***Daniel Whittaker assesses the viability of scholarly publishing moving to a completely OA model. Daniel is on Twitter @DanW_TEE***
According to Anderson, the term Scholarly Communication is “an umbrella term which refers to the many different ways in which authors and creators of scholarly and scientific work share information with each other and the rest of the world about the work that they are doing” (Anderson, 2018, p5). Research would mean little if it could not be disseminated to a wider community. It is for this reason that Isaac Newton declared himself to be ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ (Guédon, 2017, p4).
There are numerous methods of scholarly communication, the most notable traditionally being the academic journal and monograph. Although developments in scholarly communication have affected the monograph this essay will mainly focus on the developments which have affected the academic journal as well as surveying new methods of disseminating research. The essay aims to concentrate on developments as they have affected the sciences. A case study of how these developments have affected my workplace, Imperial College Library, will be made to illustrate the impact on academic libraries.
Developments in Scholarly Communication
Before examining the enormous changes brought upon scholarly communication by the arrival of the internet, it is worth investigating the history and outlining the status quo that had previously existed. The last great revolution in the dissemination of science, really the birth of scholarly communication as we know it, was the result of another technological innovation.
Before the invention of the printing press, disseminating scholarship entailed handwritten manuscripts. Producing these required painstaking work, they were expensive and necessarily not widely available. The printing press revolutionized scholarly communication. The cost of producing copies of work was drastically reduced. The availability of science writing encouraged a new generation of gentleman scientists who conducted experiments and shared findings with peers (Regazzi, 2015, p41-43).
In the 1660s the academic journal as we would recognise it today was created. The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge was formed and began a journal publishing the findings and disagreements of its members. Just as today, an editor would select which submissions were published and ownership of the work was established (Regazzi, 2015, p43).
The dominance of print journals and monographs as methods of scholarly communication endured for the subsequent centuries. In the aftermath of World War Two there was rapid growth in scientific research, and it was in this time that commercial publishers began to supplant the university presses as primary publishers of scholarly work. The commercial publishers began to consolidate their hold in the 1970s leading to the ‘Serials Crisis’. Academic libraries found that the price of journal subscriptions was rising year on year while their serial budgets remained stable or declined. It also effected the university presses who were unable to compete with their commercial rivals. As the 1990s began and the digital revolution began to take hold commercial publishers held a dominant position in scholarly publishing (Guédon, 2017, p9).
The Arrival of Digital
The arrival of the internet has had a profound effect on scholarly communication as it has on so many other areas of life. There had been experiments with digital publications before but by the early 90s the migration from print to digital really began to take hold. For journals, the process has been quite swift. It is now the norm for journal articles to be published online with many print editions being discontinued. However, the process has not been so fast nor so complete with books. Most new books now have an eBook version, but print remains the foremost format for academic monographs (Anderson, 2018, p21-22).
In some senses I might still be argued that not much changed in the way research was disseminated. The communication chain remained the same as it was. The journals and monographs produced by the commercial publishers were still the predominant methods of sharing research findings, they were just published online rather than in print (Anderson, 2018, p21-22). The primary functions of the journal were the same only the method of distribution had changed. As more time has passed however, the changes to scholarly communication resulting from the onset of the digital era have been great. The impact on libraries has been huge and led to many unforeseen consequences which have caused doubt over the suitability of the traditional publishing model.
The Big Deal
With the transition to e-journals is the 1990s both publishers and librarians saw an opportunity to address the worsening ‘serials crisis’. Many libraries could not afford the costs and were cancelling their journal subscriptions. This was bad for everyone. While academics had access to fewer journals, publishers lost revenue and increased their prices in response, producing a negative cycle. In 1996 publisher ‘Academic Press’ proposed a solution. Publishing journals digitally allowed them to bundle up their journal titles into one big package, the efficiencies of this model reduced publisher cost and allowed them to offer academic libraries a discounted rate for the package. This solution came to be known as the ‘Big Deal’. The idea caught on with other publishers following suit (Poynder, 2011).
At first this solution was welcomed by libraries. The Big Deals meant that academics had access to many more journal titles than before and (initially at least) for no greater cost to serial budgets. However, having embraced the Big Deal it soon became clear that this was not the solution to the Serials Crisis that libraries sought and that instead it was making the situation worse. When Big Deals were negotiated with publishers, the contracts included clauses which stipulated there would be a percentage increase to the cost each year. As time went on, and budgets continued to decline, libraries struggled to pay the subscription costs for journal packages. Previously, a library needing to reduce costs could cancel subscriptions to less popular titles while retaining the most valuable. The Big Deals system ensured this was no longer a viable option. Cancelling a Big Deal, in favour of individual titles, meant losing the bulk discount resulting in few savings but depriving libraries of access to additional titles. The Big Deal seemed to many librarians to have been a trap. While this model persists for journals there is a growing sense that it is unfair and that an alternative is needed (Poynder, 2011).
