Open Access is just the Beginning…

By DeDe Dawson
Science & Scholarly Communication Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

Lately I have been making lots of presentations on open access (OA) to faculty, administrators, and other campus groups. Mostly these presentations are well received, but often there is some push-back too. The majority of the push-back is related to stubbornly persistent and widespread misunderstandings or misinformation about what OA is (and isn’t) and how it can be achieved. I can handle that. But occasionally, I also get the “OA is too radical” kind of push-back. This I can’t handle. Because really, OA is just the beginning…

Let me explain.

One of the main reasons we need OA is because the current system of scholarly publishing (especially for journals) is dysfunctional, unsustainable, and inequitable. It has become this way because academia has handed over control of the scholarly literature to large, commercial publishers that care primarily about ownership and revenues (some “non-profit” scholarly publishers are no better). These entities have systematically bought up smaller publishers and society publishers resulting in an oligopoly.

“This consolidated control has led to unaffordable costs, limited utility of research articles, the proliferation of western publishing biases, and a system in which publisher lock-in through big deal licenses is the norm.” (SPARC, 2017)

OA gave the possibility of some relief. But now these same publishers are co-opting OA. They have cleverly incorporated OA as an additional revenue stream in hybrid journals and new OA megajournals. And academia is spending more money than ever, not just on astronomical subscriptions – but now also on article processing charges (APCs) for “gold OA.” All to buy back, or make accessible, research that has already been paid for by grants and faculty salaries. This is not how it was meant to be! OA is still achievable without hemorrhaging more and more funds to commercial publishers. This money can be better spent.

We currently have a system for “green OA” – posting manuscripts in institutional or subject repositories at no cost to authors or readers. We could conceivably bypass traditional journals entirely and simply use networks of interoperable repositories as the infrastructure for scholarly communication, overlaid with platforms to manage peer review and promote discoverability, etc. Academics already provide the content (research papers), and the quality control (peer review, editorial work). And academic libraries can provide the technical infrastructure, curation, and long-term preservation. COAR’s Next Generation Repositories initiative advocates for something along these lines:

“COAR’s vision is to position repositories as the foundation for a distributed, globally networked infrastructure for scholarly communication, on top of which layers of value added services will be deployed, thereby transforming the system, making it more research-centric, open to and supportive of innovation, while also collectively managed by the scholarly community.” (COAR, 2017)

I know, I know, this is not exactly simple. We have considerable ingrained academic culture and incentive structures to contend with (prestige journals and Impact Factors anyone?); but it is worth striving for as a long term goal to free our institutions (and our research) from the commercial overlords. The enormous amounts of money currently tied up in overpriced subscriptions could eventually be redirected to supporting this infrastructure and there’d likely be remaining funds to reinvest in more research or student scholarships.

The trouble is commercial publishers are now seeking to control this infrastructure too. Elsevier has been pretty transparent about its new strategy of buying up software and platforms that support researchers at all stages of the research lifecycle. Examples include Mendeley, SSRN, and bepress. They have also developed Pure, a current research information system (“CRIS”), to sell to university administrators for research assessment and analytics. Elsevier is clearly attempting to enclose all key elements of the research enterprise – to sell back to us (at inflated prices no doubt). This feels strangely familiar… ah yes, it is what they’ve already done with the scholarly literature!

Academia must get ahead of this trend for once. We must be as strategic and cunning as the commercial entities. We must collaborate across institutions and nations. We must maintain control of the infrastructure supporting the research enterprise. The first and most basic step is to financially support open infrastructure as David Lewis suggests in his 2.5% Commitment:

“At the end of the day, if we don’t collectively invest in the infrastructure we need for the open scholarly commons, it will not get built or it will only be haphazardly half built.” (Lewis, 2017).

So, OA is just the beginning. Now we need to move on to supporting open scholarly infrastructure owned and controlled by the research community. We cannot allow this to be co-opted too.

