Home 9 Blog Posts 9 ATG Interviews Colleen Campbell, Coordinator of the OA2020 and ESAC Initiatives, Max Planck Digital Library

ATG Interviews Colleen Campbell, Coordinator of the OA2020 and ESAC Initiatives, Max Planck Digital Library

by | Jul 19, 2021 | 0 comments


By Tom Gilson (Associate Editor, Against the Grain) and Katina Strauch (Editor, Against the Grain)

Colleen Campbell

ATG: Colleen – We first met you during the Fiesole Retreats. Can you tell us about your involvement in the Retreats? What were the highlights for you?

CC: The Fiesole Retreats have had an enormous impact on my professional journey from their very inception. I was working at Casalini libri in the 90’s and I vividly recall Katina and Bruce coming to the offices in the villa Torrossa to discuss the idea of the Retreat with the company’s founder, Mario Casalini. If I remember correctly, there was a small painting of a very personable cat involved, but that is another story. 

While the Charleston Conferences at the time were more or less oriented around the operational aspects of the business of library acquisitions, the Retreat was conceived as an opportunity for leaders in the library and information industry to come together, scan the horizon, and share their perspectives on the new directions in which the sector was moving. In the end, it was the current leadership team, Barbara and Michele Casalini, who served as hosts of the first Retreat in Fiesole in 1999, and, Boccaccio references aside, the Torrossa, perched on the hillside above Florence, could not have been a more fitting location for scanning the horizon! 

The highlight of that first Fiesole Retreat for me, personally, and the many others that followed, was the opportunity to connect with and learn from so many amazing thought leaders. Which relates to the next question….

ATG: When did you decide to move to Italy and work for Casalini?  Before becoming so active in the OA movement, what other employment opportunities did you have? 

Looking back at the report1 of the first Retreat, themed “What is the likely shape of the library in 2005 and how do we build collections for it?”, it is fascinating to reflect on the ways that the landscape has changed—and the features that persist! Not all of today’s readers will remember some of the names in the report, such as Blackwell Academic Services or Faxon, but surely everyone will find Peter Boyce’s prognosis to be an understatement: “The new thinking in many scientific circles is, “If it’s not on the Web, it doesn’t exist.” 

CC: I feel as if my career has unfolded through a string of serendipitous moments—all connected with the Fiesole Retreats in some way!

Context: I am originally from Indiana (Indianapolis) and have always had an affinity for the book world; the day I turned 16 was the day I started working at a bookstore. I earned my BA in Theatre from Indiana University and, to help pay my way, I took a part-time job as a receiver in the acquisitions department of the Herman B. Wells Library. Every box I opened was a new window into a wider world: rare Tibetan manuscripts, maps from Russia, pamphlets from across Latin America, art books from Italy.

Serendipitous moment #1: One morning one of the acquisitions librarians called me over to her desk. She knew that I happened to be studying Italian for my language requirements and thought I might enjoy exchanging a few words with a real Italian. Our library supplier for Italian materials had come to pay a call, and so it was that I had the incredible fortune of meeting Mario Casalini, years before I would even dream of moving to Italy and, eventually, end up working for him!  It was not until a couple years later, after a summer session in Florence, that I decided to abandon my dreams of a career on Broadway for the drama of everyday life in Italy. My MA in Italian with Middlebury College got me to Italy, but then I wanted to find a way to stay there permanently. Having already gotten a flavor for bookselling and libraries, I was keen to explore another facet of the information sector. This lead to a stint in the editorial office of a small children’s book publisher. 

Serendipitous moment #2: One of the books we produced was a fine art edition of Pinocchio, bound in Florentine marbled paper and in the triangular shape of Pinocchio’s nose. I was presenting the volume the Frankfurt Book Fair and it happened to catch the eye of a librarian from the US. Discussing how he might acquire a copy for his library, it came to light that he was a close friend of Mario Casalini, the distinguished founder of Casalini libri whom I had met years before. It was Mario’s son, Michele, who came to our publishing offices in person to retrieve the copy for the library’s order. What a joy to reconnect, personally, with the company whose boxes I had received back in Bloomington. Some time later, when the Casalini’s were looking to hire someone to work alongside Patricia O’Loughlin, it felt to me as if it was meant to be! Oh, and that librarian from Yale who reconnected us? That was none other than Michael Keller, Vice Provost & University Librarian at Stanford University. Aside: While Mike’s opening and closing remarks at the first Fiesole Retreat in 1999 were illuminating, the words that held most meaning for me at the time were those he spoke as we gathered around a newly planted olive tree in the Casalini’s garden, in memory of Mario.

