By: Nancy K. Herther, writer, consultant and former librarian with the University of Minnesota Libraries.
International efforts to bring truly open access to the corpus of scientific research made major strides in 2021, marking this as a monumental year in the evolution of scientific publication. Claire Redhead, someone whose voice and understanding in this area is well-established, having worked for 12 years in academic publishing before joining the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association (OASPA). Claire joined OASPA in 2012 as Membership and Communications Manager and four years later was appointed Executive Director. Her leadership and experience in the growing Open Access movement has been acknowledged as key to the rapid growth and expansion of OA throughout the global scholarly community. ATG is honored to have her voice in this examination of the scholarly OA development:
CR: I think 2020 and 2021 combined have caused a gear shift in the transition to open access – it’s really shown why we need research to be open, but also why it needs to be interconnected, discoverable, linked to data, and shared quickly but with verification via robust peer review, but this review can be applied at different points in the process e.g. at the preprint stage.
NKH: For years now, there has been debate, discussion and early efforts to radically change scholarly publishing and to bring it into the academy itself. Beginning with protests over access issues and high costs of the private sector, today we are seeing efforts such as the Library Publishing Coalition Plan S principle with its gutsy pledge: “With effect from 2021, all scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies, must be published in Open Access Journals, on Open Access Platforms, or made immediately available through Open Access Repositories without embargo.”
The cOAlition S, part of the European Science Foundation, and more recently the Fund to Mission project of the Big Ten Academic Alliance and the University of Michigan Press who have signed a “three-year agreement to convert at least 75% of its frontlist monographs to open access by the end of 2023, without any author ever having to pay. The Press is working to build a sustainable model by achieving stable funding.”
CR: I think we actually need to separate these developments out: Yes, we’re seeing increased interest and support for institution-based open access publishing beyond the well-established university presses (which is fantastic). And increased support by libraries for financially supporting open access monograph publishing, which is going to need different strategies to journals. Finally, Plan S is a well-coordinated set of principles between a group of funders, but commercial publishers are still some of those publishers benefiting from the funding stream, and in fact make the majority share of journal article publishing.
So, yes, there are some significant developments, but the motivations are different for these examples you’ve referred to – and they aren’t all pushing in exactly the same direction.
NKH: In order to make this work, it isn’t just the individual researcher that has to agree to OA, but also the policies and priorities of their institutions, and the existing reward structures that influence choices that writers make. Do you believe that the academy itself is ready for this now? What are you hearing in your work with faculty and researchers?
CR: When you say ‘in order to make this work’, we have to examine what is the ‘this’? Do you mean making the academy principally responsible for publishing, or do you mean make open access work? Because they are two very different things. For the first of these, there is fantastic work being done in institutions, libraries and presses to publish works open access.
I think what isn’t there yet for many scholar-led publishers is a vocalized long-term commitment from institutions to ensure stability for the future. But, if you’re asking about whether open access can work to serve to openly communicate the research outputs of academy then of course it can – most publishers offer an open access option now. But that future could well end up being dominated by a few players.
What is still happening is that many researchers are publishing in their preferred places and this is where the need for amending the rewards and incentives system comes in. Unless incentives change and we move away from proxy measures of quality, it’s much harder for researchers to change their publishing behaviours, particularly early in their career. Indeed, researchers are often oblivious to the kind of debates that you are spotlighting here, and most open access policies are also not significantly changing that part of the problem.
NKH: What role do you see libraries taking on? In some cases (such as the Library Publishing Coalition) academic libraries are taking on publishing books and journals in house. The UMICH/BTAA effort is hoping to demonstrate the ability of the academy to handle monograph publishing. Can you talk a bit about the key importance to starting with this sector of academic publishing? Journal publishing involves far more complex issues such as peer review, metrics (JIF, etc.), versioning, access/availability of datasets related to the research, indexing/access, etc.. What changes need to happen before true OA can be established reliably for the entire breadth of academic publishing?
CR: Libraries are playing a hugely important role in the transition to open access via a whole variety of ways, be that developing library publishing models, hosting journals led by researchers, advising on open access matters within the institution and, of course, financial support for the publishing system in a variety of ways.