Further reading:
Accelerating academy-owned publishing – In the Open blog post, Nov 27, 2017
Join the Movement: The 2.5% Commitment – In the Open blog post by David Lewis, Sept 29, 2017
The 2.5% Commitment – Short white paper by David Lewis, Sept 11, 2017
Elsevier acquisition highlights the need for community-based scholarly communication infrastructure – SPARC news release by Heather Joseph and Kathleen Shearer, Sept 6, 2017
Elsevier’s increasing control over scholarly infrastructure, and how funders should fix this – SV-POW blog post by Mike Taylor, May 22, 2016
Tightening their grip – In the Open blog post by Kevin Smith, May 20, 2016

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

The Many Benefits of OA and Open Peer Review: C-EBLIP Journal Club, May 10, 2016

by DeDe Dawson
Science Library, University of Saskatchewan

Tennant JP, Waldner F, Jacques DC et al. The academic, economic and societal impacts of Open Access: an evidence-based review [version 1; referees: 4 approved, 1 approved with reservations]. F1000Research 2016, 5:632 (doi: 10.12688/f1000research.8460.1)

This is arguably the perfect journal club article! A juicy topic with a few points of contention, a journal platform with many innovative features, and open post-publication peer review. Lots and lots to discuss, and indeed we ran out of time. Here I try to summarize our conversation:

I always gravitate towards review articles and highly recommend them to students. They are often the most efficient way to get up to speed on all the relevant literature in a complex area. Open Access (OA) is just such a complex area with multiple overlapping layers of issues, and all progressing so rapidly, that it is the ideal topic for a review. It is ironic because OA itself is such a simple concept. The complexity comes from the challenges of implementation and the multiple stakeholders (and vested interests) involved.

This review article summarizes the main evidence to date on the impact of OA from three perspectives: academic, economic, and societal. They are essentially three lines of reasoning in support of OA. We thought that the strongest, most well-developed argument in favour of OA in this article was the academic. It certainly had the most citations behind it because of the highly productive research area documenting the OA citation effect. We also thought that maybe this academic perspective was focused on by the authors because it was the most likely to persuade researchers who might be reading this review.

So, was the point of the article to persuade researchers to support OA? The authors have an obvious bias as proponents of OA. But how important is it for authors to be neutral? We thought it was unrealistic to expect authors not to have a bias, and for most kinds of papers authors indeed argue a particular point. But should review papers be different? It was suggested that if authors are clear and upfront about their objectives and competing interests this shouldn’t be a problem.

This brought us to the question of what evidence against OA might there be anyway? (We expose our own pro-OA bias here!). One of the online commenters on the article challenged the authors to provide a more balanced review – but he could not provide the authors with links to literature to support these other anti-OA perspectives. Some of the obvious counter-arguments were already dealt with in the article: such as the rise of deceptive (“predatory”) publishing, and the challenges of paying article processing charges (APCs) for authors without funding or those from underdeveloped countries. Otherwise, it is pretty hard to argue against OA unless you are a commercial publisher (or shareholder) with financial interest in sustaining the current system. The commenter argued that jobs will be lost in the transition. But this is a weak point. Are we to prop up an entire dysfunctional, and inequitable, system for the sake of some jobs? Besides these jobs will likely morph into other more relevant and useful functions. What seemed to emerge from this back-and-forth was that “sustainable” means something completely different to commercial publishers (and their allies) and OA proponents! Publishers are from Mars; OA proponents are from Venus.

Beyond the article itself we had a lot to say about the platform and the open peer review model. The article is essentially still in its pre-print version. It was posted on the F1000Research site before peer review. It was a fascinating process to see the reviewers’ reports as they were submitted, and to watch as others commented on the article and the authors responded. It gave the impression of a proper scholarly conversation taking place. This is ideally what journals should be facilitating. Technology allows this now – so why are so many journals still clinging to outdated formats from the print era?

The “open” nature of the reviews and comments also ensured an appropriate level of civility. Who has not received rude and unproductive comments from a reviewer that feels protected by their anonymity? (There is an entire Tumblr site devoted to such remarks!). However, if the reviewer is obliged to reveal themselves, not just to the authors but to the whole of the readership, then they are more likely to behave diplomatically, and provide constructive and substantiated critiques. This also works in the reviewer’s favour: readers (and evaluators) can plainly see the amount of work and time invested by the reviewer in their function. If the reviewer has spent considerable time in providing a thoughtful review then they can justifiably link to it on their CV and collegial committees can see for themselves the energy the reviewer expended.

