Open Access and Civic Scientific Information Literacy

Alesia Ann Zuccala


Introduction: We examine how citizens in The Netherlands perceive Open Access to acquire preliminary insight into the role that it might play in cultivating civic scientific literacy. Open Access refers to scientific/scholarly research literature that is available on the Web to scholars and the general public in free online journals and institutional repositories.
Method: Four focus group sessions were held at conference centre near Amsterdam. Participants were between the ages of 21 to 60 and grouped on the basis of age and educational background. All were invited to complete a brief digital literacy and information literacy questionnaire, and contribute to a set of ranking/vignette exercises designed to encourage discussion.
Results: Participants tended to agree that Open Access literature could be useful for personal decision making and conveyed an interest in medical treatment research and other research “that has to do with people.” Some concern was expressed about the cognitive accessibility of scientific research, but participants were confident that they had the online search skills to find this literature. Science journalists were generally appreciated for their role as interpreters; however universities and scholars were considered more credible as information sources, though some participants wondered if scientists/scholars were making their work visible enough to the lay public.
Conclusion: Current science policy in The Netherlands is focused on motivating young persons to “to raise their interest in science and technology” and engage in science-related careers. We recommend the introduction of strategic e-learning programs in school classrooms designed to help young citizens develop a greater appreciation for scholarly and scientific research and improve their capacity to make decisions as online information consumers.