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Putting Money Where Our Mouths Are: Libraries Funding Open Access Publishing

I recently completed a one year appointment with the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries as Visiting Program Officer for Scholarly Communications. This was a wonderful opportunity to network with fellow scholarly communications professionals at the 40 member institutions of ASERL as well as build a scholarly communications program for ASERL and put us on the map nationally as leaders in this growing area of importance. As part of my responsibilities during the last 12 months, I examined the policies and practices of our members in several areas: open access, library publishing and resource sharing. I authored four papers reporting the results of conversations with and surveys of ASERL institutions. The first of these four papers is posted below and at the ASERL web site.

 

Like research libraries around the world, members of the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) have seen the growth of open access (OA) as a mode of scholarly communication and a resulting rise in the number of open access journals. Today there are nearly 9,000 open access journals published worldwide.[1] A common business model adopted by open access journals for funding their operations is collection of Article Processing Charges (APC) from authors. As a means of supporting the open access movement and encouraging their faculty to publish in open access journals, many universities have established campus-based open access funds. In a 2012 survey[2] of ASERL members about their open access advocacy activities, more than 1/3 of the responding libraries indicated that they currently administer an open access fund, and several additional libraries indicated plans to launch funds in the near future. I recently chatted with several ASERL members[3] about the status of the open access fund at their university. The conversations revealed similarities and differences with respect to management and use of open access funds, which are likely reflective of experiences at other universities.

Fund Structure

Conversations with open access fund administrators revealed the multiple ways in which campus-based open access funds are funded. For most, a combination of sources supplies the monies to the fund. A common funding scenario features equal contributions from the library, the provost, and the university’s office of research. Libraries are also committing portions of their central collections budgets to supporting open access publishing. The collective hope is that diversion of funds from subscriptions to support of open access will encourage publishers to adopt open access as a model and reduce subscription costs. At the same time, universities should be educating their faculty on the cost of publishing and the values of open access. Until there is such a level of awareness to bring about the desired shift in publishing economics, libraries will be faced with the decision of potentially canceling subscriptions in order to continue financially supporting open access publishing activities of the faculty.[4]

Interestingly, ASERL libraries have experienced some very different levels of use of the OA funds. One of the funds is still operating with its initial allocation dating from 2008, while a couple funds have run out of monies several times during their lives, leaving faculty waiting for notice regarding the funds’ uncertain future. Libraries have capitalized on this by presenting evidence about the utilization of the fund by faculty and graduate students from diverse disciplines and the growing support within the greater academy for open access, oftentimes leading to recurring support for the OA funds across multiple years. The funds represented in this report allocated from $12,000-$75,000 annually for support of open access publishing.

Eligibility of Applicants and Publications

ASERL libraries are using their OA publication fund as a “fund of last resort,” that is, researchers with grant monies must use grant funds to pay APC charges. Additionally, all librarians I interviewed noted that the failure to include publication costs in a grant application was “not an excuse” for waiver of this eligibility criterion, and all had denied awards on the basis of available grant funding. There were differences in processes used to verify an applicant’s grant status. While some fund administrators regularly verified the availability of grant funds to the applicant through the university’s office managing sponsored research, others simply took applicants at their word regarding the availability of other monies to cover open access publication costs.

All fund administrators permitted applications from faculty, students and staff. One fund administrator reported no difference in the number of tenured versus untenured faculty applying for assistance. This is interesting because a common argument against open access is the reliance of tenure and promotion upon publication of articles in journals with high impact factors or rankings, both of which may not be assigned to or measured for many open access publications. That untenured faculty are publishing in open access journals at the same rate as tenured faculty may discredit this perceived weakness of publishing in open access journals. Additionally, two fund administrators indicated that the faculty at the medical colleges affiliated with their universities were not eligible for support through their campus-based open access fund. Interestingly, these same two funds experienced slower rates of fund depletion experienced at universities that provided APC funds for medical faculty. This supports the common perception that open access is most prevalent and accepted within medical and other life sciences.

There was some variance in practice regarding support of APC charges in “hybrid” open access journals. Hybrid open access journals are those that charge a subscription for access to journal content but also permit open access to those articles where the author has paid an open access fee. Most OA fund administrators believe publishers have added to their revenue stream by collecting the additional dollars from authors willing to pay to make their work openly accessible. As a result, most OA fund administrators in ASERL do not provide funding for hybrid journal articles. However, one fund administrator supports hybrid journals as their library did not want to close any avenue to making research available through open access; if an author was interested in making his/her article available open access, even if through a subscription journal, the library felt fund should support it.