Serendipitous moment # 3: I had been working at Casalini libri nearly 20 years when the Retreat returned to Fiesole for the fourth time. Thanks to the insightful leadership of Barbara, Michele, Joachim Bartz and Patricia, I had grown, professionally, and it was time for a new challenge. Talking with Bruce Heterick at one of the social gatherings of the Retreat, we established a connection and I soon became ITHAKA’s first Director of Institutional Participation and Strategic Partnerships in Europe. While at Casalini Libri I worked primarily with research libraries in North America and Australasia, the role at ITHAKA gave me the opportunity to work with libraries across the UK and Europe and develop a sense of their unique needs and perspectives.

Serendipitous moment #4: It was at the 17th Fiesole Retreat in Berlin, three years later, that I heard Ralf Schimmer, from the Max Planck Digital Library, first present the data underlying his 2015 White Paper “Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access”2 . The open access transition was something keenly on the minds of the European library and consortium partners I had been working with at ITHAKA, and I could observe tension growing around subscription journals. To see the evidence that there was a viable pathway to transition scholarly journal publishing to open access business models was incredibly inspiring. Gaining that insight at the Fiesole Retreat in Berlin prompted yet another career move for me, as shortly thereafter Ralf recruited me to coordinate the Open Access 2020 Initiative.

ATG: At which point did you decide to devote all your efforts to the OA movement? What is it about open access that you find compelling?

CC: Rather than framing open access as a movement, I prefer to talk about open access as a logical and necessary evolution in scholarly communication. Living the COVID-19 pandemic, I think there is no doubt in anyone’s mind of the value in openly sharing scholarly knowledge nor of the urgency with which authoritative knowledge should be shared. The process of science hinges upon sharing, discussing, challenging and reproducing the results of research, and for that process to function optimally, research results need to reach the widest audience possible. 

Researchers today heavily rely on journals to provide the scholarly communication services of organized criticism and dissemination of their results, but the subscription business model that underlies the bulk of scholarly journals is actually creating drag on the advancement of science. What I find compelling is to consider what researchers could accomplish if they were able to finally interact with an open corpus of peer-reviewed research, instead of limiting their interactions to those journals their libraries happen to be able to subscribe to this year. 

ATG: Colleen – You have been involved with the global Open Access 2020 (OA2020) Initiative since the beginning.  For those who are not familiar with this initiative, can you tell us about it?  And what exactly is the OA2020 initiative’s partner development effort, and what are your responsibilities in that effort? 

CC: The Open Access 2020 Initiative (OA2020) is an international effort that aims to transition today’s scholarly journals to open access publishing models. 

OA2020 grew out of discussion among key stakeholders in the global research community at the 12th Berlin Open Access Conference. It had been more than a decade since the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities3 was issued in 2003 (and subsequently endorsed by nearly 700 research and library organizations globally, including ARL, ACRL, CARL and IFLA, just to name a few).

At Berlin 12 there was strong consensus that while some slow and steady progress toward the vision of an open knowledge environment had been made, new efforts were necessary in order to reach that goal. Up until that point, efforts to enable openness revolved around creating new open access journals and platforms, like PLoS or Gates Open Research, and developing new infrastructure for scholarly communication, such as pre-print servers like arXiv and institutional repositories. But while these strategies are important pathways to openness in their own right, they have not had any significant impact on the subscription system that dominates the bulk of today’s scholarly journals. Perhaps more importantly, while some authors or discipline communities may be enthusiastic about these newer alternatives for open dissemination of their research, a vast proportion of researchers prefer to publish in established journals. After nearly 20 years of open access advocacy, around 80% of new research articles published today are in subscription-based journals4

OA2020 was established to fill the gap in the open access landscape, focusing on strategies to transition today’s scholarly journals to open access.

