Research Libraries: Key Partners in Implementing UNESCO’s Open Science Recommendation

November 24, 2021.On November 23, 2021, the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science was formally adopted at the full UNESCO General Conference after it was unanimously adopted by the UNESCO Science Commission on 16 November 2021.  The Recommendation provides a critically valuable framework for the adoption of open science policies and practices in countries around the world.

The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), whose membership includes the 29 largest Canadian university libraries as well as Library and Archives Canada and the National Research Council’s National Science Library, agrees with UNESCO that greater access to scholarly processes and outputs improves the effectiveness and productivity of scientific systems by reducing duplication costs, allowing more research from the same data, and increasing the social impact of science and opportunities for wider circulation of scientific findings. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed open science high on the agenda of many governments by providing a concrete and highly pertinent illustration of the positive impact that open science can have in addressing some of our most pressing problems. We have witnessed the unprecedented open sharing of COVID-19 papers, protocols, and data, which has been essential in contributing to the rapid development of vaccines and treatments. These practices and policies should now be extended to all publicly funded research, so that every domain and the broader society can derive the benefits of open science.

Open science (also referred to as open scholarship) is a broad term encompassing all research domains and refers to “various movements aiming to remove the barriers for sharing any kind of output, resources, methods or tools, at any stage of the research process.”1 The UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science is a milestone in the advancement of open science because they are centred around the principles of bibliodiversity and equity. CARL views the principles underpinning the Recommendation as the foundation to an equitable and sustainable society, as they reflect the long-standing values of research libraries, whose missions have always been committed to the idea that “openness will best facilitate knowledge creation in our diverse scholarly community.”2 CARL applauds the emphasis on inclusion and respecting diversity of cultures and knowledge systems around the world, while also promoting inclusion and exchange of scholarly knowledge from traditionally underrepresented or excluded groups (such as women, minorities, Indigenous scholars, scholars from less-advantaged countries and low-resource languages). We agree that a fair and equitable operationalization of open science is necessary if we are to leave no one behind in this transition. Improving the transparency, scrutiny, critique and reproducibility of research is also a critically important aspect of the Recommendation, especially in a time where disinformation has become rampant. 

The role of research libraries in open science

Research libraries have been at the forefront of open science since its inception. They play a pivotal role in the creation, management, discovery, and reuse of scholarship and have been expanding their financial contributions towards open science over time. They are well positioned to directly contribute to advancing many of the areas of action outlined in the Recommendation, in particular:

  • Promoting a common understanding of open science, associated benefits and challenges, as well as diverse paths to open science;
  • Investing in open science infrastructures and services;
  • Investing in human resources, training, education, digital literacy, and capacity building for open science;
  • Fostering a culture of open science and aligning incentives for open science;
  • Promoting innovative approaches for open science at different stages of the scientific process;
  • Promoting international and multi-stakeholder cooperation in the context of open science and with a view to reducing digital, technological, and knowledge gaps.

A prominent role for research libraries in the area of open science will be critical for the success of its widespread and inclusive implementation. Libraries offer an increasingly broad and deep portfolio of services for open science, which include expertise, infrastructure management, and investments. These services support the needs of local researchers on campus, while also linking to national, regional and international initiatives, ensuring there is global interoperability, alignment, and adoption of good practices. They provide an essential link between open science infrastructures and local research communities. 

As noted in the Recommendation, widespread collaboration is a key element for the successful implementation of open science. Many library initiatives in this area involve working closely with other stakeholders in Canada (such as with funders, government departments, research and education networks, regional and national library associations, and high performance computing organizations) and with a range of international organizations (through initiatives such as COAR, IARLA, OpenAIRE, SCOSS, and open source software communities, e.g. DSpace, Open Journal Systems). These collaborations are multi-faceted and involve integration of services, co-development of software, collective funding, interoperability, shared governance, and so on. CARL strongly concurs with UNESCO that, for open science to thrive, collective efforts across the ecosystem involving a range of partners is necessary.

You can read the full CARL response here.