We also spoke of how we might use this kind of journal format in information literacy instruction with students. This would more clearly make the point that scholarship is a conversation, and that there are multiple points of view. It would demystify the peer review process too: we can see the issues raised by the reviewers and can follow the paper into its next version seeing how the authors might address these concerns. This process is usually completely hidden from the average reader; so it is difficult for a student to imagine a paper other than the final version.

These various versions of papers do present challenges for the reader in citing though! It seems that all the versions remain on the site and have their own DOIs, but the added complexity in citing remains. This is a relatively minor issue though compared to the benefits of an open scholarly conversation that such a model of peer review allows.

We look forward to seeing the next version of this article and continuing the conversation on the benefits of OA!

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Advocating for Change in an Unsustainable and Inequitable Journal Publishing Market

by DeDe Dawson
Science Library, University of Saskatchewan

I’ve been thinking a lot about how librarians can most effectively support researchers in their scholarly communications activities and bring about meaningful change in a largely dysfunctional academic journal market.

In a recent planning meeting at my library, the topic of advocacy for open access (OA) came up. It has always seemed to me to be a natural role for academic librarians. We know the underlying issues better than most, and have the professional responsibility to raise the awareness of these issues among our faculty colleagues on campus. Indeed, librarians at many institutions have led the way in advocating for OA for more than a decade now. And much progress has been made: OA is quickly becoming the default (for journal articles at least) and there is no going back – especially now that major national funders are mandating it.

So, do we really need more advocacy for OA?

OA now seems to have a life of its own. We no longer need to advocate for it so much as support the researchers at our institutions in complying with the mandates of their funders to make their research outputs (publications and data) openly available. There are many practical tools and resources that librarians can introduce researchers to that will help them in this. And of course there are still many persistent myths and misinformation about OA that need to be countered. Roles for librarians abound! So, awareness-raising and practical support for compliance – but what of advocacy?

Lately, I am coming to the conclusion that our advocacy efforts need to be redirected to pushing for more fundamental changes in the journal publishing market. Let me explain:

Academic librarians have always been some of the strongest proponents of OA simply because we can clearly see the unsustainability, and inequity, in the current commercial journal market better than our any of our campus colleagues.

The system is unsustainable:

Publishers have increased subscription fees beyond inflation for decades, and make “obscene” profits from selling research papers produced by faculty at our institutions back to us. Library budgets have not grown at the same rate as journal subscription increases. For many years librarians have been able to maintain these subscriptions by reducing expenses in other areas and cutting spending on monographs – but this can only go on for so long. To make an unsustainable system even worse, many commercial publishers are now co-opting OA for their own financial gain. With “hybrid” journals, publishers charge authors high article processing charges (APCs) to make their individual papers OA, and yet continue to charge libraries subscription fees to that same journal (i.e. “double-dipping”). Publishers have essentially found a lucrative additional revenue stream in OA – this is not the outcome that the original proponents of OA had in mind! Currently our low Canadian dollar makes this unsustainable system even worse (since most subscriptions are paid in U.S. dollars). Libraries are at the breaking point.
The system is inequitable:

This is also an ethical problem. Much of the research locked up behind commercial publisher paywalls is taxpayer funded, yet taxpayers cannot read the results without paying again. Taxpayers also largely fund the salaries of university faculty who peer-review and serve on editorial boards of these journals. The publishers generally do not pay these individuals for their services, nor do they pay the authors of the papers. To be blunt: commercial scholarly journal publishing is a racket. The tax paying public loses, practitioners and patients lose, independent researchers and journalists lose, academics in developing countries lose, scholars and students at poorer institutions lose, and now those at even the richest institutions are losing too. I could go on.

So, returning to the advocacy piece…

I believe we now need to advocate for more radical change in the entire scholarly publishing market. Imagine the millions of dollars per year that each institution could save if they could cancel all of these subscriptions. A portion of this money could be redirected to support innovative new OA publishing models, or simply support scholarly societies to take back their flagship journals from the commercial publishers (e.g. Cultural Anthropology). And the rest could be redirected to support research and student scholarships, or many other worthy needs on campus.

