Wednesday, 14 April 2010

UKSG 2010, Librarians and Open Access

Prior to attending the second day of the UKSG conference, I had also been invited to join the Cambridge Journals Advisory Group and attended a meeting of this the day before UKSG began. At this meeting, the question was raised by Cambridge about its publishing subscription model, and ways that this could be adapted/improved to help libraries during the current challenging financial climate. It soon became apparent from the serials librarians present that the main issues weren't really with Cambridge subscription rates, but with other well-known journals publishers. However, the main 2 points that I came away with from this discussion were that:

1. the librarians present were waiting for the publishers to react to the economic crisis and reduce their prices/adapt their pricing models accordingly

2. open access publishing (and a switch to) was not mentioned once, either by those representing Cambridge Journals or the librarians present. Indeed, the Marketing Director of Cambridge Journals remarked in his annual update that he was surprised at an increase in authors requesting permission to make their pre-print articles available on-line, and couldn't fathom why anyone would wish to do this.

I attended UKSG on Tuesday 13th April, and the first 3 speakers (Dorothea Salo, Eelco Ferwerda and Jill Russell) were all keen advocates of open access, and from what I could gather, open access had been discussed during the previous day also. Jill's presentation included details of the pilot project that she has been involved with at the University of Birmingham where three colleges have been allocated funding to publish their research findings following a gold open access publishing model. At my own institution, following the gold route has already been disregarded - we simply do not have the funds to both pay for journals subscriptions and pay for researchers to publish with journals as well, and despite funder mandates to make research publicly available, I know that researchers here are not as yet keeping money aside to pay an open access publication fee. I imagine that this is the case for most other institutions, indeed Jill was quick to point out that her institution could not afford to pay these fees for the majority of researchers there, leaving some of those not taking part in the pilot somewhat disgruntled.

All of this has lead to me looking at open access from a different angle. In my own role, I am actively encouraging researchers at my institution to both publish their research following an open access model, and to deposit their work in our repository. I've been doing this for about a year and a half now, we have our open access mandate in place, and I thought that encouraging researchers to make their paper open access would eventually lead to the tipping point where open access journal publishing would overtake subscription based. It's a lot more complicated than that though, isn't it? As well as the researchers being convinced, there is also the much less talked about hurdle (and from what I've seen it's a big one) of librarians who are still happy to follow the subscription based journal publishing model. I don't mean this to be a criticism of library budget holders and serials librarians who are working very hard to negotiate with publishers to retain access to as many journal titles as they can with their ever-decreasing budgets. Academic libraries have students who are paying for their education, and expect to have access to journal articles, and academics who expect access to current research to do their jobs - the idea of just stopping paying subscriptions as an individual institution, or even as part of a consortium is unthinkable at present, when the backlash from students and academics at losing access to journals would be so great.

Discussion of open access does have to be opened up further to the whole academic and research library community, and not just remain mostly within the world of repository practitioners and developers. I also wonder about the effects of CILIP's reporting on open access to the wider library community, with another less-than-positive review in this month's Update entitled Open access could cost some universities dear, says Jisc report. (I'm not putting the link to this in here as CILIP members will know where to look, and for the rest of you CILIP Update is not open access - sorry.) Hopefully the more positive coverage that open access has received at UKSG10 will help to redress the balance of this.


  1. On Not Putting The Gold OA-Payment Cart Before The Green OA-Provision Horse

    (1) Cambridge University Press is entirely on the side of the angels insofar as OA is concerned, as it fully endorses Green OA self-archiving by its authors (regardless of whether the CUP Marketing Manager understands why authors would bother to do it!) -- and no further "permission" is required, e.g.:

    (2) The primary purpose of OA is not to lower journal prices or to ease the library serials crisis -- though that is likely to be an eventual side-effect once universal Green OA self-archiving has been reached.

