With Open Access Week coming to a close, we talk to OA-expert Andrea Tarchi about the future of Open Access. He talks about the available Open Access support for researchers, the shortcomings of the current national strategy, and about exciting new possibilities for community-driven initiatives at EUR.
"We have to shift the aim of scientific publications from revenue-generating tools to community-driven ones."
I started working at the library after I completed my PhD in colonial history at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. My experience as a researcher gave me a clear idea of all the mechanisms that lay behind the scenes of the research cycle. While I was passionate about conducting my research, I realized that I wanted to be more involved in the processes that make scientific research relevant to the broader public.
As a PhD researcher, I thought that scientific findings lack relevance if they are not shared among the society. It is easy to think that ‘science is for everyone’ when working for wealthy Western research institutions that provide you with access to the great majority of scientific research. However, while researching global inequalities, I realized that the same does not apply to the rest of the world.
Scientific findings hidden behind paywalls exacerbate global unequal access to knowledge and hamper the progress of society. For this reason, I wanted to contribute to the open access movement and play an active role in making academic research as broadly available to society as possible.
My job allows me not only to have a role in shaping the open access policy of Erasmus University Rotterdam, but also to work in close contact with researchers from the most diverse disciplinary backgrounds to help them figure out the publishing strategy that is most suited for their needs.
The greatest developments with regards to Open Access that I can confidently speak about are the ones that happened here in the Netherlands. Open Access in the Netherlands has become the golden standard for academic publications. At EUR, currently 98% of academic, peer-reviewed articles are published open access.
The two primary strategies responsible for this growth are the Read & Publish deals with large publishers established through the consortium of Dutch Universities and the implementation of the Open Access Regulation (based on the Taverne amendment) which allows all short academic works to become publicly available six months after the initial publication date.
These strategies have allowed publicly funded Dutch research to be one of the most accessible in the world, increasing its scientific and societal relevance at the same time.
While current strategies have produced the desired results in quantitative terms, there are still noticeable issues in the Dutch open access landscape. The most visible challenge is related to the fact that current policies have predominantly focused on deals with major publishers covering the open access publications of short scientific works, like articles.
While this has been beneficial to most researchers and produced the amazing numbers I just mentioned, it mostly left out the open access publication of books. The percentage of books published open access lags far behind the open access publication of articles. This lack of support creates a problem, particularly for social science and humanities researchers, for whom monographs are often a critical step in their careers.
Another visible criticality of the current Dutch open access landscape is economic sustainability. Publishing open access via publisher agreements puts a financial strain on university budgets. The system of Read & Publish deals is, for this reason, hardly sustainable in the long run, with universities having to pay increasing costs for article processing charges while major publishers record even higher profit margins than they did before these deals.
Due to these challenges, Dutch university libraries must find ways to balance the publication needs of researchers, who of course want to publish in prestigious journals to further their careers, with the need of making our publication culture more sustainable. Investing in Open Access publishing of books, as much as making deals more sustainable and prioritizing green routes to Open Access publishing via institutional repositories, are some of the ways in which libraries can mitigate these upcoming challenges.
The publishing industry is a challenging environment for researchers, where finding the suitable medium for one’s research output can be quite testing. Researchers have several things to keep into consideration when looking for the right publisher and journal for their articles.
First, of course, they need to be sure that their article fits the scope of their journal. Then they need to check the credentials of the journal and check its peer-review standards. In addition, research funded by public research councils needs to comply with specific policies that mandate articles and books to be open access at the moment of publication.
The University Library helps researchers figure out how to choose the right journals that fulfill all these criteria and are consistent with the researchers’ careers and aspirations. Sometimes this would mean publishing open access through the gold route, some other times through the green route.
As the Library’s Open Access team, we always strive to inform researchers about the benefits of open access publishing for society at large, but also for themselves as academics. Open access does not only allow for broader audiences, that might not have the means to purchase expensive journal subscriptions to access scientific research, but is also highly beneficial to the author’s career.
Through open access publishing, researchers can get a bigger audience to read their work and hence increase their readerships and citations. Moreover, since there is little support on a national level for the open access publication of books, we strive to help researchers cover the Book Processing Charges (BPC’s) necessary to make their work available open access. To this end, we have established an Open Access Book fund that is designed to help researchers making their work more accessible and relevant to the public.
When one thinks of commercialization within the scientific domain, the first thing that comes to mind is the billion-dollar industry that is the academic publishing world. The great majority of relevant academic publications are in the hands of a few multinationals that, unfortunately, have at heart the growth of profits and dividends for shareholders, rather than the enrichment of the communities that rely on scientific knowledge.
This is of course fair in a market economy, but if brought to the extreme, it can hamper the progress of scientific research by slowing down the transfer of information that is kept behind paywalls to ensure positive returns to commercial publishers.
This is where Open Access comes in, which solves the problem of the availability of research output but that at the same time doubles the burden on public research institutes who not only have to fund the research and pay the salaries of researchers, but also compensate commercial publishers for the loss in revenue that open access publishing entails.
If we really aim to prioritize “Community over Commercialization” then we have to shift the aim of scientific publications from revenue-generating tools to community-driven ones. The use of institutional repositories is central in this regard.
We have seen what the Taverne amendment was able to accomplish, and probably more can be accomplished with the newly introduced Rights Retention Strategy, which aims to allow researchers to retain copyright over a version of their manuscripts and hence upload it on their institutional repository without embargo.
Most importantly, investments on institutional publication platforms such as Diamond Open Access journals need to be ramped up to create a healthier, more equal publishing environment. Such investments would allow community-run publishers to be more upscaled and have a chance at attracting quality publications and hence foster a more sustainable academic publishing paradigm in which not only established for-profit publishers hold sway over high-quality scientific research.
At the Library, we are trying to envision a more sustainable future for open access, based on responsible spending of public funds and the fostering of diversity in terms of academic publishers and publishing platforms. Our aspiration for open access publishing in the Netherlands is a future-proof landscape that offers alternatives to the major publishers and opportunities for new or smaller players.
We hope to see smaller publishers and university presses as a more integral and foundational part of the academic publishing business. This would foster competition, preventing costs of open access publishing from rising further than they already have. Furthermore, we hope to see academic journals and even publishers with a range of business models that move away from the current author-pays model.
To achieve these goals, we must sustain institutional publishing initiatives run by researchers. To this end, we have also launched a Diamond Open Access fund, with publishing initiatives from the EUR community receiving institutional support to develop sustainable and resilient publishing models.
We hope that the Diamond open access fund help our community to put researchers back at the core of academic publishing. Eventually, we even want to explore the possibilities of establishing a university press that incarnates the tenets of open science throughout the research cycle.
We know that the road ahead is bumpy. However, these small steps could lead to bigger changes at the national and European level. Future collaborations can ensure that the academic community of EUR plays a central role in shaping the future of open access.