As part of the UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, IFLA was proud to host a side-event focused on how libraries help make open science work in ways that maximise its contribution to development. At the heart of this is the need to apply principles of sustainable development – leaving no-one behind, taking a holistic appraoch – to open science itself.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Agenda represent a major step forwards in the recognition of the importance of access to information for development, with target 16.10 underlining this point explicitly, while target 17.6 also sets out the importance of knowledge transfers.

However, there is plenty of space for a stronger and more explicit recognition of the importance of Open Access and Open Science as a driver of sustainable development. There has been welcome progress in this direction thanks to the UNESCO Open Science Recommendation of 2021 and the UN’s own Open Science Conferences.

Libraries have long been key players in advancing open science and development, and today in particular are playing a key role in ensuring that the two come together for the benefit of all. A side-event at the UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum offered an opportunity to look at how this is happening – recording available here.

Global perspectives

Thanos Giannakopoulos, Chief, Information Management Section at the UN Department of Global Communications opened with a look back to key conclusions from the UN Open Science conference earlier this year. He underlined that the right to science is a human right, and one that, as experience had shown, was not going to be guaranteed by the market.

Moreover, progress required a comprehensive approach, covering data sharing, peer review practices, assessment and more, and implying the engagement of a wide range of stakeholders. He looked forward to a guide on sustainable scientific publishing, on which the UN Library was working alongside UNESCO.

Fiona Bradley, Director, Research and Infrastructure, University of New South Wales Library, presented experience from Australia and across the Asia-Oceania region. She underlined how important government support had been to set up the first generation of repositories, but the need now was to support further development, as well as continue the work of human networks sharing ideas and best practices.

She highlighted in particular the importance of including indigenous perspectives, noting how New Zealand, in its sector-wide focus, had included Maori representatives. At the regional level, there remained major equity issues around access to funding, visibility, collaboration, and access to equipment, which needed to be addressed – she looked forward to stronger regional cooperation to address this

Susan Reilly, Director, Irish Research eLibrary, underlined the strong focus, in the work of the Irish Open Research Forum, on the value of openness in supporting evidence-based making and broader outcomes. Working across disciplines had shone a valuable light on different approaches and perspectives, as well as making clear the role of culture change in a successful shift to open.

A key area of work in Ireland was around developing open science monitors, with a view to making it possible to assess progress towards goals in all relevant dimensions.

Finally, Reggie Ragu, Director, Research and Learning, University of Cape Town Libraries, echoed points about the importance of cultural change in order to achieve progress. While there was a habit of sharing in general, conscious and unconscious biases were at work, slowing progress. Additional challenges came from a the cost of open publishing under models based on Article Processing Charges (which too often led African researchers to need to plead for exceptions in order to be able to publish). Crucially, transformative agreements risked prolonging this situation, rather than tackling it.

This situation left the overall open science landscape unbalanced – researchers from Africa tended to focus on topics that would be more likely to get published, rather than those that answered key local questions.

The role of libraries

The panel discussed what libraries are doing to help. Key themes included:

  • While this is not always celebrated, libraries do much of the work behind the scenes to make open science work by maintaining infrastructures and providing advice and support to researchers
  • Ensuring an overview of the open science landscape, and providing key insights to policy-makers – this was a key basis for decisions that would support openness in general
  • Linked to the first point, libraries could be advocates for inclusive open science, making the link with accelerated implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Libraries had a key role in driving cultural change, thanks to their proximity to researchers. This was key in order to make openness and sharing into reflexes, and would be essential to make change sustainable
  • Libraries had a responsibility to call out inequalities, such as the low number of global south journals on platforms such as Web of Science, and urge progress not just to find ways around barriers, but to remove them
  • Libraries were also key to ensuring that access and use are seen as being the same thing, ensuring that scientific knowledge is activated, and new knowledge created
  • Libraries could be organisers and federators, bringing together all relevant stakeholders to develop and implement strategies for open science in an inclusive way

In concluding, participants underlined that we were in a promising time for open science, with the COVID-19 pandemic having demonstrated how it could make a difference. Through advocacy, organisation, cultural change, monitoring, activation and underlining what is needed to do open science in line with the principles of sustainable development, libraries could help realise this promise.

Watch the event again on IFLA’s YouTube channel.