An introduction to Open Access for academics

This is a draft of my chapter on Open Access for the Legal Academics’ Handbook, which is due to be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015.  I would be grateful for any feedback, either via commenting below, or by email.

How does academic publishing work?

Academics are employed by universities, and as part of their job, they read each others’ scholarly writings and produce research outputs of their own.  Scholarly works in the form of journal articles or books are published by commercial publishers.   In this chapter, I will often refer to articles, but the principles apply to a range of formats.  Commercial publishers provide an editorial process and meet costs of production, and then make journals and books available to read for payment: typically a one-off cost for books and individual articles, or a subscription for journals.  The work of the academics in writing research outputs and providing peer review is not paid by the commercial publisher, but is considered part of their salaried employment at their university.

This is the traditional (or legacy) model of academic publishing.  For some time, it has been challenged on the following points:

  1. Costs of production are falling as academic publishing moves online.
  2. Costs of library subscriptions to academic journals have been increasing well above the rate of inflation (this is referred to as the serials crisis)
  3. The traditional model usually involves academics signing over their intellectual property rights to the commercial publisher, which means that they no longer own the copyright in their work, and cannot legally distribute copies of their own work outside the publisher’s framework, e.g. by placing a PDF of their paper on their own website
  4. Pressure to include re-usable datasets in scientific papers, allowing the methodology to be scrutinised and tested.
  5. The pay-to-access model excludes many potential readers.  Even those with university affiliations and access to their university’s print and electronic journal collection find that they do not have access to every article in their field (as the serials crisis grows, libraries have to cut subscriptions as costs escalate and budgets shrink).  Other disenfranchised potential readers include researchers in developing economies, researchers in the UK who do not have a university connection, retired academics, staff and students in schools and/or further education, and other interested lay persons.
  6. Increasing demand for the products of publicly-funded research (in the form of UK HE academics’ salaries) to be freely available to be read by taxpayers who funded the research activity in the first place.

The Open Access (OA) movement challenges this traditional academic publishing model.  An article that is OA can be freely accessed, shared and reused by anyone in the world via the internet, with a subscription or login.  Open Access removes barriers of cost (subscriptions or pay-per-view fees) and barriers of permission (copyright, licencing restrictions).

What is OA?

The traditional publishing model relies on denying access to knowledge.  At the heart of OA is the idea that the scholarly research outputs should be available to read online without payment (gratis open access) and that the outputs are licensed to share and re-use, with attribution (libre open access).

Here is the definition from the Budapest Open Access Initiative:

By “open access” to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.

Gratis open access addresses the challenge of pay-to-read publishing.  Just as important, the libre element of OA means that the intellectual property rights of the document remain with the author (rather than being signed away to the commercial publisher); that the work can be indexed by computers (allowing the full text to be used by an internet search engine or research database); and that users can legally link to, download, and share the document.

OA is possible via two routes: gold, in which the published edition of a work is available from the publisher’s website; and green, in which the final copy of the published work is available under OA licence from a repository.  A repository is a database of research outputs, typically organised by institution (e.g. a university), or by subject (e.g. bepress Legal Repository).

The difference between the gold and green routes is whether OA is provided by the journal itself, or by a repository.  It is not a measure of quality.

As the model of academic publishing changes, new funding streams are being explored, including:

  1. institutional support
  2. research centre & society partnerships
  3. research funding subsidy
  4. library expenditure
  5. direct publication charges such as article processing charges (APCs)

Some of these also challenge the for-profit business model of commercial publishers.

Drivers for OA

The main driver for open access is the 2012 Finch Report, which mandated that all UK publicly-funded research outputs be free to access, with gold OA as the preferred route.

Post-REF2014, research outputs submitted to the research assessments process must be accessible from the author’s institutional repository.

Furthermore, universities are increasingly developing their own OA policies.

Therefore, authors are likely to find that they are obliged to publish OA by their research funder, the demands of the REF, and their institution.

Commercial publishers understand that academics are under pressure to publish OA, and are providing OA options.  However, the Finch Report did not specify that OA had to be libre as well as gratis.  The Finch Report favoured gold over green as the preferred route to OA, and recommended that this would be funded by APCs.  The Finch Panel involved a number of representatives from the world of commercial publishing.

The major difference between these and “born-OA” methods is that commercial publishers seek to maintain their revenue (for example, Elsevier reported a 36 percent profit on revenues of $3.2 billion in 2010), and so are charging for OA in the form of article processing charges or APCs.  The author pays the APC – this may be handled by their institution, often the library; or by their funding body – and their work becomes gratis OA.  It is worth noting that is usually isn’t libre OA, as the author still signs away their copyright and the article isn’t licensed for sharing and re-use.  Another option offered by commercial publishers is to allow green OA after an embargo period.  This achieves the letter of gratis OA, but not the spirit; as current access to the article is only for those with subscriptions, leaving the rest to wait until the embargo has passed before being able to read the content.