Perceived Quality of OA Journals

There was also much discussion of the quality of open access publications. Most administrators reported that they had rejected applications on the basis of poor journal quality. Quality decisions were typically based upon a listing in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and adherence to OASPA’s Code of Conduct[5]. The use of Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers[6] for determining eligibility was also discussed. While all admired the thought and work that is put into maintenance of Beall’s List, many believed it should not be relied upon exclusively as an arbiter of quality or ethical practice. Some administrators believe the criteria of Beall’s List, if applied, could potentially exclude high-ranking traditional, subscription-based scholarly journals on account of their business and editorial practices. Others felt the criteria also have the potential of mislabeling good quality journals that are too new to be fully tested as predatory, or those that focus on such niche or specialized topics that their coverage and appeal to a narrow group of scholars matters more than adherence to potentially arbitrary criteria.

Fund Usage

The usage of the campus-based funds within ASERL libraries mirrored the national trend of open access prevalence in the sciences. Administrators reported that the departments most often using their funds came from medicine, nursing, veterinary medicine, and engineering. All funds had applications from the social sciences and humanities, and one fund administrator indicated that support through the fund of publication of open access books would likely encourage usage in those disciplines. The fund administrators also concurred that faculty and students from business related disciplines had not applied for funds. It is unclear whether a paucity of open access business journals, attitudes of business colleges, or availability of other funds has led to the lack of participation from these disciplines in open access publishing.

Related to the usage of the fund, we discussed how our campus-based funds had been marketed. Typical marketing venues were reported – websites, brochures, and targeted emails. However, the most effective marketing tactic appeared to be word of mouth; most applicants learned about the fund through other applicants. Further, despite their marketing efforts, administrators were still dismayed by how many faculty had never heard of the fund, even after it had been in place for a few years. Through this discussion, administrators indicated a desire that library liaisons or subject experts engage more with faculty and students about scholarly communication issues and inform them of the resources available for publication support.

A few administrators noted spikes in the number of applications submitted at various times during the year. There was no clear correlation between the timing of these spikes and the academic calendar nor discernible publishing cycles. This was a point of considerable curiosity, and we determined this may be worth investigating on a larger scale.

Future of Open Access Funds

The conversation about campus-based open access funds concluded with a discussion of their sustainability. While all agreed that the availability of open access publishing funds was an important part of a university’s overall open access advocacy plan (“it’s putting money where our mouth is”), most fund administrators agreed that the business model of authors paying APCs was not sustainable in the long-term. The administrators were intrigued by emerging business models adopted by the journals eLife[7] and PeerJ[8], and the success of these new models will be watched closely. The outcomes of the directive from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy[9] and the proposed Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act[10] will also greatly impact the future of funding open access publishing and will be closely monitored. The group pondered whether libraries should be diverting funds used to pay subscriptions to large, expensive bundles of largely low-use journals into support of open access, and how libraries could better advocate the many open access journals that do not charge any APCs. Regardless, the APC model of funding open access is likely here to stay for the foreseeable future; if universities want to support open access in more than words alone, the administrators believe universities – not just libraries – should plan to sustain campus-based open access funds through recurring funding.

Conclusion

The Fall 2012 survey of ASERL member libraries regarding their open access activities revealed a keen awareness of and a high percentage of participation in open access advocacy and support. Distribution of funds to support open access publishing is just one of the ways ASERL members promote open access to research. In order to facilitate further conversation and collaboration in open access and other scholarly communication initiatives, ASERL has undertaken development of a scholarly communications program. Through presentations on scholarly communications topics such as altmetrics and library publishing, an in-person event on the role of open access in liaison activities, and the appointment of a visiting program officer for scholarly communications, ASERL hopes to inspire its members to continued advocacy and leadership in the area of scholarly communications

[1] See Heather Morrison’s “Dramatic Growth of Open Access” for quarterly updates on the increasing number of open access articles and journals. http://poeticeconomics.blogspot.ca/2006/08/dramatic-growth-of-open-access-series.html

[2] For a summary of the full survey, please visit http://www.aserl.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/ OA_Survey_Exec_Summary.pdf.

[3] I interviewed Gail McMillan (Virginia Tech), Lisa Macklin (Emory University), Claudia Holland (George Mason University), Kevin Smith (Duke University), Molly Keener (Wake Forest University), and Robin Sinn (John Hopkins University). I also administer the Open Access Fund at University of Florida Libraries and have included my experiences in this reflection on campus-based open access funds.

[4] For more on the cost of open access publishing see Richard VanNoorden’s article “Open access: The true cost of science publishing.” Nature, v. 495, Issue 7442, March 27, 2013. http://www.nature.com/news/open-access-the-true-cost-of-science-publishing-1.12676

[5]http://oaspa.org/membership/code-of-conduct/

[6]http://scholarlyoa.com/2012/12/06/bealls-list-of-predatory-publishers-2013/

[7] http://www.elifesciences.org/

[8] https://peerj.com/

[9] “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research,” Memorandum of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, February 22, 2013. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/ostp_public_access_memo_2013.pdf

[10] Sen. 350, 113th Cong. (Feb. 13, 2013). H.R. 708, 113th Cong. (Feb. 13, 2013).

