Megajournals and how to spot them in the wild

The first megajournal, PLOS One, launched in 2006.  Since then, the presence of megajournals in the Open Access (OA) landscape is growing, and it’s increasingly important to know how megajournals differ from traditional journals:

  • when considering a paper for publication, peer-reviewers consider only whether it is technically sound, whereas traditional peer-review also has requirements for novelty, importance, or interest to a particular community
  • megajournals accept papers from a broad range of subjects (look out for “full spectrum”, “all areas”, “multidisciplinary”)
  • many megajournals’ funding model is to charge fees for publication – article processing charges (APCs) – and they typically charge lower APCs than traditional (hybrid) journals (average APC for full OA journal £1,354 compared with £1,882 for hybrid – Jisc data from 2014-15)

These factors lower the bar for publication and may make these journals more attractive places for researchers to publish.  You can imagine the types of arguments that ensue about whether this sets the bar too low, or helps researchers with less funding to get published; and whether the different requirements at the peer review stage allow megajournals to be flooded with poorer-quality/lower-value articles or whether it breaks the stranglehold of academic hierarchies on what counts as valid research…

If megajournals don’t limit the number of articles in each issue, there is also the potential conflict of interest arising from money to be made from every article accepted for publication.  Traditional journals usually have a limit, which (hopefully) means their APC income generated from each issue published is constant, and papers submitted are judged purely on their own merits (but what happens if the supply of high-quality papers is greater than the journal can publish?).

Some things to consider:

  • The platform (or publisher’s name) has long been considered a proxy for the quality of the research it publishes.  To what extent is this still the case?
  • How are new publications to prove their worth?  To what extent are predatory publishing practices found?
  • How are we to assess the trustworthiness of a journal?  The reputation of the peer reviewers is often the best guide, and this requires good knowledge of the field and the people involved.  This is where discussions with academics in each department are essential in establishing the value of a megajournal to a given subject area.

Think.Check.Submit. is a campaign to help researchers identify trusted journals for their research – it’s a checklist researchers can use to assess the credentials of a journal or publisher.  It has some useful questions to use as a starting point for discussions with academics about judging journal quality.

Further reading

The Legal Academic’s Handbook – now available

The Legal Academic’s Handbook, edited by Chris Ashford, Jessica Guth, has recently been published by Palgrave Macmillan.  It includes my chapter on Open Access Publishing (read my pre-print version) and I am thrilled to appear on this list of talented and experienced contributors – as Chris Newman said, “This book is our Woodstock!

Here is the complete list of chapters and contributors:

1. From Legal Practice to Academia; Karen Jones; University of South Wales, UK
2. Lectures; Anthony Bradney; Keele University, UK
3. Marking; Becky Huxley-Binns; University of Law, UK
4. Gender Issues in Teaching and Learning – difficult situations with students; Rachel Fenton; University of the West of England, UK
5. Research and Scholarship; Richard Mullender; Newcastle University, UK
6. Designing Research; Matthew Weait; Birkbeck, University of London, UK
7. Reference Writing; Gary Watt; University of Warwick, UK
8. PhD by Publication; Tim Connor; formerly of University of Bradford, UK
9. Work-Life Balance; Richard Collier; Newcastle University, UK
10. Wellbeing; Richard Collier; Newcastle University, UK
11. Managing Maternity, Paternity and Parental leave; Helen Stalford; University of Liverpool, UK
12. From Module Leadership to Course Leadership; Donna Whitehead; University of South Wales, UK
13. QAA and Validation; Graeme Broadbent; Kingston University, UK
14. Navigating University Management Committees and the Meeting Structures; Annabelle James; Teesside University, UK
15. Undertaking Peer Review; Nigel Duncan; City University London, UK
16. Open Access Publishing; Laura J. Wilkinson; University of Sunderland, UK
17. Taking on a Management Role (at another Institution); Mark O’Brien; Oxford Brookes University, UK
18. Gender Issues in HE Management; Rosemary Auchmuty; University of Reading, UK
19. Performance Review; Chris Gale; GSM London, UK
20. Being a Private University; Chris Maguire; BPP University, UK
21. Academic Dress; Jessica Guth; University of Bradford, UK
22. The Standardised Client and Clinic; Rory O’Boyle; Law Society of Ireland
23. Developing Clinic; Victoria Murray; Northumbria University, UK
24. Further Developing Street Law; Sarah Morse and Paul McKeown; Northumbria University, UK
25. Writing for a Professional Audience; John Hodgson; Nottingham Trent University, UK
26. Simulation and Legal Education; Karen Barton; University of Hertfordshire, UK
27. Large Group Teaching; Karen Devine; University of Kent, UK
28. Designing Out Plagiarism; Alison Bone; University of Brighton, UK
29. Student Feedback; Vera Bermingham; Kingston University, UK
30. Problem-Based Learning; Ben Fitzpatrick; University of Derby, UK
31. Reflection in Teaching, Learning and Practice; Richard Grimes; University of York, UK
32. Organising a Specialist Conference; Ben Livings; University of New England, Australia
33. Embedding Employability Skills (or helping graduates get jobs); Ben Middleton; University of Sunderland, UK
34. Teaching Distance Learning Students; Robert Hiscocks; BPP University, UK
35. Supporting Student Law Societies and Extra-curricular activities and students; Ed Mowlam; University of Bradford, UK
36. External Engagement – Enterprise; Christopher J. Newman; University of Sunderland, UK
37. External Examiners; Chris Gale; GSM London, UK
38. Facilitating Small Group Discussions; Francis King; University of Essex, UK
39. Innovation and the Use of Film in Legal Education; Hugo de Rijke; Plymouth University, UK
40. Approaches to Law (Socio-Legal, Black Letter etc); Kevin J. Brown; Queen’s University Belfast, UK
41. Teaching and Assessment can be Inclusive too; Jackie Lane; University of Huddersfield, UK
42. Using Animations with Students; Carol Withey; University of Greenwich, UK
43. Developing Students’ Legal Writing Skills; Lisa Webley; University of Westminster, UK
44. Working with the Library; Emily Allbon; City University London, UK
45. Engaging with Schools and Prospective Students; Jessica Guth; University of Bradford, UK
46. Building a Research Profile; Rosemary Hunter; Queen Mary University of London, UK
47. Post Graduate Certificates in Higher Education; Jessica Guth; University of Bradford, UK
48. The EdD Experience; Elizabeth Mytton; Southampton Solent University, UK
49. Social Media, Blogging and Tweeting; Paul Bernal; University of East Anglia, UK
50. Gaining Recognition For Teaching; Michael Bromby; Glasgow Caledonian University, UK
51. Legal Education Research; Fiona Cownie; Keele University, UK
52. Despite my Job or because of my Job: Impact and Research; Jane Ching; Nottingham Trent University, UK
53. Looking for an academic job? Wanting to develop your academic career?; Jon Reast; University of Bradford, UK
54. Applying for a move to a Research Intensive HEI; Jonathan Doak; Durham University, UK
55. Applying for Lectureship with PhD/Research Experience; Liz Oliver; University of Leeds, UK
56. Teaching from other people’s materials; Michael Jefferson; University of Sheffield, UK
57. Devising New Modules; David McArdle; University of Stirling, UK
58. Challenges of International Students; Deveral Capps; Leeds Beckett University, UK
59. Applying for Research Funding; Sally Wheeler; Queen’s University, Belfast, UK
60. Presenting at Conferences; Fiona Cownie; Keele University, UK
61. Preparing Journal Articles for submission; Philip A. Thomas; Cardiff University, UK
62. Book Proposals; Dave Cowan; University of Bristol, UK
63. Managing Research and Research Teams; Fiona de Londras; University of Birmingham, UK
64. Battling the Exclusive Research Culture; Chloë J. Wallace; University of Leeds, UK
65. Promotions in Higher Education; Jessica Guth; University of Bradford, UK
66. Editing Special Issues; Chris Ashford; Northumbria University, UK
67. Editorial Boards/Being an Editor; Chris Ashford; Northumbria University, UK
68. PhD supervision; Sally Wheeler; Queen’s University, Belfast, UK
69. The Law Subject Associations; Becky Huxley-Binns; University of Law, UK
70. Dealing with the Media; Paul Bernal; University of East Anglia, UK
71. Readerships/Professorships – How to Get There; Philip N.S. Rumney; University of the West of England, UK