It is foreseen that there will be a transitional period as traditional publishers move from subscriptions revenue to an APC-funded model.

During this time, university libraries will have to pay journal subscriptions as well as APCs, putting yet more pressure on already-squeezed budgets.  Commercial publishers will benefit, as they will receive income from both subscriptions and APCs.  Some have promised to reduce subscriptions in proportion to APC revenue, but nonetheless it seems likely that a “double-dipping” dual revenue will develop during the transitional period.

Additional APC funding is being provided to research-intensive institutions from central public funds, reinforcing a cycle of research success and making it even harder to develop new research nuclei (at newer universities, for example).

The value of a journal is often measured by impact factor (particularly in the fields of sciences and medicine).  Impact factor is a metric which is itself the product of a commercial body, Thomson Reuters.  Impact factor is a measure of a journal’s readership and frequency of citation of its articles.  Impact factor is coming under increasing criticism for its reliability, susceptibility to manipulation, and competition from alternative measurements such as Article-Level Metrics (ALMs).

Having a paper published in a high-profile, big brand journal is still an attractive prospect for academics (and is perceived to be necessary to gain tenure or REF status) and this is a powerful factor keeping academics tied into commercial publishers.

OA journals are sometimes criticised for having poor peer review processes.  However, problems with peer review are found in both OA and traditional journals, and the peer review process is not related to whether a journal is OA or not.

As well as the pressure to publish OA, there are also more positive reasons for authors to embrace OA:

  • OA allows you a broader readership, including input from non-academics.  This is particularly useful in Law, a discipline which naturally intersects with many fields of public interest and policy.
  • making your research OA maximises the impact of your work, and gives you a citation advantage, as no-one is prevented by a paywall from reading it, and therefore citing it in their research.
  • reader interaction – a libre OA licence allows you to track sharing of and commenting on your work by others, and the opportunity to respond and engage.  Born-OA journals are particularly good at building in this functionality, which is completely absent from traditional journal publishing.
  • born-OA journal platforms allow you greater use of web technology in your writing, such as embedding multimedia and links to other articles, statistics, and reports.
  • using libre OA articles allows you to easily re-use (with automatic attribution) and cite the work of others in your writing.
  • libre OA allows you to retain the intellectual property rights in your own work.
  • OA brings the linking and indexing power of the internet to your research.  It is in effect the Electronic Enlightenment for knowledge.

Find out what (if any) are your obligations to your institution and your funding body (if different from your institution); and your involvement in next REF (2020, at the time of writing).

Most UK HE institutions now have a repository.  Find out who manages yours – they will be an excellent source of information and advice.

Once your obligations have been met, other decisions about OA publication are yours.  Access to, licensing of, and funding for scholarly research and its outputs is largely determined by academics, whose decisions about where to publish their work, and which works to include in reading lists for students, are without doubt the strongest drivers in this field.

Links/further reading

Official opening of the new University of Sunderland interfaith chaplaincy centre

Interfaith Chaplaincy CentreToday, I attended the official opening of the new University interfaith chaplaincy centre.  The Centre is in Wearbank House, Charles St, just next to St Peter’s Campus, and historic St Peter’s Church.

The new Centre provides prayer spaces (including separate facilities for Muslim women and men).  There is also a library, which has DVDs and a DVD player, as well as books.
2014-03-12 10.08.29

And quiet spaces to sit and think.  A vase of yellow roses gave a warm, contemplative feeling to this room:

2014-03-12 10.08.03Various members of the Chaplaincy Team and religious leaders were involved in the opening ceremony.  However, this facility is more than a religious space – it’s a place where students and staff can step away from the rush and pressure of academic or work life and pause to reflect, and to meet.

I heard that there are plans to include a variety of cultural events at the Centre, and I think this is a perfect hub for the nurturing and development of the souls/spirits of all of us who are involved in the life of the University.

I am full of joy to be heading back to Finland this summer!

Flag of Suomi/FinlandFor one week in June 2014, I will be taking part in Helsinki University Library’s International Staff Exchange Week (ISEW) Library programme.  The ISEW programme involves bringing together colleagues from Erasmus partner universities to network, benchmark and share their expertise.