The Open Access Movement
Established in 2002 with the online publication of the ‘Budapest Open Access Initiative, the Open Access Movement has sought to address the problems associated with the academic publishing model. It begins with the first principle that ‘communication is the essence of science’ (Guédon, 2017, p1-2) and that barriers to the availability of research are harmful to human knowledge.
The previous model of scholarly publishing had occurred when the invention of the printing press had allowed research to be disseminated more easily via academic journals. After the advent of the internet, publishers were increasingly responsible for creating barriers to the dissemination of research by creating paywalls and levying ever increasing subscriptions fees. This model is seen as particularly unfair as the academic institutions themselves fund and produce research, only to have to ‘buy it back’ in the form of inflated journal subscriptions.
The Open Access Movement seeks to remove these barriers making research widely and freely available. Just as the printing press allowed greater science communication the movement seeks to use digital technologies to help disseminate research more widely, bringing the internet revolution to scholarly communications (Guédon, 2017, p2).
The principles of Open Access (OA) found support among academic and librarian communities but putting the principles into action and disrupting a centuries’ old publishing model has been challenging. One of the primary methods proposed to achieve this has been advocacy for the use of online repositories, places where research findings can be stored and made freely available online. ArXiv, a repository of physics papers had been around since 1991 but as a solution on its own it was found to be insufficient (Guédon, 2017, p6-7). There are several functions traditionally provided by journals which are still important to scholarly communication. Establishing quality of the research via peer review being one such function. It is also the case that the professional success of academics has traditionally been based around the number of their papers published in prestige journals. Understandably many academics have been resistant to foregoing this benefit and publishing solely in online repositories.
There was much debate about the best ways to overcome these obstacles and make OA work. The model settled on resulted in several different types of open access publishing, the majority of which still involve the traditional journals produced by publishers.
Green Open Access involves an article being published in a traditional subscription journal, but with a version of the authors manuscript placed in an institutional repository in addition. In this instance the publisher usually insists on an embargo period before the OA copy is made freely available in the repository. The publisher also holds the copyright of the work which limits its uses by other researchers.
Gold Open Access: an article is published in a conventional journal but is made freely available by the publisher. In this instance the author of the paper is charged an ‘Article Processing Charge’ (APC) for the publication but usually retains the copyright (Bawden & Robinson, 2012, p220-221).
Understandably publishers seized upon Gold OA as a new business model. Alongside their traditional subscription journals, they began to offer Gold OA, in hybrid journals, or in new Gold OA publications. Although the power of publishers has not diminished as much as might have been anticipated, the charging of APCs represents a major shift in the dissemination of research. For the first time the cost of publication has shifted from the customer to the author (Guédon, 2017, p11-12).
New Methods of Communication
While the situation with journals, a centuries old science communication method, is complex and still in flux, the internet has seen newer forms of communication emerge. Research is now communicated in a variety of way which are more informal, cheaper, and faster. Services such as ResearchGate and Academia.edu have emerged as important tools for scholars, allowing them to upload copies of manuscripts and making them freely available to colleagues digitally (Anderson 2018, p256-257).
Many academics now publish or discuss research on scholarly blogs or websites. So-called grey literature is now an important part of the scholarly communication landscape, making research freely available in a timely manner (Price & Murtagh, 2020, p350). Although publishing via websites and blogs are in many respects useful, they are not generally peer reviewed and are not always discoverable without additional work.
When these new methods of communicating research are combined, it is clear the scholarly communication environment today is much more complex than it was in the pre-digital era when print journals and monographs were the predominant methods of disseminating research.
The Implications for the Academic Library
The traditional academic library model has been impacted greatly by these changes to the scholarly communication environment. In the pre digital era the role of the academic library in the dissemination of research was fixed and straightforward. The librarian’s role was to select and purchase print books and print journal subscriptions making available the latest scholarly work to their communities of students, researchers, and academics. Now they must provide access to electronic resources alongside print collections and, in the process, become accustomed to being an online space as well as a physical one (Bawden & Robinson,2012, p224-225).
In the wake of the 2008 financial crash library budgets took a hit prompting the ‘serials crisis’ to worsen. Increasingly libraries were unable to pay for Big Deals and a more strident generation of librarians began to demand change. Stand offs with publishers ensued as library consortia demanded lowered costs (Poynder, 2017). The power of academic publishers was a problem which could no longer be ignored, and librarians became increasingly committed to The Open Access Movement ultimately aiming to bypass commercial publishers and end what they increasingly saw as predatory model.