As for my own role, I lead external engagement in the OA transition at the Max Planck Digital Library (MPDL), the central digital library of the Max Planck Society. In this role I coordinate OA2020 as well as the ESAC Initiative, which is a global community of practice of libraries and consortia promoting efficiencies and standards around the negotiation and implementation of transformative and open access publishing agreements.  

I am also closely involved in external affairs and communications relating to the implementation of Germany’s nationwide DEAL5 agreements, which are the instantiation of OA2020 in Germany. 

ATG: Who are your partners in the OA 2020 initiative? How is It funded?

CC: OA2020 is an informal but global network of institutions and umbrella organizations committed to liberating scholarly journals from subscription paywalls, as described in its foundational document, the Expression of Interest in the Large Scale Transition of Open Access to Scholarly Journals6. Based on the widely accepted notion that the money libraries, globally, invest in journal subscription fees is more than sufficient to sustain those same journals if they were published under an open access models, participants in OA2020 make best efforts to repurpose the funds they currently invest in subscriptions to support open access publishing in the journals valued by researchers.

A big part of my job is leading activities to help libraries and other stakeholders develop the strategic perspectives and operational capacity needed to enact such a transition. OA2020 is funded by the Max Planck Society and coordinated by the Max Planck Digital Library (MPDL), a central service unit of the Society. As one of the world’s largest research organizations, making the research findings of its scientists available for the benefit of researchers everywhere is a key aspiration of the Society. To support that goal, the MPDL has systematically been negotiating central agreements to enable our authors to publish their articles openly in the journals of their choice for over 15 years. Our approach is to understand in what journals our authors prefer to publish, and then to seek central agreements with the relative publishers—whether that is through initiatives such as SCOAP3, with fully OA publishers like PLoS, with learned societies such as Rockefeller University Press, or with the large commercial publishers like Taylor & Francis, Wiley and Springer Nature. 

Amplified through OA2020, this approach is being replicated by institutions and national library consortia all over the world, and it is extremely rewarding to see the changes that these efforts are driving in the ecosystem. The ESAC Market Watch7 reveals some pretty amazing views of the growth of open access via transformative agreements8 and the impacts that these agreements are having in enabling open access to the research articles produced in country-level contexts9. The impacts are also visible in so many other ways, as well. The international coalition of research funding organizations, cOAlition S was present at the 14th Berlin Open Access Conference and, seeing the value in transformative agreements, subsequently included them in their implementation guidance10 of the Plan S Principles. 

Whether or not an institution or consortium has a mandate for open access, there is no doubt that licensing practices are evolving, thanks in great part to the participants in OA2020 who are not only negotiating transformative agreements with the large commercial publishers, but also central open access publishing agreements with fully OA publishers and smaller learned societies. Libraries are beginning to realize that the subscription system which places value on access is an outdated relic of the print world and are now assessing the value proposition of journals based on the scholarly communication services that they provide to authors.

The rise in transformative and central open access publishing agreements has prompted publishers of all shapes and sizes to explore new open access business models, from Subscribe to Open to tiered pricing schemes to collective action models (see some of them presented in the US OA2020 Working Group’s Community of Practice Call recordings here: https://oa2020.us/community-of-practice-2/. Another sign of the times is evident in the entrance on the market of new service providers, such as ConsortiaManager, OAble and ChronosHub, and community infrastructure like OA Switchboard.

ATG: In what ways has your past experience with Casalini Libri and JSTOR/PORTICO helped prepare you to take on this outreach and engagement challenge for the OA2020 Initiative?

CC: I think that the essence of my current role boils down to two elements: communication and transformation. 