It’s going to be a week of library visits, meetings, presentations, making friends, eating as many pulla as I can, loooooong days… And don’t forget the Moomins!  Judging from feedback from last year’s participants, it’s going to be brilliant.  Here is more info about the 2014 programme, including preliminary timetable.

I’m so thrilled to be chosen, and am hugely looking forward to it.  Just 101 days to go…

For happy memories of my last visit to Suomi, see my posts from the IFLA information literacy conference which took place in Tampere in 2012.

Resource discovery systems and usage statistics

Storify record of discussion on Twitter this morning about the recently-released UKSG report Impact of library discovery technologies:2014.01 Storify RDS

Please click through to the full Storify (sorry, I can’t get it to embed in WordPress).

I think Ben has summed it up well: a scientific approach is at odds with giving students the best chance of succeeding at university, and using the full range of resources (which also gives them skills for further study and/or employment).  Ethically, we can’t create a control group of students who only use traditional library search tools, and not the RDS, in order to compare their usage and learning outcomes with a parallel group using the RDS.

KBPlus Day: a festival of #kbplus

On Thursday 12th December, I arranged for a small group of librarians from the universities of Sunderland and Newcastle to get together to explore JISC‘s KnowledgeBase+ (KB+) together (here is the original invitation!).  We all had some role in subscriptions and subscriptions, and although we had some knowledge of the tool, we knew we needed to spend some time using it, to help us understand what it does (and does not) do.  Thus, KB+ Day was born!

On Twitter, we used the hashtag #kbplus as it’s not possible to use the + symbol in a hashtag.  First, time to gather some, er, essentials:
KB 1

The plan had been to work through the KB+ support documentation; but on the day, we chose to project the live site onto a wall and review the main sections collaboratively.  Added to that, I used Twitter to record our discussion and ask questions (many thanks to Owen Stephens, Damyanti Patel, Dave Pattern and others for their replies and retweets).  This proved to be an excellent combination of face-to-face, real-time interaction; and remote input from others with expert knowledge, experience of the system, and contacts for other people who are already using KB+.

Having logged in successfully, we started with the KB+ Dashboard:


There, we met our first challenge: on the To Do list was a renewal for JSTOR A&S V – but not II, III , or VIII (all were purchased together).  Also odd that JSTOR A&S V shows at all, as we hadn’t added it to KB+ as one of our subscribed collections (paid for by Uni but not library).  Owen explained that “we don’t (yet) include any renewal triggers in ToDo list – just changes to subscribed packages”.  And all these alerts show in your To Do list regardless of your institution’s subscriptions portfolio.

Under Renewals > Import Renewals, we wondered how tight the formatting needs to be:

Upload renewals worksheetOwen replied that formatting for the renewals spreadsheet has to be as downloaded – otherwise won’t upload correctly.  That sounds straightforward, and it’s nice to have the required fields made clear.

As our discussion progressed we wondered if KB+ underestimated the range of individual subscriptions that uni libraries have?  Although most of our content comes from nationally-negotiated bundled journal deals with large publishers, we also have numerous smaller and single-title agreements.  We agreed that any workflow for migrating from our current in-house systems to KB+ would involve a good return of benefit for time spent at the start of the process, by adding bundles, but that there would be a long tail of time and effort involved in a complete migration to KB+.

Many universities also have complex arrangements between libraries & departments about subscriptions & payments, as not all content is paid for and managed by a cental library service.  This means that the library doesn’t have a complete overview of subscriptions, and associated admin logins and other related details.  They also may not be informed when subscriptions start or lapse, making it hard to build a complete picture of a university’s e-resources portfolio in a single management interface such as KB+.

AnnouncementsDiscussionsNext, we looked at the automated announcements section of KB+, and wondered if it would be possible to set up alerts/RSS?

The announcements list is not tailored to our existing collections, and we suggested this to KB+ as a possible enhancement.

There are too many announcements to keep track of, so a tailored list would help librarians zero in on what’s relevant to them.

It seems that a new Discussion is automatically launched for every Announcement – think we are already feeling the info overload!

Search and filter

Now looking at Licences.  Site functionality allows you to view current licences and add new ones:

LicencesNo  current licences are showing under my login, becuase there are already some subscriptions attached to my account, the licences need to be added separately (I had previously thought that this was automatic) and then linked together.  As Owen explained

a subscription is ‘empty’ until you add packages to it – and you don’t have to add packages to a subscription.  When you link/add a ‘package’ to a subscription then you have choice of adding all titles or not.  This would make sense when single licence and single start/end date for same package from same supplier.  A single subscription could have multiple packages – e.g. your JSTOR example could be done as 1 subscription.

Workflow for a bundle: add a subscription, then a package, then a title list.  It’s similar to switching on access in the admin interface of link resolver software.

