Open Access Realities – my notes from @UKSG one-day conference

My notes from a one-day conference in London earlier this month, organised by UKSGPapers from the day’s talks are now available at Insights, the UKSG journal, which is now OA and no APCs! 🙂

Damian Pattinson, PLoS One: How are publishers and institutions placed to “really do” OA?

Open Access Map charts the global growth and development of open access (OA) journals.  The annual number of OA articles published is also growing exponentially.

OA works for institutions

  • visibility: media attention, wider dissemination of research, exposure for search beyond the academy
  • measurability: usage, citation, social sharing metrics fully available on each paper
  • article-level metrics (ALM) – example from PLoS One for one article:

1 PLoS One metricsArticle views and downloads, and social media stats:
1 PLoS One social metrics“I look at ALM and Impact Factor disappears.”

Where the article was published becomes unimportant.  Downloading to Mendeley is an early indicator of citation

“Resetting the relationship between publishers and institutions – we now have the opportunity to get publishing working for institutions.  It’s been the other way around for a while.”

The challenges of growth – for publishers

Concept of a megajournal – a term which I take to mean a high-volume online-only journal.  Some (but not all) are OA.  They may have a broad remit it terms of subjects covered e.g. life sciences rather than one subsection thereof.

A major challenge is that of being overwhelmed by papers.

  1. Maintaining quality: upfront checks of competing interests, financial disclosures, ethical oversight. International growth has led to more variation in research and publication ethics, e.g. Animal-related policies. Greater visibility and size means more risk.
  2. Maintaining quality – peer review.  PLoS One receives approx 2,000 referee reports every week! Reviewer fatigue is a growing problem.  They are exploring third party and portable peer review options.  Portable peer review means that if an article has been rejected from one journal because it was not suitable (rather than not good), its earlier peer review comments may be re-used for submission to another journal.
  3. Technical infrastructure: custom taxonomy and categorisation systems;matching papers to people;contributor engagement and education; consolidation of editorial procedures and processes. These things don’t run themselves – can’t leave it up to the academics

Where and when to spend the funds

  • allowing authors to choose where to publish (then find a way to make it compliant with RCUK mandate)
  • getting the message out [glad it’s not just me!].  UCL’s booklet on Open Access was recommended – it doesn’t seem to be available online but here is their OA FAQ.
  • ensuring publisher compliance – could pay money and publisher still puts the article behind a paywall!
  • avoid a return to the old days of bundle packages

Collaboration vs Competition

  • need for shared infrastructure.  To really work for institutions, publishers need to work together
  • need for competition to drive service.  Lots of competition now in megajournal world

The future

  • will institutions go beyond the mandates to realise the full potential of OA?  Need to really understand the research that is going on and how to support it
  • can we convince authors to look beyond the Impact Factor?

“Impact Factor is the scourge of the industry”

  • a bold new world, or a replaying of the subscriptions era?
  • the institutions currently hold the cards, will they use them to their advantage?

Related to Impact Factor, see the San Francisco Declaration – the declaration ‘states that the impact factor is not to be used as a substitute “measure of the quality of individual research articles, or in hiring, promotion, or funding decisions”‘.

Lars Bjørnshauge, SPARC Europe and DOAJ: Make Open Access work!  The moment of truth for academic libraries

“The current system does not serve the needs of research.”

The new system is currently called OA.  There are high expectations of academic libraries.  Can we achieve this reorganisation before someone else tells us how to do it?  It is no longer a question of whether we should have OA – it is now a question of how we make it work.

Green OA good for promoting OA, but Lars sees it as a transitional tool, because the Green OA model depends on the current subscription model, rather than challenging it.

Deposit policies are not commitments, and can change at discretion of publishers.  Explicit support of the hybrid model has seen publishers extending embargo periods.  Support for hybrid isn’t supporting the move to OA, it’s opening up additional revenue to the publishers.

Post-Finch, “The UK Experiment” is now unfolding.  Can libraries collaborate to free up resources?  Lars is not convinced that double-dipping [where publishers accept payment-to-publish as well as payment-for-access, therefore charging twice] is not taking place.

Reallocation of library budget from funds for subscriptions to funds for APCs [article processing charges].  But how?  It’s up to libraries to make it happen.  Libraries are in an extremely difficult position: already stretched budgets, and some are stuck in straightjacket of Big Deals.  Competition for funds to support OA in departments puts yet more pressure on libraries.

