Access to scientific publications
I conducted a study on access forms to scientific information for an assignment for the UKB – the Dutch consortium of university libraries and the National Library. There were two lines of research: (A) how can non-UKB research institutions access paywalled scholarly articles and (B) what are meaningful forms of access for the general public? The latter mainly involves Open Access scholarly articles. In this blog, I want to talk a bit more about the latter.
Target groups and key threshold
Who among the general public wants to read scholarly articles? Broadly speaking, three categories can be distinguished:
- Extramural researchers, for example citizen scientists, independent researchers or researchers in industry, who want to consult articles for the purpose of their own research.
- Evidence-informed professionals, such as education professionals or policymakers or NGOs who want to base their actions as much as possible on scientific grounds.
- Individual citizens who want to gather scholarly information out of interest, study or for an important decision they have to make.
What hinders these target groups from accessing scientific articles? First, of course, the paywalls, but in recent years about half of articles are published Open Access internationally. So those articles can be accessed by them. However, research among Dutch users shows that scientific language as well as the use of English language are the main barriers: a so-called layman abstract, preferably in Dutch, would remove a major obstacle for these users.
Artificial intelligence comes to the rescue
At the APE2024 conference, some publishers also were working on this. In addition, a few start-ups were presenting services in this regard. All used AI for this, mostly (still) under human supervision. Besides summaries in layman’s terms, examples of visual abstracts (a kind of infographics) and audio summaries (‘conversational audio’) were also presented. Interesting fact for the authors of these articles: a summary in layman’s language also yielded many more citations!
Conclusion: open access alone is not enough
Much of the Open Access discussion is about costs, business models and other issues concerning the scientific community itself. For me, therefore, it was the first time to look at what target groups outside the scientific world need. It became clear that OA by itself is not enough: a service that support these users with summaries in an accessible language can ensure a much wider application of scientific output. And AI makes that nowadays a real and viable option!
The full report (in Dutch) can be found here.