Upping access to open access

With the current system of scholarly publishing in a state of flux -- some might even say in crisis -- several institutions are experimenting with innovative ways of ensuring that their researchers can continue to effortlessly publish, read, and disseminate their work. Image: linkurl:flickr/wakingtiger;http://www.flickr.com/photos/wakingtiger/3157622608/ The problems in publishing aren't new, but are getting worse: Journal subscription costs are far out-stripping library budgets and research in

Mar 5, 2009
Elie Dolgin
With the current system of scholarly publishing in a state of flux -- some might even say in crisis -- several institutions are experimenting with innovative ways of ensuring that their researchers can continue to effortlessly publish, read, and disseminate their work.
Image: linkurl:flickr/wakingtiger;http://www.flickr.com/photos/wakingtiger/3157622608/
The problems in publishing aren't new, but are getting worse: Journal subscription costs are far out-stripping library budgets and research institutions are scrambling to make ends meet. Consequently, many libraries are subscribing to fewer journal titles and providing less financial support to help their faculty publish. But some libraries are creating novel platforms and partnerships to help combat these trends. In January, the linkurl:University of California Libraries;http://libraries.universityofcalifornia.edu/ -- a collective of more than 100 libraries spanning 10 UC campuses -- minted an agreement with the publishing giant linkurl:Springer;http://www.springer.com/ so that all articles written by UC-affiliated authors would be published with full and immediate open access in any of Springer's 2,000-odd journals, even if the rest of the articles in the journals are subscription-only. Under the arrangement, UC authors retain the copyright to their work and don't have to pay additional fees on a per-article basis. In exchange, the publisher receives an undisclosed sum of money that is "part and parcel of our standard licensing arrangement with Springer," linkurl:Ivy Anderson,;http://www.cdlib.org/glance/directors.html director of collections for the California Digital Library, which licenses content on behalf of the UC libraries, told __The Scientist__. "Springer has been a very willing partner in experimenting," she added. "The research community produces this information and we don't see the value in handing over the copyright to other organizations which then impose barriers to its use and dissemination," said Anderson. "The research enterprise would be best served by unfettered access to information. Any kind of experiment that moves in that direction is something that we're interested in supporting." Some schools are going farther still, striving to make all publications by their faculty freely available. Last year, Harvard University's arts and sciences faculty approved an open access policy under which its authors, by default, must deposit finished papers in an open-access repository run by the library. Unlike the National Institutes of Health's similar mandate requiring federally-funded research manuscripts to be made publicly available, however, Harvard faculty can apply for a waiver to opt out of scheme. "It's a collective action of the faculty, but not a coercive action," said linkurl:Stuart Shieber,;http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~shieber/ director of Harvard's Office of Scholarly Communication. Last month, Boston University adopted a similar measure that applies across its entire campus, rather than at individual faculties. "We seem to have the first [open access policy] in the US that is university-wide, which is exciting," said linkurl:Wendy Mariner,;http://sph.bu.edu/index.php?option=com_sphdir&id=239&Itemid=340&INDEX=573 a health law researcher and the chair of BU's faculty council. linkurl:Griffith University;http://www98.griffith.edu.au/dspace/ in Australia and linkurl:Nottingham University;http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/ in the UK have adopted similar measures. Critics argue that making articles freely available without compensation to the publishers could further undermine the viability of journals. That could drive prices up even more, thereby further exacerbating the underlying problem. Shieber recognizes that journals still need to be compensated for the services they provide, but it has to be "in a scheme that isn't subject to gross market dysfunction, as it has been," he said. Open access publishing, he said, "is an alternative business model." Open access doesn't come cheap, though -- a paper in __PLoS Biology__ will set you back linkurl:$2850,;http://www.plos.org/journals/pubfees.html while publishing in BioMed Central's (BMC) flagship journal __Genome Biology__ costs linkurl:$2040.;http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/about/apcfaq#howmuch Many institutions have cut off full memberships with open access publishers, citing spiraling and unsustainable costs that were breaking the libraries' banks. For example, over the past year several libraries around the world -- including libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Imperial College London, and the University of Saskatchewan, to name a few -- stopped paying for its faculty's articles in BMC's journals through so-called "pre-pay memberships" in which libraries pay for all article publication charges for their authors. "The library's decision [to drop its BMC pre-pay membership] was based solely and wholly on the library budget and our need to ensure that we live within our means," said linkurl:Susan Murphy,;https://library.usask.ca/hsl/staff head of the University of Saskatchewan's Health Sciences Library, in an email. "The way the costs of publishing are paid for is going through a change," BMC's publisher linkurl:Matthew Cockerill;http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/about/whoweare told __The Scientist__. "It is a change, and that change has knock-on implications for how funds are allocated to cover those costs." The University of Calgary is one institution that is experimenting with new ways to cover those costs. In 2007, after BMC changed its price structure, Calgary saw its BMC bill soar from around $5,000 to $50,000. That spelled the end of their pre-pay membership to BMC. "From a library point of view, any product that goes up that amount in one year makes itself a candidate for cancelation," said serials librarian linkurl:Andrew Waller.;http://www.blogger.com/profile/02108213504285849284 The university did try to soften the financial blow of publishing in BMC and other open access journals, however. The library set aside C$100,000 ($77,000) from its annual budget for an "open-access authors fund" to cover per-article author charges -- the first such fund in Canada, and only the sixth of its kind in the world. "Our researchers are coming to us and saying, 'I have to make this freely available -- how do I do that?'" said Waller. The authors fund provided an answer. "It's a pretty good start, I think," Waller added. "It's a soft launch. We're taking things somewhat easy. But the plan is for [the fund] to continue into the next budget year." Such experiments are likely going to get more common. Indeed, similar funds now exist at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Tennessee, UC Berkeley, and the University of Amsterdam, among others. "We need to get the business model and infrastructure right," said Shieber. "One way or another, we'll figure out the right way to do it."
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Yale dumps BioMed Central;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53450/
[31st July 2007]*linkurl:Open access 2.0;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/53781/
[November 2007]*linkurl:Economics of open access;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/21548/
[22nd August 2003]