check out their FAQ.

What will you create?

Monday, March 16, 2020

Staying home? Keep on exploring with Armacost Library!

Armacost Library wishes you and your family the best as you cope with rapidly changing developments related to the coronavirus outbreak, including updates from the University of Redlands and from Armacost Library.

It looks like we will all be spending more time at home in the weeks to come. There are many great resources for art, entertainment and learning in the Armacost Library collection and beyond that can help you find inspiration and take needed mental health breaks from planning and preparing. Here are some ideas:

Saturday, March 14, 2020

COVID-19 Updates @ Armacost Library

As we respond to the rapidly evolving situation, please find updates to library hours, services, spaces, staffing, and business functions at

image credit: 

Monday, March 09, 2020

Unlock Research Now!

Imagine a world where research on COVID-19 were only available to an exclusive club.

Imagine a world where all medical research and breakthroughs were only available to the rich.

Imagine a world where you lost access to most of the globe's research the moment you graduate from the University of Redlands.

Actually you don't need to imagine this because that's the world we currently live in. If we weren't facing a potential pandemic, research on COVID-19 would be locked behind paywalls. You know, paywalls, those pesky things that tell you to pay around $35 to access an article or chapter.

If you think everyone should be able to freely-access research, let OSTP know.

Our federal Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is considering making federally-funded research freely available and needs to hear from you by April 6! (The original deadline was extended.) They basically want to know three things. They're listed below with a few suggestions to consider in your responses.

1. When doing research, what barriers do you face, and what can be done about it? 

  • How does this affect you, your learning and research? What's your story?
  • What do you think about the government spending $billions of taxpayer money on research that gets locked behind paywalls?
  • Are you okay with the fact that once you graduate, you lose all the access to research that you had as a student?

2. What can federal agencies do to make taxpayer-funded research freely and publicly available?

  • Currently there's a one-year delay before making such research available. How would it help you to remove this delay?
  • Increasingly authors and publishers are using open licenses to communicate to users of information, what can and can't be done with that information. Including an open license can enable others to do text mining.

3. How would America benefit, lead, and compete scientifically by making research freely and publicly available?

  • Other countries (in Latin America, Europe, Africa) are opening up their research to boost the visibility of their research and engage in economic competition.
  • Open access would help small businesses and start-ups who have fewer resources, compete in existing markets.
  • Innovation doesn't happen in a vacuum; opening up access to research helps potential partners find each other.

When responding, be sure to thank the OSTP and follow their directions: "Submission must not exceed 5 pages in 12 point or larger font, with a page number provided on each page. Responses should include the name of the person(s) or organization(s) filing the comment."

Thank you!
Paige Mann (on behalf of Armacost Library)
STEM Librarian | Scholarly Communications Librarian

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Celebrating Women in the Archives

Did you know that it was only one hundred years ago this year—13 years after the founding of our University—that women in the United States were first allowed to vote? On Election Day in November 1920 over 8 million women went to the polls for the first time. They had been working toward equal rights for almost 100 years before that day, of which the right to vote was—and is--but one. As we observe Women’s History Month in March, we remember this great struggle in securing the 19th Amendment, as well as the  accomplishments of women at the University of Redlands. (For more information on women’s suffrage, check out the program listed below.*)

Nellie's scrapbook photo
One of the first women  to attend the University of Redlands was Nellie Hill Lolmaugh, a 1914 graduate. A pioneer of sorts, she was among the first students to visit the school in 1910 and decide that even though there were only four buildings standing, two of which were not even completed, that “the happy atmosphere and the quality of students gave me hope, and before long I could see [myself] as a music student . . .  registering in the fall term of [the school’s] second year.” 

Nellie recorded these and other thoughts of her time here in a scrapbook, and today the University Archives of Armacost Library holds her scrapbook as a valued artifact. Besides closely documenting the important formative years of the young college, Nellie also wrote, as an alumna over 60 years later, the memoir, “Way Back When . . . My Memories and Impressions of the First Five Years of the University of Redlands,” also housed in the Archives.

Whether she knew it or not, while she saved this-and-that and made note of her thoughts and feelings, Nellie provided future generations her first-hand accounts, and gave them, and us, our history. And in reflecting back in her memoir, she gave it all perspective. Essentially, Nellie became one of the first historians of the University.

Then there are the women whose enthusiasm keeps the rest of us going. Florence Gray Listvan was one of those as a student here. She took part in so many activities during her time on campus that her name consistently dotted the pages of the 1937-1940 La Letra yearbooks. According to some footage we have here in the Archives, her enthusiasm continued well into her nineties when she was still able to recite the “Och Tamale!”

The Cosmopolitan Club
Florence was a member of the service organization, Spurs, which recruited freshmen with excellent “scholastic standing, pep, and enthusiasm for school functions to serve during their sophomore year.” She participated in “A Capella” chorus and Women’s Glee Club as well as being a Kappa Pi Zeta sorority sister. She also joined the Women’s Athletic Association, promoting sportsmanship and fun in intra-class games and tournaments. And as a volleyball team manager, she kept up enthusiasm during the hot summers by scheduling competitive games. As a junior she also found time to serve as a La Letra sports editor. Florence ultimately earned a place in the women’s “R” Club which was among the highest athletic honors a U of R woman could earn.

In addition, Florence invested her time in the Cosmopolitan Club which sought to promote “international goodwill through personal friendship;” she was one of its treasurers in her junior year. In 1939 the Club had a membership of over 75 students from multiple racial and ethnic identities, and was one of the most active organizations on campus. As a world war loomed on the horizon, these students met monthly and discussed topics such as “Race Prejudice” and “Peace,” attempting to find solutions to the world’s problems.

Jackie Yates
Many other U of R women continued to make their imprints on the University by excelling in their talents and in pursuing their goals, some in the area of sports. A 1958 graduate, Jacqueline (Jackie) Puamohala Yates Holt was a highly accomplished golfer who, as a sophomore here, won the 1955 National Intercollegiate Golf Tournament in Chicago, going on to compete in the U. S. Women’s Open. She became her home state of Hawaii’s first collegiate champion. Jackie held the title of youngest champion until 2001.

Another accomplished athlete, tennis player Caroline Brigham Vassalo, ’62, was beginning college just as Jackie was graduating. When she arrived on campus there was a men’s tennis team, but not a women’s team. So, the freshman promptly approached the men’s tennis coach, Jim Verdieck, about her desire to be a part of a women’s team; he liked her idea, and just like that Caroline became a pioneer in the world of U of R tennis, and Coach Verdieck, her trusted accomplice! Caroline recently said that “what mattered most was that Coach brought us into his fold. We were accepted, as athletes and contenders, and Coach trusted us with our sport.” Her team went on to defeat UCLA for the Southern California Women’s Collegiate Championship.

Our archives show evidence of multiple accomplishments by women here at Redlands: instigating a women’s sports team where there once was none, attempting to create peace through friendship, and documenting personal experiences that give future generations an understanding of past lived experiences. Join the voices of Nellie, Florence, Jackie, Caroline, and Jim. Like theirs, your voice is invaluable in moving us all forward; share it with the world!

Teresa Letizia, University Archives

*U of R history professor, Dr. Kathleen Feeley, will present “100 Years of Women’s Suffrage: Struggle, Sacrifice, and Success” at A. K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands on Saturday, March 7, at 1:00 pm in the Library’s Assembly Room. The program is FREE and open to the public. Smiley Library is located at 125 W. Vine St.