Input from Owen: Manage > All Titles is all titles in KB+ – not tailored to you – use to find titles and packages they belong to.  To see tailored info: Manage > Institution Name > Titles – single list of all subscribed titles

It would be useful to be able to click on a subscribed title & see all possible access routes (with current one highlighted) – this would allow us to compare packages easily! Find matches, overlaps.  IE is ‘Issue Entitlement’ – essentially ‘our entitlement to a journal in this package’ – see the Concepts and Terminology section of the support documentation for a guide to some KB+ jargon.

Summary of the KB+ data model:KB 4Ooh! Manage > Uni of S > Titles > Full Issue Entitlement Details > then can see overlap between packages!  For an individual title, if Embargo = Empty – not sure if field incomplete, or that no embargo exists.  Looking at entitlement details for “Gender, Place & Culture” – we can see stats from JUSP!

JUSPJUSP stats for this title are for any/all platforms for specified title, not just within particular package.  That’s why JUSP stats showing figures for JR1 (current) and JR1a (archive) even though viewing title through archive package.  From Owen: JUSP stats are at level of ‘provider+title’ not ‘package+title’ so e.g. if you get a title from JSTOR and from Publisher, Publisher stats don’t appear on JSTOR IEs and vice versa.

Now looking at our Organisation Information under Manage > Uni of S:

Other org links

KB 2

Now looking at Manage > Uni of S > Generate Renewals Worksheet:

Generate renewals

Expecting to see a list of when renewals are due, but seems to be massive generic list?  Maybe we have to manually create our own?

KB 3

Owen says: the Renewals list is not a list of subs for renewal, but to help you renew a specific package/subscription.  See the Renewing a Subscription section on the support pages:KB 5

Among our group, there is a feeling that all this seems like more work than the familiar, low-tech card index with renewal dates and payment info (plus spreadsheets) which many of us currently use.  We know that once all our info is on KB+, it will have wider benefits, but there’s a lot of work to do to make that happen.

Subscriptions: well, we had hardly begun, before an intense debate about the meaning of “subscription” developed, with reference to definition in KB+ support!

KB 6

Owen replied quickly: thanks – have removed that duplicate content!  … KB+ subscription has a single licence, a single start/end date and a single vendor (if you record vendors), but beyond that, there is no strict definition.  Subscriptions are to some extent up to institution to decide how they group stuff – we don’t dictate this :)

A great benefit of getting folks together from different unis meant we couldcompare how subs look in different KB+ accounts.

KB 7

Owen says: not quite re Subs without Packages.  Sometimes the Sub doesn’t need a title list as might represent e.g A&I db [abstracting & indexing database].

Playing with adding subscriptions:

KB 8

This turned out to be caused by user error rather than a problem with the system, but I’ve kept it in the story as I think it’s a lovely photo!

Soon, we turned to the whiteboard to pin down some thoughts about the relationship between subscriptions, packages, and entitlements.  After several trial attempts:

KB 9

This was a good example of how experimenting with the system was a much more powerful learning experience than simply reading through the support documentation.

We felt that populating KB+ felt like duplicating the link resolver, then adding licence info, and wondered if KB+ could have done a deal with link resolver companies to draw all their info from KB, and therefore have the hard-won core of info serving multiple purposes.

On Twitter, Dave joined in: I think we’re pushing data from KB+ into our vendor KB, so not having to duplicate effort – this work is being done by Graham Stone‘s team.  Owen said that KB+ are working with GOKb [Global Open KnowledgeBase] which will populate knowledgebase – challenging but not impossible; and that KB+ currently support exports of institutional data from KB+ to link resolvers so shouldn’t need to duplicate work.

I wondered if there was a potential conflict of commercial, proprietary interests, and those of lib/info managers when designing KB+?

Big jobDave: Not sure it’s any more work than populating an ERM? Getting your electronic house in order is important for moving forward

I asked him if he uses this mechanism for all link resolver content, or only NeSLI2 resources?  Dave: I’m guessing just for the resources in KB+ but it means our info in vendor KB is more accurate for regional deals.  But, yep, I guess if you’ve not looked at using an ERM [e-resources management system] before, it’ll seem like a lot of work… I’m guessing it’s still early days for some of this stuff, but I think our staff are very pleased with KB+ -  which is good to know; that’s encouraging :)

Damyanti: I would hope with community collaboration maintenance for some collections will be easier.

I agree, once local account has been populated. But overhead of adding data and adapting workflow is considerable.