I’m really in awe of just how much scholarly communications professionals within libraries are doing and I hope that OASPA can help in some way by highlighting a diverse range of open access publishing models and infrastructure, and to help keep up with new developments in open scholarship.
There’s no reason why publishing within institutions can’t do all of the things you have listed there – in fact there are plenty of good examples already. But there’s a problem with a capacity, I would say, with sustainability, and with incentives for researchers often driving towards ‘prestige’ publishing outlets as the main priority. From the perspective of journal publishing with no author-facing fees, things were looked at in some detail as part of a study which I participated in on behalf of OASPA and there are lots of signals there as to how we can make things more sustainable.
NKH: As Taylor and Francis noted in one of their webpages: “Many funders and institutions now ask their researchers to publish in open access journals, so a journal’s open access options will be an important deciding factor when choosing a home for your research.” Do you see the new processes being developed by for-profit publishers as fitting in with this new publishing ecology? Or, do you see the eventual end of commercial research publishing?
CR: I’m not too sure that I see these questions are mutually exclusive options. Some for-profit publishers are making amendments to fit in with funder policies, in fact it’s the smaller publishers and scholar-led initiatives which don’t always have much in the way of resources that aren’t so able to adapt so easily.
Commercial research publishing won’t end as long as researchers are opting (and able) to publish in commercial journals, and it’s also not as simple as saying ‘commercial is bad, non-profit is good’ – it’s a much more nuanced picture than that. There are non-profits which are run like commercial enterprises, for example, and small commercial operations which are doing a lot of good.
The question about ‘how much’ profit is acceptable is a difficult one, of course, but greater transparency around profits, and particularly around what services are being offered for what price and what the funds are then used for, would help libraries understand what their money is going to support. A reasonable surplus is understandable – and necessary, in fact, to make sure that services can be provided into the future and necessary developments can be made. But where should the line be drawn?
I would say it’s not ‘academy vs commercial’ either, for example, there are society publishers, too. But it also goes back again to the issue of capacity within the academy for my previous answer. The research article output goes up every year and at the moment it is hard for me to see that the academy can take that on without having some serious capacity building as a priority, but also examination of what content really needs to be published, avoiding salami slicing etc.
NKH: What role do you see for libraries? A 2020 article described the challenges faced by libraries in this way: “Research Support, Teaching and Learning, Digital Scholarship, User Experience, and Scholarly Communication….the scope and nature of the new roles, the skills required to provide new services, and the confidence librarians have in their abilities to perform the new roles….librarians’ job satisfaction and their perceived impact on the academic enterprise.” Clearly their role will be critical to the success of truly Open research data and publishing in serving the research community.
CR: Libraries are really critical! The library community is really engaged and thoughtful, but they are dealing with a lot, as per my response above to a previous question. As well as supporting the transition, I would say libraries also can have a good deal of control over the direction of travel. But they need to be supported and well resourced themselves.
NKH: How do you think we should measure the success of these OA efforts? How much change would represent ‘success’ – full-blown transition to academy-based OA? Work to have the majority of articles/research available in some type of pre-pub but post-per review format? Something else?
CR: Success from my perspective would be a balance: equitable routes globally to both access and contribute to scholarship; a diverse range of publishing models (bibliodiversity) for all types of outputs; and greater transparency in publishing systems. OASPA’s mission is to advance open access as the predominant model for scholarly outputs, but we’re definitely looking at the progression and thinking ahead to what kind of future works best all round – see https://oaspa.org/developing-a-healthy-and-diverse-oa-market-reflections/ for some work we’ve been doing recently this year.
As for the format, I think that should be viewed with flexibility and the research community should guide whether peer review is after or before publication etc, as appropriate. Ultimately, publishing is providing a service to communicate the outputs of scholarly research and so the focus should be on listening to and understanding the varied needs across disciplines and geographies and responding to those in a supportive way. It’s a well-used phrase I know, but there will never be a ‘one size fits all’ for publishing.
NKH: Thank you for your time and keen perspectives on scholarly OA today. In future parts of this coverage, we will look at various projects and perspectives that currently impact the growth and development of OA today.