Better than FASTR?

On February 14, 2013, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) was introduced in both houses of Congress. A successor to the once again defunct Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), FASTR covers the same agencies as the former proposed legislation and similarly mandates public access within 6 months of publication, through unspecified open access repositories, to the final versions of peer reviewed manuscripts that report results of certain federally funded research. FASTR differs from FRPAA in its inclusion of a provision for covered agencies to coordinate the policies they develop in response to the legislation and inclusion of provisions requiring open licensing of research so that it may be reused under certain conditions.

The introduction of FASTR, particularly its open licensing provisions, immediately drew praise from open access supporters, including library and public interest organizations, and scorn from publishers. Association of College and Research Libraries President Steven Bell stated in that organization’s letter of support: “I am particularly pleased that this legislation addresses both greater access to research and greater reuse through open licensing. As scholars undertake new research, it is crucial to build on the works of others who came before. Open licensing is an important step towards a more open system of scholarship as it facilitates subsequent reshaping into new scholarship.” On the other side, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) called the new bill a “boondoggle.” AAP Vice President Allan Adler complained: “This bill would waste so much taxpayers’ money at a time of budgetary crisis, squander federal employees’ time with busywork and require the creation and maintenance of otherwise-unneeded technology all the while ignoring the fact that its demands are already being performed successfully by the private sector.”

While the press and others were still spinning support and criticism of FASTR, the Obama administration through the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a public access directive on February 22, 2013 that commands Federal agencies with over $100 million in annual research expenditures to “develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government…[including] any results published in peer-reveiwed scholarly publications that are based on research that directly arises from Federal funds.” Similar to FASTR, the directive encourages agencies to work collaboratively in the development of public access plans. The directive, drafted in response to a 65,000 signature petition calling for action and to comments filed in response to 2011 OSTP Request for Information, specifies the features these plans must incorporate, including strategies to foster public discovery and access of scholarly research and to either utilize existing archives and repositories or develop new partnerships for creation of modes of open and public access. Unlike FASTR and its predecessor bills, the directive calls for a 12 month (rather than a six month) embargo. Drafts of these plans are to be submitted by covered agencies to the OSTP within six months for its issuance.

As expected, the OSTP directive garnered immediate praise from open access advocates. Surprisingly, however, the AAP also came out in support of the directive, leaving one to wonder if perhaps a better alternative to FASTR had been born. One way the OSTP directive improves upon FASTR is in its stroking of publishers’ egos by recognizing the services they provide and by seemingly recognizing their interests as stakeholders. As the AAP response praises: “As one of its core principles, the policy ‘recognizes that publishers provide valuable services…that are essential for ensuring the high quality and integrity of many scholarly publications. It is critical that these services continue to be made available.'” The incorporation of the 12 month embargo similarly makes the OSTP directive more palatable to publishers. The writers at the blog Scholarly Kitchen, which frequently directs criticism at open access endeavors, specifically called out the 12 month embargo and the ability for agencies to petition for an extended embargo period if data was presented to support the request. Embargo periods, as the blog points out, are often established without much rationale or evidence (and are frequently the subject of debate among open access advocates and opponents alike). The provision for establishment of an embargo period supported by data may very well be a positive step.

Aside from seemingly making publishers happy, there may be other reasons to position the OSTP directive as superior to FASTR, or at least as a necessary complement or supplement to the as of yet enacted legislation. The FASTR bill only covers public access to scholarly publishing; the OSTP directive covers both publications and data. This recognition of the importance of access to research data is certainly an improvement and a recognition of changes in policy already taking place at some federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation. Another improvement of the OSTP directive over FASTR is by its definition it applies to more agencies than FASTR.  This larger umbrella includes agencies such as the Smithsonian Institution, which are excluded from FASTR. A final positive of the OSTP directive is its effective date: immediately. Agencies are under an immediate mandate to start crafting policies and publishers are put on notice that they must be open to working with agencies to carry out the objectives of the directive. Rather than spending energies lobbying for or against proposed legislation, these groups can direct their attentions to doing real work that will culminate in real results. Granted, the directive could easily be stricken in four years with a new administration; whereas legislation takes an act of Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court to be nullified. However, the force and effect of an executive order to move forward rather than continuing to spin wheels is certainly a better and perhaps truly “faster” means to an end than the FASTR bill.