    (3) Scarce university or research funding money spent on Gold OA publishing today is wasted unless the university or funder has first mandated Green OA (as Queen Margaret University -- but not yet Birmingham -- has already done):

    SUMMARY: Universities need to commit to mandating Green OA self-archiving before committing to spend their scarce available funds to pay for Gold OA publishing. Most of the university's potential funds to pay Gold OA publishing fees are currently committed to paying their annual journal subscription fees, which are thereby covering the costs of publication already. Pre-emptively committing to pay Gold OA publication fees over and above paying subscription fees will only provide OA for a small fraction of a university's total research article output; Green OA mandates will provide OA for all of it. Journal subscriptions cannot be cancelled unless the journals' contents are otherwise accessible to a university's users. (In addition, the very same scarcity of funds that makes pre-emptive Gold OA payment for journal articles today premature and ineffectual also makes Gold OA payment for monographs unaffordable, because the university funds already committed to journal subscriptions today are making even the purchase of a single print copy of incoming monographs for the library prohibitive, let alone making Gold OA publication fees for outgoing monographs affordable.) Universal Green OA mandates will make the final peer-reviewed drafts of all journal articles freely accessible to all would-be users online, thereby not only providing universal OA, but opening the doors to an eventual transition to universal Gold OA if and when universities then go on to cancel subscriptions, releasing those committed funds to pay the publishing costs of Gold OA.

  2. Many thanks for your comment. I understand and support your argument fully, but also witness some drawbacks as well. Queen Margaret was a very early mandate adopter, but unfortunately this has not meant a dramatic increase in deposits in our repository. Indeed, most of the material that finds its way in gets there because I've actively searched for it, then chased researchers up for the papers. Only if I'm very lucky do I find a researcher who has kept a draft that the publishers copyright policies will allow me to put up following the green model. I do believe that the message is slowly getting through to some of our researchers however, and think that this is encouraging (I was sent a green OA paper today that I can deposit, but I have to honour a 6 month embargo first. The embargo is quite off-putting for some researchers and was a key reason for Birmingham piloting a gold model, according to Jill Russell at UKSG10).

    One of my main concerns is my perception that librarians in academic libraries are not directing students and academics towards OA resources e.g. when the institution does not subscribe to a particular journal - it is not within our culture yet to explore databases of institutional repositories such as OAIster yet (I've not had a chance to have more than a quick glance at yet , but was very pleased to hear of its existence earlier today). It seem to me that I am contradicting myself when I recommend to students that they use the bibliographic databases for the best journal results, but then tell researchers that search engines such as Google will index their articles in the repository, thus making the accessible to a much wider audience. Searching for open access resources has to become an integral part of information search strategies.

  3. Anyone else enjoy the fact that Stevan Harnad's summary is longer than the rest of his post?

  4. Hi Helen,
    Belatedly (as I'm only just managing to catch up on my post-UKSG blog reading!), I wonder if you would be happy for me to syndicate your post and a summary of the comments (with full attribution) on the UKSG "LiveSerials" blog ( - just trying to reflect lots of different views of the conference there and yours is great for adding some personal perspective around one of the issues raised.
    All the best,


  5. Hi Charlie

    Yes, absolutely no problem with this.


  6. Here are a few suggestions on how to make the Queen Margaret mandate work:

    (1) It is not quite enough merely to adopt a formal deposit mandate!

    "We have accordingly adopted the policy that all research output is to be archived in the departmental institutional repository before or after peer-reviewed publication. This archive forms the official record of the institution's research publications"

    All faculty need to be clearly and fully informed that the mandate (a requirement) exists, and how to comply with it.

    (2) It is good if the library helps authors deposit initially, but it is important to stress that authors should be depositing for themselves in the long run.

    (3) The "Liege" solution, advocated by both EOS and OASIS can greatly help accelerate understanding and compliance: Inform all faculty that henceforth depositing refereed research in the institutional repository is henceforth the sole method to submit them for consideration for annual performance review.

    (5) Embargoes on access to the full-text of the deposits become much less of a handicap if you implement your eprints software's automated "Fair Dealing" Button for all Closed Access deposits. (That supersedes the "corrigenda" strategy mentioned in your instructions.)

    Sale, A., Couture, M., Rodrigues, E., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2010) Open Access Mandates and the "Fair Dealing" Button. In: Dynamic Fair Dealing: Creating Canadian Culture Online (Rosemary J. Coombe & Darren Wershler, Eds.)

    (5) Once articles are deposited in an OA IR, there is no need at all to teach students to search databases if their university lacks a subscription to a journal: They all know how to use google and google scholar (not to mention scirus, scopus, WoS, citeseerx, pubmed, etc.). The real problem is not the absence of knowledge about where and how to search for OA content: The problem is the absence of OA content! The QMU mandate will fix that for QMU content; equivalent mandates at all other universities will solve it for all other OA content, and QMU students (and especially QMU researchers) will be the beneficiaries.