Embracing a world of Open Access research and new methods of communication meant a reimaging of the academic library and of the role of academic librarianship. What might the library look like in this world? A vision of how this might look is the concept of the ‘Inside Out Library’ developed by Lorcan Dempsey (2016). Traditionally, Dempsey argues, libraries have been ‘outside in’ institutions. They have sourced knowledge from outside of the institution and brought it inside, to make it available to their communities. Instead, we should imagine the institutional repository as the heart of an ‘Inside Out Library’.
Libraries should give up the acquisition mentality and focus on disseminating the research produced by their own institutions. The traditional library expertise in metadata, curation and preservation can then be utilised to ensure it is discoverable to the wider community. Crucially, in order to realise this vision libraries can no longer imagine themselves as standalone ‘knowledge silos’ (Guédon, 2017, p14). They must co-operate with each other, establish common protocols, and create networks of repositories to ensure research is easily discoverable.
Several initiatives have made this vision closer to reality. Open AIRE is an EU supported project which has worked to link together the repositories of Europe. Added to this has been an obligation that all research funded by the EU is placed in an OA repository. Other funders have followed suit and numerous research funding agencies now mandate that research findings are deposited in repositories (Guédon, 2017, p16).
More recently the Plan S strategy from the European Research Council mandated that all scholarly publications funded by public or private grants must be published in Open Access journals or repositories by 2021. Plan S has also helped to popularise the concept of ‘transformational agreements’, contract agreements that seek to shift library budget spend away from subscriptions payments and towards open access publishing (Mering & Hoeve, 2020, p302-303).
A case study for how these changes have affected academic librarianship in practice is provided by the experiences of Imperial College Library, as described by Harrison (2018). As a major STEM research university, Imperial has been a proponent of Open Access publishing for some time. In 2012 the library changed its staff structure to create a new Scholarly Communications team. The intention was to help the library adjust to the new reality of science communication, to promote Open Access publishing among the institutions researchers and to provide services which facilitated the dissemination of research (Harrison, 2018, p354-355).
An example of their work is described by Price and Murtagh (2020). In response to the Covid-19 pandemic Imperial’s researchers produced a great deal of data and influential grey literature which was not published in peer reviewed journals in the traditional manner. The team worked hard to deposit this material into the institutional repository. It added metadata making the datasets discoverable by the scientific community and ensured that alternative bibliometrics could be used to measure the impact of the research.
This example demonstrates the new role libraries increasingly play in scholarly communication. The team at Imperial has expanded markedly since it was first introduced, and other such teams are now commonplace in academic libraries (Harrison, 2018, p360-361). There is an expectation that Scholarly Communications teams are the future in academic libraries and just as libraries are reallocating their collections budgets towards OA with transformative agreements, so too are they reallocating their staffing budgets towards Scholarly Communication roles.
It seems clear that we are living through a time of immense change in the way research is disseminated. The developments in scholarly communication engendered by the arrival of digital technologies have been remarkable, but it seems we are not yet at the end of the cycle and the end-state is uncertain. Until a new status quo is established publishers and librarians must proceed cautiously as they navigate this changing landscape.
The internet has made sharing information of all kinds cheaper and easier. In scholarly communication this has seen a rise in new methods of dissemination such as scholarly blogs, academic social media, and institutional repositories. This increase in grey literature represents a major shift in the way research is communicated in comparison to the old print journal model. But journal publishers continue to fulfill roles which are important in research dissemination; this work is still needed and crucially still needs to be paid for.
If the old model no longer works, the Open Access Movement is a serious attempt to create a new publishing model. Shifting the costs of publishing from the customer to the author is a major development which has massive implications for publishing. Although there has been some resistance from academics, recent initiatives by research funders to mandate Open Access publishing will likely have a big effect. So too will the decisions of libraries to divert funding from subscriptions towards OA publishing via transformative agreements.
A note of caution should be added though. The Open Access Movement is now almost twenty years old, and progress has been slow. The power of commercial publishers persists and has proven difficult to dislodge. Libraries still pay huge amounts to them in journal subscriptions costs and academics continue to prize publication in expensive prestige journals. History has also shown that publishers are adept at adapting to and co-opting change so should not be underestimated.
Nonetheless, it is difficult to envisage the journal subscription model persisting for decades to come in its current form. The result is likely to be an increasing role for libraries in the publication of research. The growth of Scholarly Communications departments within libraries is likely to continue as institutional repositories look set to become crucial to research dissemination. The future role of librarians in research institutions will increasingly involve managing these repositories, depositing research and co-operating to ensure it is widely available to the scientific community. However, before this vision is realized librarians must continue to negotiate for Big Deals with publishers even as they look forward to a brighter Open Access future.
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