Throughout my career, I have had the enormous privilege of working with so many knowledgeable and dedicated professionals, from every geographic region and economic context and across all areas of the academic and information sector. The opportunity to hear their perspectives has given me an appreciation for the truly global and complex nature of scholarly communication. Acknowledging that complexity and diversity is like finding the key to understand myriad languages. When I opened the European office of ITHAKA, for example, I quickly learned that the digital library JSTOR had one significance for institutions in the US who needed a digital archive solution to free up shelf space, and a very different significance for institutions in, say, Eastern Europe who saw JSTOR more as a journal platform to expand their collections. Being able to grasp the different meanings that JSTOR held for each and, in a way, act as a translator or interpreter between ITHAKA leadership and the institutions I was engaging with in Europe helped me to prepare for the multi-stakeholder discussions I am having now in OA2020. The conversation around open access is even more complex and the stakes are even higher when you stop to consider that scholarly journal publishing is a $10Bm market. An enormous part of my work is understanding what open access means in very practical terms to the many different stakeholders involved and helping them communicate with each other: researchers, collections librarians, scholarly communication librarians, ULs, higher education and research administrators, publishers, editors, library consortia, subscription agents, third-party service providers, grant funders, ministries, etc. 

The open access transition that participants in OA2020 are driving is a key component of a larger evolution in scholarly publishing which, while digitized in the 1990’s, has yet to fully digitalize. Experiencing the transition from print-based publishing to online in the course of my tenure at Casalini Libri gave me an excellent frame of reference to think about the process of change and transformation currently under way. I have enormous respect for the Casalini’s and their early commitment to the digital transition; it was no easy task to draw the scholarly publishers of Western Europe into the digital age, nor was it easy to bring the attention of libraries to the importance of a dedicated platform for original-language scholarly content. Transitions are challenging; they require energy, elasticity and creativity. Looking at what the research community has gained through the digital transition, I am all the more motivated and excited by the potential that we will generate by transitioning scholarly publishing to open access. 

ATG: More broadly speaking, your most recent progress report claims that OA2020 has demonstrated that OA strategies like transformative and other transitional agreements are “truly viable”. However, the report also says that challenges remain. What do you see as the most significant of these challenges? And are there strategies in place to address them?

CC: I think that the challenges we are working to address are all characteristic of the basic process of change. Providing authors with the means and opportunity to publish their research openly in the journals of their choice is a goal that I think we can all get behind, and the fact that the money institutions and libraries globally currently invest in subscriptions would be sufficient to achieve that goal is undisputed. Depending on what role you play in scholarly communication or where you happen to be located, however, you might be in a different stage in the process of change. 

We work in an extremely complex landscape where information is too often siloed or hidden. Authors pay APCs to publish their articles open access in ‘hybrid’ subscription journals using their own department or grant funds with no understanding of how much money their libraries are already paying in subscriptions to the same journal publisher. Librarians may have an understanding of the journals ‘researchers as readers’ value, but they have no knowledge of the journals preferred by ‘researchers as authors’. Publishers lack good data on the provenance or affiliation of the authors of the articles they publish. These data points are all essential in order to make informed assessments of the current landscape, discuss them with the relevant stakeholders and develop strategies for change, but they are not always easy to collect. Thankfully, the libraries, consortia and publishers already engaged in transitional open access agreement are creating communities of practice and sharing their approaches and experiences. For libraries and consortia there is the ESAC Initiative11 and the US OA2020 Working Group12, for example, and publishers can find resources in this Transformative Agreement Toolkit13 commissioned by The Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers together with Wellcome Trust and UK Research and Innovation.

With new understanding, plans for change can be developed and tested. There are hundreds of transitional open access agreements currently running in more than 30 countries, and applying a great variety of models. 

ATG: The 15th Berlin Open Access Conference in the Spring of 2021 is the next big opportunity for the OA community to come together. Can you tell us about it? What main issues are on the agenda?

CC: An open call for participation in the 15th Berlin Open Access Conference (B15)14 was launched in early June and the conference will be held in late September. Similar to prior Berlin Conferences, B15 will assemble members of the global research community interested in furthering transformative open access frameworks and focusing on these key topics:

  • Negotiating open access in the context of heightened budget pressures;
  • Challenges surrounding transitioning society journals and high-rejection rate journals;
  • Potential for greater impact through partnership (e.g. between funders and institutions, high output/low output institutions, etc.), and 
  • Transformative agreements in the context of lower income countries.

