31 July 2006

UK PubMed Central: Good News, Bad News?

The US PubMed Central service has become one of the cornerstones of biomedical research, and a major milestone on the way towards full open access to all scientific knowledge.

Just as the world's central genomic database GenBank exists in three global zones - the US, Europe and Japan - so the natural step would be to roll out PubMed Central as an international service. The first move towards that has now been made with the announcement that a consortium of UK institutions has been chosen to set up UK PubMed Central (UKPMC). That's the good news. The bad news - maybe - is that one of them is the British Library.

Why is that bad news, since the British Library is one of the pre-eminent libraries in the world? Well, that may be so, but it is also deeply involved with Microsoft's Open XML, the rival to OpenDocument Format; Microsoft is trying to push Open XML through a standardisation process to match ODF's full ISO status. It is particularly regrettable that the British Library is bolstering this pseudo-standard with its support, rather than wholeheartedly backing ODF, a totally open, vendor-independent standard, and this could be real problem because of the British Library's role in the UKPMC consortium:

In the initial stages of the UKPMC programme, the British Library will lead on setting up the service, developing the process for handling author submissions and marketing the resource to the research community.

It's the "handling authors submissions" that could be bad news: if, for example, the British Library gave any preference for submissions be made in Microsoft's XML format formats, it would be a huge step back for openness. The US PubMed Central does the Right Thing, and takes submissions in either XML or SGML. Let's hope the UK PubMed Central follows suit and goes for a neutral submissions policy. (Via Open Access News.)

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