CULTURE

University libraries going online

There is a quiet electronic revolution under way in Greek universities. Some 100,000 postgraduate papers and doctoral dissertations are already available online, and electronic distance learning is available to all Greeks. Around the world, universities and their libraries are following a trend of opening up access. The Cornell University Library has urged scholars to publish their work online, where it is available to all, rather than in exorbitantly priced scientific journals. «The open-access movement arose from the high cost of subscriptions to academic journals,» Anna Frangou, director of the library at the University of Macedonia, told Kathimerini. «In the past 20 years, prices have gone up by as much as 30 percent, to the point that university libraries can no longer afford them. When libraries started cutting back on subscriptions because of the cost, researchers no longer had access to the work of their colleagues.» The open-access movement encourages scholars to grant permission for free publication of the results of their research, especially if it has been conducted with the help of public funds. Ninety percent of research in Greece is backed by public funding. A number of Greek institutions, including Aristotle University and the universities of Thessaly, Macedonia, Patras and Crete, as well as several faculties of Athens University, have set up repositories in their libraries for theses and dissertations, as well as for all kinds of content produced by public universities. «This has become standard procedure at many American universities, and they are forging ahead with providing free access to their lessons, in a natural extension of the notion. Here in Greece we are urging academics to give the library not only their new research but all their content so that it is freely accessible to all,» said Frangou. But the open-access project has encountered serious obstacles in Greece. «The mentality is a problem. Academics who come from abroad readily give us their work to archive. By contrast, academics from Greek universities often give the rights to their work to private publishers and do not even retain the right to file it so that we can make it available to the public after a reasonable time has elapsed, in accordance with the law,» Vassiliki Strakantouna, a librarian at Athens University’s Law School, told Kathimerini. «Plagiarism was another issue we had,» said Strakantouna. «Students from other universities copied papers, forcing us to limit access. Unfortunately, there is no Greek anti-plagiarism software, and students have not been trained to write academically and cite their sources,» she explained. In Europe and the United States, most academics either post their papers on websites or retain the right to post them after six or 12 months. There are Greek academic papers scattered around cyberspace, but finding them is extremely difficult, due to poorly laid-out websites. In order to access the Greek national archive of doctoral dissertations, for instance, you have to start at the National Documentation Center’s website then search for the appropriate database. University websites are just as complicated, and attempts to navigate them can easily founder amid a mass of information. The greatest obstacle facing university libraries, however, is that of funding. «While we were ready to start organizing the content of academic depositories, the Community Support Framework funding that libraries got through the Operational Program for Education and Initial Vocational Training was cut, and that stopped us from going further,» said Frangou. The National Documentation Center (EKT), located in the National Research Foundation in downtown Athens, is building a national database of dissertations. Though all universities are obliged by law to file dissertations three years after their first publication, many neglect to do so. So far, only 15,000 have been deposited, yet openarchives. gr, a search engine for 17 digital university libraries, comes up with a far greater number. Progress is being made, however. Later this year, Greek scholars in the fields of biology, chemistry, health sciences and the humanities will be able to publish their work in the first Greek digital journals, which will appear on openaccess. gr – a website launched last week by EKT. Learning on the World Wide Web The Athens University of Economics and Business, the University of Thessaly and the Macedonia University of Economics and Social Sciences are just three Greek institutions that offer online learning. They are making lessons available to all, opening up the formerly closed system of tertiary education in Greece. Professor Constantinos Margaritis of Macedonia University told Kathimerini why his institution has put lessons online. «The primary objective was to complement the functioning of the university, but now we see that the system has wider use and acceptance. What we have at our disposal we make available freely on the Internet and we see that it is used quite a lot in secondary education.» Macedonia University’s online learning program has 9,000 registered users, who have access to 750 courses as well as notes, papers, bibliographies and reference works. «We pester our colleagues persuading them to contribute, but we also get results,» said Margaritis.