The Two Cultures in libraries – licensing managers, and OA advocates.  Two tracks: work on licensing, and get best deal for users; or work on OA, and get most benefit for the university (and for society).

Maybe the solution lies in efficiency gains: move work away from local level?  Staff resources are needed for monitoring journal usage; meeting academics, publishers; authentication and access – all this is duplicated at every university.  There is hardly any selection any more – most purchasing is done through consortia – so the same work is duplicated.

“Could universities give up some autonomy and control to manage these things at national level?”

This would free up resources to drive forward OA at local level, which almost everyone wants.  Libraries  should have the self-confidence to be bolder in their advice about what will work, and to ask for help and support to achieve what stakeholders expect (move funds from old system to new).

Publishers are important, but their role has to change.  They are no longer defining rules of the game.  It used to be that service providers would tell academics how system is going to work.

Research funded upfront; dissemination thereof is not.  It is outsourced to learned societies and then to commercial publishers.

“Publishers are just doing what businesses do: exploiting circumstances to maximise profits.”

Outsourcing programmes should be based on clear expectations from service purchaser, not on terms dictated by service provider.

Michael Jubb, Research Information Network: Finch one year on – a review of progress

Finch was a compromise, trying to balance interests of different players in the scholarly publishing system.  Accessibility, sustainability, excellence.


  • Balanced package of moves towards gold, green, extensions to licensing
  • Clear policy direction towards gold, with better funding arrangements
  • Minimise restrictions on reuse
  • Develop repository infrastructure
  • Caution about limitations on embargoes
  • Future negotiations on subscriptions to take account of growth in APC revenues
  • Expand and rationalise licensing, esp beyond universities system e.g. NHS


Since the Government’s acceptance of the recommendations, RCUK policies have been formulated, there have been consultations on REF, and two parliamentary enquiries.  There is real momentum, but mixed progress.  A lively debate – sometimes driven by entrenched attitudes?

“There is an imbalance between work to increase access to UK-authorised publications across the world, and access to publications from other countries. “

With such a rapid pace of change, attention to detail is important, and are we keeping everyone on board?

There has been real progress in deposit of full-texts in IRs.  Is Green with short/no embargoes the cheap option?  Is Gold the sustainable option?  And what is the position of hybrid journals?

“If the UK moves ahead too fast, it will bear the brunt of the costs.”


Principles for setting embargoes:

  • Half lives
  • Disciplinary differences
  • Protection for learned societies – a separate but important issue

Copyright and licences

Controversy over CC-BY, and perceived loss of control [my view is that current situation already involves massive loss of control – signing over copyright to publishers].

Starting in December 2013, there will be a 2-year pilot to allow free, walk-in access to journals and conference proceedings (from participating publishers) to users in public libraries across the UK.

“The Finch Report recommended that major subscription-based publishers should license public libraries throughout the UK to provide access to peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, free of charge, for ‘walk-in’ users at library premises.

The aim is that provision through public libraries in this way will enhance the ‘walk-in’ access already available at university libraries, and would enable anyone to have free access to a wealth of journal articles and conference proceedings at their local public library.”

However, there has been little progress with libraries in the NHS, voluntary organisations, or SMEs.  Coordination is necessary to ensure that all stakeholders are working together – perhaps there is a need for an overall co-ordinator [without a vested interest].

Adam Tickell, University of Birmingham: Open Access realities – policy into practice

The Finch Report gave great impetus to the sector.  It is taken seriously – in itself an achievement.  The point is to improve access to research done in the UK, and we are no longer arguing over whether this is a good thing.

OA must also been seen in the context of the transparency agenda.  Tony Blair: “my biggest mistake was introduction of the Freedom of Information Act“.  Transparency is especially popular with any party in opposition.  The Information Commissioner (ICo) can determine what the law (F0IA) means.  According to the Protection of Freedoms Act (2012), data must be machine-readable; PDFs are no longer acceptable.  There is also the Public Sector Transparency Board’s Open Data Institute (ODI).  So from a university point of view, OA is just another component of all this.

Challenges of transparency

  • costs
  • compliance (easy for Uni seniors to mandate, but how to do?)
  • commercial confidentiality (applies to research data)

Potential gains

  • enhanced visibility for our research – research more likely to be read, and cited
  • enhance public engagement – core to Uni mission
  • enhanced scientific capacity – benefits of open data (trials in medicine – need replication, and avoid suppression of the “wrong” results).

“The more people who can read our outputs and criticise them, the better for knowledge generally”.