Our Best Defense: Open Access

Is academia at war with the publishing industry? Today, University of Michigan Dean of Libraries Paul Courant wrote that publishers have declared war upon us. Columbia University’s James Neal claimed at this Spring’s ACRL conference that the academic library community is, in fact, at the center of this war. In recent months, with actions being taken that chip away at fair use and other copyright exemptions allowed libraries and educators, it is starting to feel that we may be losing the war; and with shrinking budgets and governmental affronts to our existence, we may even feel powerless to fight for our survival.

However, we may have a viable defense that could very well preserve our place as conduits to learning and knowledge. “Open access alternatives seem more and more to be not just a nice alternative, but the only path scholarly communications has left to survival,” wrote Duke University Scholarly Communications Officer Kevin Smith this morning in response to the latest attack (an STM publishers’ association issued guidelines whose underlying purpose is to undermine international interlibrary loan practices) on educational use of copyrighted works. Open access has been touted for several years as the vehicle for revolutionary change in scholarly communications, and it still stands as our best chance for radically changing the economic climate that is leading to assaults upon barrier-free sharing of knowledge and information.  However, for us to win this war, we all need to participate: librarians and faculty alike. And our efforts need to be consistent and persistent.

In this month’s Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, the open access movement is lauded for single, albeit sporadic, milestones; but “these single events that showed the potential to cause a sudden, radical or complete reform of the entire [scholarly communications] system have failed to precipitate a complete transformation.”  The authors of the Bulletin piece claim that librarians can be the most victorious soldiers in this war that we are in. However, it will take a widespread and collective movement to not only survive but even win. There are many libraries and universities out there who are to be commended for their efforts – who have established open journal publishing systems, who have adopted open access mandates, and who regularly promote open access through Open Access Week and other public events. Librarians at Duke University Medical Center Library, in a recent article in Serials Review, offer even more ways of how librarians can successfully incorporate open access into their work and bolster our defense against the war that is waging against us. In addition, legislation such as the Federal Research Public Access Act needs to be revitalized in Congress as further shoring up of our defenses. With this concentrated, widespread, and united drive for open access, I do have hope that we can survive the war.

NIH Open Access Policy Turns Three

Today marks the third anniversary of the effective date of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) public access policy. This policy requires “all investigators funded by the NIH submit … to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication.” Although deposit of works in PubMed Central and searches of the site have greatly increased (see graph at left) and sound arguments exist for promotion of public access to public-funded research, serious challenges, primarily in the form of proposed legislation, have been launched against the toddler policy. The first attack came in the fall of 2008 in the form of H.R.6845 (and later re-introduced as H.R. 801), entitled the “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act.”  The bill, if enacted into law, would have effectively reversed the NIH policy by prohibiting any federal agency from imposing any condition, in connection with a funding agreement, that requires the transfer or license to or for a federal agency, or requires the absence or abandonment, of any of the exclusive rights of a copyright holder.  The status of the NIH policy was solidified in March 2009 when President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which included a provision making the policy permanent. However, the assault upon the policy did not cease.

Days after the 2nd anniversary of the NIH policy, a bill was introduced (H.R. 5037) entitled the Federal Research Public Access Act. Had it been enacted, it would have required the 11 federal agencies that have outside research budgets of $100-million or more to adopt policies mandating timely public access to research they subsidize. Although not expressly held for the purpose of debating the bill, hearings in the summer of 2010 on the issue of public access to federally funded research revealed fierce opposition by publishers, notably the American Psychological Association, and the organization the Association of American Publishers to the mandate. In addition to the copyright argument raised previously, publishers strongly cautioned the economic impact suffered should open access be broadened. As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the AAP argued “it is critical to distinguish between federally financed research and journal articles based on that research, which he described as partly the product of publishers’ labor. He repeated arguments often made by publishers about how their work enhances the value of research, and said that the 12-month embargo under the NIH policy is often not enough for publishers to recoup their investment.”

While the arguments promoting protection of publishers’ intellectual property and economic interests are meritorious, the arguments in favor of open and public access to scientific research continue to command greater heed. In a letter to lawmakers authored by several library organizations, the following compelling points in response to H.R. 801 were made regarding the need for open and public access to research:

  • Broad public access allows scientists and researchers to collaborate with greater ease by allowing sharing of information, expedited discovery, and innovation.
  • Public access policies ensure a permanent archive of research, which can be built upon by future scientists
  • Public access promotes transparency and accountability
  • Copyright law is not undermined under a public access policy because authors retain the ability to assign or transfer some or all of their exclusive rights to publishers or any other party of their choosing

Legislation that would expand the NIH policy, which has through the embargo and other terms taken into account these other interests, should be supported. The Right to Research Coalition has provided excellent resources to aid student proponents in voicing their support to certain members of the federal government, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. For additional information and resources on the NIH policy and its potential, visit the Association of Research Libraries NIH Public Access Policy page.

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