Information on Open Access for (cycling) advocacy groups

In late 2015 I attended the ESRC Academia & Advocacy debate about cycling – an excellent day conference to “bring together researchers and advocacy groups to provide space, time and room for discussing the redefinition of the role of academic research as the interface between advocacy and activism and policy making.”

A Storify Twitter summary, slides, and recordings are available from the event’s dissemination page – as well as my contribution, Information on Open Access for cycling advocacy groups.  I wrote this in order to help people who aren’t involved in academia to search for and read Open Access research outputs.  Although written with the transport cycling interest in mind, the contents are broadly applicable.

It’s CC-licenced, so you may download, read, and reuse it as you wish, with attribution:

    • Information on Open Access for cycling advocacy groups – Word (for better text-mining)

    • Information on Open Access for cycling advocacy groups – PDF (if you don’t have MS-Word-friendly software)

Open Access Week 2015

It’s International Open Access Week (19-25 October 2015).  You can get involved by learning about OA, teaching someone else about OA, and helping out on a project.

Things to read

Things to discuss

  1. What is OA?  A simple definition is “unrestricted online access to research outputs”. There are many others. Think about why this variability exists.
  2. What does this definition mean?  Consider defining the main terms: unrestricted, online, access, research, output.
  3. Notice the absence of the word “free” from the definition. Learn about the two meanings of free – gratis, and libre.  If access is to be free, who is going to pay for it?  How much should be paid?  How much does scholarly publishing cost?  And how much is it worth?
  4. If the definition above were adopted, what barriers might still exist? Which people and what materials might be excluded?
  5. If the definition above were adopted, what would be the effects on the following? Publishers’ revenue, subscriptions contracts for libraries, inter-library loans, copyright, the role of trust in scholarly publishing, peer review, institutional repositories, resource discovery systems…

Things to do

  • Participate in the SPARC & Wikipedia Library Open Access Week Edit-a-thon – the goals are (1) to improve already existing Open Access-related pages, (2) to create new content where it needs to be added, and (3) to translate Open Access-related pages into languages where they don’t yet exist. No previous experience is required.  Get started here!
  • Find people and organisations involved in Open Access to follow on Twitter.
  • Join GOKb and add information about OA status of journals – GOKb is a “knowledge base that will describe electronic journals and books, publisher packages, and platforms… [its] enhanced data model will track changes over time, including publisher take-overs and bibliographic changes, and an expanded set of identifiers”. Thank you to Owen Stephens for this suggestion.
  • Contribute to Wikidata (thanks again to Owen for the idea) – Wikidata is “a free linked database that can be read and edited by both humans and machines”.  Find out how you can contribute, take an interactive tutorial and make your first edits, improve a random item, and organise or attend an event.

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 this 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

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.