I am particularly excited about this last session, as it will be an opportunity to talk about some of the work OA2020 has been doing in partnership with library consortia in low-income countries around the world and explore possible actions to ensure a more equitable open access transition.

ATG: As we understand it, the ultimate goal of OA2020 is a total transition to open access from the subscription-based model. However, given that subscriptions still seem to be holding their own, especially in the US, is such a goal truly attainable? If so, how do you see it happening?

CC: Transformative agreements were validated as a key open access strategy at the 14th Berlin Open Access Conference at the end of 2018, and in just a few short years they have had a huge impact on the scholarly publishing market, so I think it is a little early to say that subscriptions are holding their own. The momentum has swept Europe and is only now picking up speed in the US.

The institutions and national consortia negotiating transformative agreements have made enormous gains with respect to the subscription system, setting new benchmarks in terms of overall cost reduction, price transparency, breaking up the lock-in of lump-sum subscription fees, equitable OA publishing opportunities for authors, and more. With evidence that it is possible to make such improvements, why would anyone settle for anything less? 

ATG: What about society publishers? Is a transition to open access viable for them? 

CC: As expressed in this recent statement15 signed by ALPSP, cOAlition S, CRL, ESAC, JISC, LYRASIS and OA2020, scholarly societies are highly valued by the research community for their activities in promoting excellence in research, for the scholarly communication services they provide, and for the key role they play in ensuring a diverse, open scholarly publishing landscape. 

At the same time, transitioning the journals of scholarly societies brings a unique set of challenges. In some cases, scholarly societies are not currently equipped to handle the open access processes, data management and workflows required in open access publishing. Also, many scholarly societies use their subscription revenues not only to sustain publication of their journals, but to support the many activities of the society, like research grants and conferences. Reflecting on this, we as a community need to consider: Is it appropriate for library budgets to be used to support the society’s activities? If so, what form of partnership or agreement between the library and the scholarly society could enable a sustainable transition to an open access business model? If not, who are the other stakeholders in the institution that could be engaged in the discussions? 

There are scholarly societies, such as those in the Society Publishers Coalition (SocPC), who are deeply committed to transitioning their journals in a way that is scalable and sustainable for both the society and institutions. They are having open discussions with libraries and consortia about their running costs and developing transparent business models. There is a great sense of partnership between publishers and institutions that is emerging, and the true beneficiaries are researchers. 

ATG: Colleen we know that your work for the OA2020 Initiative must keep you incredibly busy. But everyone needs to kick back and relax occasionally. What type fun activities do you enjoy when you want to recharge your batteries? 

CC: Cooking with my college-age daughters, running in the hills around my small town north of Florence, tap dancing, singing 80’s punk and rock with my band, losing myself in Renaissance and contemporary art, and drinking Bavarian Helles on the roof of MPDL with my colleagues.


  1. https://www.casalini.it/retreat/1999_pdf/cook.pdf
  2. Max Planck Digital Library Open Access Policy White Paper: “Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access”. http://dx.doi.org/10.17617/1.3 (28 April 2015)
  3. https://openaccess.mpg.de/Berlin-Declaration
  4. https://github.com/subugoe/oa2020cadata/blob/master/analysis/paper.md
  5. https://deal-operations.de/en/
  6. https://oa2020,org/mission/
  7. https://esac-initiative.org/market-watch/
  8. https://esac-initiative.org/market-watch/#TAs
  9. https://esac-initiative.org/market-watch/#country_shares
  10. https://www.coalition-s.org/addendum-to-the-coalition-s-guidance-on-the-implementation-of-plan-s/principles-and-implementation/
  11. https://esac-initiative.org/
  12. https://oa2020.us/community-of-practice-2/
  13. https://www.informationpower.co.uk/spa-ops-project/
  14. https://oa2020.org/b15-conference/
  15. https://oa2020.org/2021/06/17/enabling-smaller-independent-publishers-to-participate-in-open-access-transformative-arrangements-a-commitment-from-key-stakeholders/


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