Jill Russell, University of Birmingham: Practical support for OA

At Birmingham, OA is co-ordinated via library services.  Relevance of existing services and contact networks, as well as experience in copyright and licensing, and of working with publishers and agents.

The library in the C20th involved paper and a supply chain – in the C21st, it’s no longer a “dusty library”, and there are lots of servers!

The institutional repository [IR] has become the primary dissemination method for grey literature such as theses, working papers, images, datasets.  The IR provides gratis OA – this was enough of a struggle –  grateful to have a PDF if it means more people can read it.  Machine-readability and re-use [libre OA] is a goal for the future.  Gratis and libre are two degrees of OA: ‘gratis’ is no-cost online access, and ‘libre’ includes some additional usage rights.

The University’s CRIS (Current Research Information System) supports OA as they bothare relevant to Green and Gold, CRIS links info about all research activities, and metadata includes DOIs, URLs.

“CRIS is for life, not just for the REF!”

Gold OA

Jill says that the community is happy to pay a “fair price” for the cost of publishing.  They are working with partners in JISC and other consortia to get value for money, both in terms of access  and distribution.  They used data from previous publications to buy bundles of APCs for popular places to publish – “the quicker we can get work out there, the better for everyone”.  For now, they have a rirst come, first served policy.


  • fewer authors using external OA repositories than anticipated
  • access problem not readily recognised – worked hard to ensure seamless access, and this is the downside
  • publishers reacted well by offering more OA options such as hybrid journals…
  • …but some playing semantic games about whether OA mandated or not

I asked a question about how Russell Group universities appear to have accepted APCs without any discussion, though perhaps this happened internally at these institutions?  I felt that acquiescing too readily to this mechanism of funding OA would cause this to be the only way to publish OA in future, and would further squeeze out those institutions with smaller funding pools.  The reply from Adam was that the Finch mandate was premised on APCs, and this is maintained by HEFCE and research councils.

Caroline Edwards, Birkbeck, Uni of London and Open Library of Humanities: How can existing OA models work for humanities and social science research?

OLH is a megajournal and monograph pilot, designed on the scale of the humanities.  It will advocate rigorous peer review from the start – a sensitive issue in the humanities.  OLH is aiming to launch with no APCs – they are looking to build alternative business model

Caroline believes that sharing and collaboration makes research stronger – and that this is true of the  humanities as well as the STEM subjects.

There is a long tradition of sharing research in the sciences.  How can we borrow and rework these strategies in the humanities?

Alluvium is a platform for OA short-form articles, published through WordPress.  “21st C writing | 21st C approaches”.  2,000-word articles are published here, then worked up and submitted to journals, so it’s like a form of pre-prints.

“Academics are privileged to be able to give away the products of their scholarship for free – they already have a salary.”

How do we fund OA?

OA access is not free.  Options for funding include:

  1. Free labour and free submission e.g. OJS [Open Journal Systems] software, WordPress model mentioned earlier [e.g. Alluvium]
  2. Advertising revenue – not favoured by OLH, but it’s an option
  3. Pay-on-demand
  4. APCs
  5. Library consortia.  Reallocate resources to improve efficiency.  National (or larger) networks
  6. Library Partnership Subsidy (LPS) – currently developing this for OLH.  May only cost £200-300 per year, per library. Free rider problem – would some libraries not pay, as they can access for free? Recent research suggest it’s not as much of a problem as feared

International challenges

  • problem of access gaps, funding inequalities between and within different countries
  • OA is not universal access – barriers and filters, language.  OA is booming in other parts of the world e.g. Brazil, India, Egypt
  • UNESCO’s Global Open Access Portal (GOAP, 2011)
  • International Conference of African Digital Libraries & Archives (ICADLA, 2009)
  • scarcity of expertise and resources
  • issue of OA journals not being internationally recognised

Worry in humanities that OA publishing might not count for REF or tenure, so needed to get high-profile colleagues on board – see ‘About’ section of OLH website.   Need to signal that it is a prestigious, academic-led organisation, with an expanding global editorial network.

‘Humanities’ is used as very broad term, edging into social sciences e.g. legal theory, media theory.  Part of the role is to protect vulnerable and small-scale journals, which can move to the OLH platform.

Vicky Gardner, Taylor & Francis/Routledge: How are subscription publishers making the transition to OA?

We are now in the “third age” of publishing: subscriptions, site licenses, OA.  Increased focus on authors as downstream customers.  Need for publishers to offer choice to authors (service industry): trusted outlet, Green and Gold OA options, subscription option.  Must ensure sustainability of existing titles, in partnership with learned societies.