I’m not naïve. I realize this is not a straightforward task. But it is essential to the future of higher education and research institutions. And there are innovations already taking place (I list some below), but the key in this equation is outreach to researchers. They are the authors, the reviewers, the editors. They are the colleagues that sit on tenure and promotion committees. They are also often in administrative roles at universities. They have the real power to effect change. But, they are generally unaware of the full extent of the dysfunction in the system. Librarians have an opportunity, and a professional obligation, to raise their awareness on these issues, and advocate and support them in changing it to more sustainable and equitable OA models.

A few examples of innovative models of scholarly OA journal publishing:
Overlay journals
Open Library of the Humanities
Open Access Network

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Paying for Publishing: A Reflection on One Approach to Opening Up Hybrid Journals

by Crystal Hampson
Services to Libraries, University of Saskatchewan

Sometimes I like to think “what if?” Lately, I’ve been thinking about a particular “what if” to do with open access, how it affects our institutions’ researchers as authors, and how could the publishing system make OA better (easier, more practical) for them. Basically, I don’t want researchers to have to put their time into administrative work like negotiating author rights, keeping track of embargo periods and article versions for each article for deposit into an IR, finding funding to pay OA article processing charges, keeping track of differing funding agency mandates, etc. etc. I want researchers to put their time into research. I also want them to be able to publish in whatever journal is best for them in terms of audience and timeliness. Researchers want that too (Solomon and Björk, Nariani and Fernandez). I also don’t want to see institutions deal with sorting out all these details for every individual article one-by-one. There are too many articles, too many variations, and ultimately too much administrative process. Keeping track of all the many varied results is impractical.

I’ve therefore been musing about “what if” we had a different model to cover OA publishing charges for currently hybrid journals, something other than a model that used details to calculate an offset to subscription cost, or some type of discount to OA APCs that still have to be paid, but a model that includes all author charges (why not include all types, while we’re at it: OA fees, page fees, etc.) so that our researchers can just publish articles OA, with no charge or administrative process for them and minimal process altogether.

In the course of my reading, I recently came across Jan Velterop’s notion of the “New Big Deal.” Velterop is the co-creator of the Big Deal model for selling journal packages. He theorizes a national approach to purchasing not only toll content but also what is essentially gold OA publishing services. Velterop notes that an individual library does not have enough leverage to negotiate such a deal well (and I would add that an individual researcher has even less leverage for any negotiation); such negotiation needs to be at a national level. I would argue that “open” is open to the world, so not only a national but internationally coordinated approach will ultimately be necessary, not necessarily one global license, but national licenses that amount to global access. Though Velterop discussed this idea in 2012, it is not in place today. I like the fundamental simplicity of this idea though, but I realize it is not simple to enact.

Would this approach save money? I recognize that publishers provide value to the scholarly communication system and I don’t object to a reasonable margin of profit for their services. It seems to me that trying to save, or make, a lot of money through the switch to OA is just holding up “open.” What if we made it open first, at current price and distribution among participants (institutions, journals and publisher)? What if then multiple publishers could ingest the open content and then truly compete, without monopoly over content, and costs could become lower over time through competition and reduced complexity? What if we started with current contribution levels and contributing institutions negotiated over time a fair distribution of costs among themselves?

I admit I usually see the good elements of a “what if” idea at first. The flaws appear to me later, like where such a model leaves independent OA journals. And certainly, “what if” only goes so far until we hit the political and business realities. On the other hand, a completely new model with too many unknowns becomes something that we can’t realistically, practically, and quickly implement, and further holds back the transition to open. Certainly models involving myriad micropayments and varied author rights terms are also not viable on a large scale. So the idea to take a model that presents less of an unknown, that has less financial uncertainty for the parties involved, and develop it from there has a certain appeal.

Nariani, Rajiv, and Leila Fernandez. “Open Access Publishing: What Authors Want.” College & Research Libraries 73.2 (2012): 182-95. HighWire Press. Web. 10 Apr. 2013.

Solomon, David J., and Bo-Christer Björk. “Publication Fees in Open Access Publishing: Sources of Funding and Factors Influencing Choice of Journal.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 63.1 (2012): 98-107. Wiley Online Library. Web. 24 Jul. 2013.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.