A network for new and aspiring library professionals
This event, held at the University of Liverpool began with a presentation (“Open Access and the brief opportunity we have to change the world”) by Phil Sykes (University Librarian, University of Liverpool). Phil began his presentation by encouraging us to think beyond the distinctions of green and gold and focus on the end goal which is cost-effective open access (OA). He continued by saying that the distinction between instant and delayed access is crucial in particular disciplines i.e. biosciences where half of the downloads will take place in the first three months of publication, therefore, a long embargo period wouldn’t be useful! Furthermore, text mining techniques are important to make connections in some disciplines.
Phil then ran through the history of open access, informing us that open access took off at the start of the century after a push towards repositories and mandates from universities and funding bodies such as Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the HE Funding Council (HEFCE). However, despite this push, output was low with only 2.7% of articles going into institutional repositories. One prohibitor to the vast take up of OA, according to Phil, was the Labour administration at the time, who were hostile to OA. However, this changed with David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, who at a high-level round-table meeting, in March 2011, questioned why open access had been so slow and asserted that making a dynamic intervention was to be the way forward. Consequently, the Finch Group was established; made up of representatives of the HE sector, research funders, the research community, scholarly publishers, and libraries. One of the key recommendations of the Finch report was that funding should be found to stimulate OA.
Phil told us that the report was criticised for being lukewarm about green open access and having an insufficiently robust approach to publishers. Despite this, the report was acted on quite quickly e.g. RCUK who stated that 100% of the output had to be published on a gold OA basis. This caused panic among finance directors as more money would be needed with no extra funding. In contrast, HEFCE took a more cautious approach to the report.
Phil stressed that there are a number of obstacles to overcome to achieve meaningful OA, which include: complacency – there is a push for this at the moment but it mustn’t be overlooked; settling for nominal OA; publisher avarice making gold unscalable – because of unreasonable costs, it could be a lot cheaper than it is now and we have the potential to do this via an offset model; academic apathy – hostility to sharing information in a competitive (funding driven) environment) and being too doctrinaire – we need to see the potential of green/gold for different disciplines rather than being too fundamental.
The presentation concluded with Phil stating that the free flow of information, which the triumph of open access will achieve, will see medical advances in addition to different areas of society achieving equality of information. This can be evidenced by Access to Research where articles are available, free of charge, in participating public libraries across the UK; another initiative by the Finch Group.
After a short break, Cathy Urquhart (Head of Research, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU)) and Ruth Jenkins (Head of Library Services, MMU) then began their presentation (“Open Access: the tipping point for universities?”). Cathy gave an overview and explained that responding to challenges depends on how much money you have and at MMU the funding received was low, in terms of the cost of implementing OA. MMU’s policy is to go green unless gold can be funded or a case made for gold. The anxieties at MMU are: how to be fair and transparent to colleagues to ensure that access to publication is distributed equally; how the case can be made for gold if resources are limited; how to do it fairly; and how to ensure academic freedom to publish without affecting people’s career trajectories in a negative way. Cathy asserted that there was a need to empower academics to take ownership of their publications and that there is a positive correlation between citations and open access.
Ruth then talked about Diffusion of Innovations and applied this to open access looking at the five key stages:
Innovation – is it better? – Ruth thinks so; is it easy to understand? – not as easy as it could be but it is our role to explain the benefits and how it works; is it easy to try out? – again not as easy as it might be because of unfriendly interfaces and anxieties about IP; is it easily available? – green is but due to funding restrictions gold may not be for everyone.
The decision making process – does it long time to decide whether to adopt or not?; will an author-final copy still exist as lead-in time for research publications can be several years; and is it worth paying Article Processing Charges (APCs) for gold access retrospectively?
What are the communication channels within the community? – how to get the open access message across to academics?
How innovative is the culture? – essentially how open are people to change?; how much integration is there between different cultures with different ideas?
Are there any change agents involved? – in this case, yes funders (RCUK, Wellcome) and government – Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS). Ruth also stated that change agents within the research communities (e.g. Academia.edu and ResearchGate) and Higher Education institutions could be even more powerful.
As Ruth has not been at MMU for very long she spoke about her previous role at Loughborough University, stating low citation rate was the impetus for OA at Loughborough. A big push on all fronts (senior staff including the Vice Chancellor, academics and the library) delivered a lot for green OA at Loughborough; consequently there is a lot of current and recent content (more than 13,700 items, most of which are full text) in their institutional repository. The combination of different members of staff in the push for OA improved the visibility of the project as there was clear backing from the senior staff, enabling the academics to become actively involved and thus more likely to take ownership and also enabled the library to advocate their role in OA.
So, how is MMU responding to the challenge? They are advocating green access rather than exclusively gold as it is more cost effective (they are aware of the downside of this including embargo periods, uncertainty over whether academics are paying for open access separately without informing the university); encouraging academics to self-archive their pre-publication version in the institutional repository and there is a push to get Symplectic and the repository to work together; and setting up and managing an APC fund – Ruth asserted that this is something the library needs to do as they are in a good position to negotiate deals as they handle the current subscriptions. With the APC fund the university will be able to prevent academics from paying for OA separately where there is a deal in place or will be able to negotiate a better deal for them. As mentioned by Cathy, there is a huge disparity in funding and MMU does not receive a large amount.
The benefits of OA to academics vary from discipline to discipline, such as the importance of a digital profile which is more prominent in younger researchers. Demonstration of impact, indicated by the number of downloads, is also key.
Ruth and Cathy emphasised the critical role of the library and the need for as many people as possible in the library service to know the main points about OA and who to refer to, if necessary, to help colleagues make informed decisions. Altmetrics were mentioned, in particular how OA will change the existing metrics.