When the British government took the brave decision to implement all of the recommendations of Dame Janet Finch’s Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, in July 2012, I for one gave a little jump for joy. I worked for six years in traditional subscription publishing and became increasingly disillusioned with the flagrant abuse of taxpayers’ money, as well as the many flaws within the publishing system itself – loss of copyright, time-to-publication, the subjectivity of much peer review, the funding systems etc. There is, in my opinion, a great deal wrong with the system and I wanted to do something about it. ‘Gold’ open access publishing is, also in my opinion, the solution – a model that will bring market forces of price comparison and genuine choice to bear; which preserves all of the quality thresholds associated with scholarly publishing whilst embracing innovation; and which offers a private sector solution, rather than heaping extra expense on the shoulders of taxpayers. Many people disagree with this interpretation, but to me this makes sense and there is the strong precedent of successful publications in the Science, Technology and Medicine (STM) sphere, such as PLoS ONE and BioMed Central. Scholars, students and librarians in social sciences and humanities have the same needs for up-to-date, quality research that is freely available. If it has worked in STM, why should ‘gold’ not work in these?
In January 2012, I set out to put my beliefs into action and set up an open access website, Social Sciences Directory (and subsequently a sister site Humanities Directory). Aiming to address the issues, these would:
Having set my face against the status quo, I am now encountering at first hand many of the obstacles that are in-built in the system, particularly in the UK with the Research Excellence Framework. Hence my joy at the Finch Report mandate.
After reaching an agreement with Eduserv to offer a low-cost institutional membership to British universities, the information was widely disseminated to academic librarians throughout the UK. Despite good level of support in principle six main, recurring objections were encountered:
In early July, the findings of a survey on librarians’ attitudes and awareness of open access models was published by InTech. The report generally echoed the experience I was having, with a telling summary line: “The greatest concern librarians have with OA center on the article processing charges being set too high. There is generally less concern with the quality of peer review”. This is telling because librarians pay the bills and want a change to a more cost-effective model; academics want to be published in the best journals and don't give a damn about the cost (a huge generalisation, I know, but certainly my overall experience). There is a disconnect between the motives of librarians and researchers and if librarians are going to become - as the report summary again said, “more closely integrated with their research communities as a partner, educator and innovator” - they need to be more concerted, more coherent and more assertive in bringing change about. To the librarians reading this, I would ask:
What are you doing to build awareness about open access amongst your research communities?
Are you creating information support materials?
Are you creating frameworks and processes for the central management of OA funds?
Do you understand how OA funds are managed within your institution?
Have you established what are fair and acceptable article processing charges and institutional memberships?
Are you highlighting what OASPA is doing to maintain quality thresholds in open access publishing, in order to overcome the arguments that the ‘tried and tested’ subscription model maintains standards and open access dilutes them?
There is a big opportunity here for somebody in the library and academic community to take the initiative and formulate policies. It could be advocates like OASPA, SPARC and OKFN, or it could be library consortia or groups such as IFLA or JISC. Again, the Finch Report has now made finding answers to these questions an imperative.
My experience of scholarly publishing over several years led me to the conclusion that change was desperately needed, but also contentious and difficult to implement in an environment that is very traditional and slow to adapt. Change has now been made inevitable, starting in the UK and likely to be followed in many other countries. Perhaps Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ ‘change curve’ needs to be used to recognize the pain of the transition that is underway, because I hope that we move rapidly from a position of shock, denial and anger to one of acceptance and integration.
Author unknown (2012), Assessing the role of librarians in an Open Access world, prepared by TBI Communications on behalf of InTech