Damyanti: yes I think it’s one of those areas where large amount of work at beginning with benefits more in the long term.  Also might be worth emailing to see if we can help in initial load (and Owen offered: Jisc Collections staff can help with getting subscriptions populated initially).


To what extent can KB+ completely replace our homegrown methods of managing our e-resources?  Dave recommended the JISC HIKE [Huddersfield, Intota, Knowledge Base Plus Evaluation] page (choose KB+ under Categories) for further info:

KB 10Owen says there is no getting away from work involved but we continue to work to make it easier & requests for improvements are very welcome.

We are now looking at financial info (costs and payment) – is it already possible to add this?  Owen replied that there are no fields for financial/cost information in KB+ currently – only place I can think for cost/finance information currently would be via Notes (or Docs).

Ah, so it couldn’t be readily queried or compared… too complicated? Or do vendors not want to encourage us to record?  Owen said that finance is simply complex – as soon as we start have to deal with VAT, exchange rates, local budget codes, etc.  We do have a requirement to support some financial data prob via local user defined fields in roadmap.

Section on “data transformations” seems to be about piping info to other systems. Is there a way to extract data as a report?  Owen asked what kind of reports are you interested in?  My example: groups of subscriptions relevant to particular subject area (identified by subject tags in Notes?) – the ability to tag subscriptions with subject words, as this would be a great help when doing subscriptions reviews – allows us to subdivide by subject.

Oooh, we like the “ONIX-PL Licence Comparison” feature! It compares usage permissions across licences:

ComparisonCan the “ONIX-PL Licence Comparison” feature do the same for authorised users?  Owen said that extending comparison to other parts of licence definitely in the works – I replied that this would be an excellent enhancement which we could make use of the moment it’s live! :)

We like integration of JUSP stats in #kbplus!

KB 11Owen: in case you haven’t see JUSP stats also appear in Renewals spreadsheet so you have on hand for decision making

Seems that potential of KB+ will be revealed once early adopters have done much of the legwork.  How about a #kbplus bootcamp? We could go to (e.g.) Huddersfield to see what they do, & maybe have visit from @damyantipatel or @ostephens?  Damyanti replied: great idea, we are hoping to do some KB+ days next year, getting folk together to share experiences, and KB+ is also joining in some of the ‘ making the most of @JUSPSTATS events.

Does anyone know if #kbplus can feed into Alma?  Owen: we have been working with Ex Libris but focused on SFX integration in first stage.


You’re welcome!  And thanks Owen for creating this Storify of all the #kbplus tweets.

Tips for better blogging

A group of us met today for a session about better blogging – a forum for sharing ideas and best practice, rather than an expert presentation approach.  The members of the group all worked for the library service, in a variety of roles, and some (but not all) were responsible for maintaining subject liaison blogs.

We started with some small-group discussion on the following topics:

What do I want from my blog?

Responses included: a communication channel, an alternative to email, a place to communicate less formally, a mechanism for reaching both students and academic staff, a platform for publishing instructions/FAQs.  In general, the tone aimed to be informative and friendly.

What type of content do I post?

Some examples were: news, events, instructions (e.g. logging in), recycling of content from the library website (e.g. learning spaces, opening hours), special campaigns or promotions.  Some blogs had static pages as well as the usual dynamic front page (and this was used like a LibGuide).

How effective is my blog?

This was a question that elicited further questions rather than definitive answers!  As well as quantitative statistics (whether obtained via the blogging platform itself, or Google Analytics), we talked about the importance of qualitative feedback and value.  Furthermore, even if the stats are good, are the ‘right’ people reading it?

Strategy, planning, and evaluation

In order to evaluate the effectiveness of our blogs, it’s important to start with a strategy (why am I doing this?), back it up with a plan of action (when, how?), and then look at impact (what, and on whom).

Use a diary approach to plan posts – this helps to get good mix of different types of content, and means that you don’t have to spend time every week thinking of what to post.

Blogging plan

Example blog plan for one academic year

Over the year, block in specific campaigns or publicity drives, and seasons such as freshers and dissertations.  You can auto-schedule posts to publish on specific days to cover periods when you will be away, or busy with other projects.  Get ideas by following other blogs.

From time to time, review your blog to assess its total impact, and its specific effect on your target audience.  Use this information to decide which approaches/content to keep and which to abandon, and see the effect of trying new things.


We then condensed our ideas about aims, content, media, and measurable outcomes.  Here are some ideas for each:

Ideas for aim, content, media, and outcomes

Ideas for aim, content, media, and outcomes

In combination with your annual plan, you can inject some variety by choosing an item at random from each column to come up with a fresh approach for one of your blogging strands.

See also: Social media strategy (2010)