Ringgold – “Ringgold provides the institutional identifier which enables publishers and intermediaries to connect their data and strengthen the links throughout the supply chain.”

“OA is not yet a grassroots movement.”

Need to adapt to suit the needs of researchers – she is not sure yet how OA would serve those needs.


  • licensing – some academics not happy with it, perhaps because of the mandate
  • green OA – depends on subscription model to survive
  • openness
  • efficiencies

Vicky referred to a “profusion of confusion” about defining OA [perhaps because publishers probably don’t like the Budapest statement (later added to by Bethesda and Berlin)?].

For the avoidance of doubt, here is the Budapest statement’s definition of OA:

By ‘open access’… 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.

This was subsequently added to by the Bethesda and Berlin statements, which say that users must be able to “copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship.

Like many commercial publishers, T&F are doing extensive outreach.  [Librarians: we need to do this too – it’s too important to leave to those with a vested interest in maintaining revenue from OA!]

Double-dipping – subscription adjustment policy to avoid this.

“Taylor & Francis takes into account the number of open access (OA) articles published in the previous full volume year when setting subscription prices for the following year. There may be variance from one year to the next as the amount of OA content fluctuates. Despite these anomalies, we remain committed to treating the open-access revenue on our Open Select journals as a means to transition the business model, not as a means of duplicating subscription revenue (or so called “double dipping”).

We acknowledge that the worldwide benefit of an increase in open access content in subscription journals may initially be paid for by a small number of institutions at the forefront of funding open access. We are unable to offer these institutions direct substitution of OA charges for subscription fees, since our commitment to no “double dipping” means the reductions in cost need to be shared across all subscribers. We do offer institutional memberships and prepayment discounts to enable institutions to stretch their open access budgets further.”

Processing APCs is done by a specific team at T&F, and as the system is still manual, it’s less efficient than an automated system.  T&F leave the choice of Green/Gold with the author [I think this is a way of deferring the decision to someone who is more influenced by publisher’s rhetoric than any message from the Uni].

Vicky says that the strength of publishing industry is its diversity, and that it has always been able to adapt in the past.

Steve Stapleton, Open Nottingham: Knowledge without borders

OERs = open educational resources, openly-licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, educational, assessment and research purposes.

Open Nottingham is the University’s policy on OERs, and U-Now it is the University’s platform for OERs.

Xpert is a search engine for open educational resources – it stands for “Xerte Public E-learning ReposiTory” and it was a JISC-funded project.  “The aim of XPERT is to progress the vision of a distributed architecture of e-learning resources for sharing and re-use.”

The University’s strategic drive includes a social responsibility agenda, and excellence in education objective; as well as being a promotional opportunity.  It also makes cost efficiencies by reusing educational materials.  A growing number of Schools [Uni departments] are now publishing OERs e.g. module handbooks.  The University retains copyright in the material rather than signing it  over to a publisher, and there are no embargoes or APCs.

It seems that history is coming full circle as universities once again become publishers! [article on history of university presses]

See also: Future Learn initiative (MOOCs)

Peter Murray-Rust, University of Cambridge/Open Knowledge Foundation: The content mine

Peter told us about some software he has developed which “could download all yearly 2.5 million scientific publications and turn into open semantic science” – he is not legally allowed, to from a technology point of view, it is possible.

“The right to read is the right to mine.”

Peter argued that PDF format is a very bad way of distributing information, as it destroys much of the data.  Content mining makes science discoverable, allowing the extraction of facts for research, and the building of reusable objects.  Checking for errors = better science.

“We repeat about 25% of our chemistry because we didn’t know we’d done it already.”

Content mining problems are all legal/licensing, not technical.

It is really important to get people to understand the reusable aspect of OA – not just free access, but access to data files, and permission to re-use them.  Machines can spot doctoring of graphs which humans can’t see –  an example from crystallography: occlusion of spectral peaks that don’t fit required result.

Peter appealed to libraries to reject restrictions on TDM [text and data mining].

I wanted to ask Peter whether instead of reverse engineering the science from the PDF, wouldn’t it be better to campaign for publishing the article in a better format to begin with?  Although I agree with him that the licensing restrictions on TDM have many disadvantages, it does not seem right to me to deliberately flout the terms of the licence that the University has signed with the publisher.  Such an aggressive action does not seem to me to be conducive to ongoing dialogue between libraries and publishers.