November 22, 2017

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This feature article is part of our Open Access in Action series, sponsored by Dove Press, which tracks the evolution of important open access (OA) issues through a library lens by presenting regular original articles, video interviews, news, and perspectives. To learn more about how librarians like you are driving practice across the lifestyle of open access, be sure to visit Open Access in Action.

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Helping Your Organization Embrace Open Access

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It is generally agreed that wider acceptance of Open Access (OA) is a positive outcome for the worldwide research community, and the key to moving forward is ultimately found in human behavior and perceptions.

Academic publishing is notoriously fragmented; fundamental change often requires persistent effort by many, diverse stakeholders. For researchers and their institutions, the intricacies of publishing can be a distraction from actual research, their main focus.

But, questions remain. How, for instance, can more contributors, institutions, and publishers be induced to embrace OA? And, what role do librarians have in this process?

Carrot and/or Stick

“Open Access started out as a grassroots movement,” said Rob Johnson, founder and director of U.K.-based Research Consulting, and author of a recent Open Access Advocacy Toolkit for librarians “The intention was to get the research community to embrace it because it’s what the Internet allows us to do. It seemed obvious—to make the outputs of research freely available, and as widely as possible.” However,” Johnson noted, “that ideal ran against a number of vested interests, as well as the innate conservatism of the academic community.  The majority of the community didn’t really see a good reason to switch from their traditional approach to subscription publishing.”

Idealism was not delivering the rate of change that research funders and policy makers—particularly in Europe and North America—felt was in the public interest. “They decided it was going to require a more top-down effort to make this happen,” Johnson said. This has resulted in explicit OA mandates from major grant funding entities. In many cases, this has meant simply depositing the manuscript in a Green OA repository, and has had less impact on increasing the Gold OA model.

“It’s a shame that the ‘stick’ has had to be used,” he noted. “When you talk to researchers, most of them get what this is about. They want their research to be as widely read as possible.” Johnson described the positive arguments for researchers, including increasing the reach and audience for an article, as well as increased citations resulting from Open Access, according to a number of recent studies. “All other things being equal, it should be in the self-interest of the researcher. They should get a wider audience, have greater impact, and attract more citations, which provides career benefits.”

Overcoming Obstacles

The path to Gold OA (APC-funded or otherwise) is problematic. There is a persistent perception among researchers that OA journals have inherently less quality or impact than their subscription counterparts. While the notion is an oversimplification, it still deters many scholars from choosing Open Access.

To better understand the range of perceptions about OA, we spoke with Professor Carol Tenopir of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who conducted focus groups and a survey of researchers for the upcoming Pay It Forward study described in Making the Transition to Gold Open Access.

“The range of opinions is quite wide,” she said, describing her research on OA perceptions. “With both graduate students and faculty members, a minority were quite knowledgeable about Gold Open Access, including some strong advocates.” However, she continued “ the majority don’t know a lot about it. For them, as authors, OA is not a primary motivation. They want to publish in a high-quality, peer-reviewed journal that forwards their career.”

Tenopir noted that many of those she surveyed don’t think about Open Access because they already have access to subscription-based research, and are averse to the idea of paying for their own articles to be published. “They don’t want to think about it,” she said. “For librarians, there’s a real opportunity for education, to help authors see the process from the eyes of readers—especially those who are not so privileged.” This is especially true for disciplines like engineering, where there is a need to reach a wider audience in developing nations. “The idea of expanding one’s reach resonated with many we surveyed who had not previously thought much about Open Access.”

Tenopir’s research also revealed some unfortunate practices that reinforced negative perceptions of OA. The over-use of spam emails was particularly egregious, she noted. Respondents in her research typically received misleading emails from would-be OA journals that were often found on Beall’s List of potentially predatory OA publishers. Tenopir noted that Beall’s List is not absolute proof of predatory behavior, and that librarians’ due diligence should also include the Directory of Open Access Journals and of course ongoing scrutiny within one’s own discipline.

“It’s important for librarians to help disambiguate the confusion between the economic model of Gold Open Access and the predatory publishers’ model,” she said.

Make It Easier

Both Tenopir and Johnson stressed the need to make the Open Access process easier for researchers. This makes it incumbent on journals—as they move toward OA—to streamline the process for researchers. In many cases, librarians will also be tasked with providing help in selecting and working with OA journals.

Johnson outlined the process challenges associated with both types of Open Access. For Green OA, librarians and publishers will need to assume responsibility for standardized metadata—automating it wherever possible—relieving the researcher of undue, publishing-specific burdens. Another challenge involves the complex permissions and embargos required with the Green model.

Similarly, Gold OA imposes an educational mandate on the library community—primarily of raising awareness and vetting OA journals for quality and reputation. However, OA publishers themselves bear a large responsibility for making their process easy and transparent to researchers. “The sticking point is about having to make a payment,” Johnson said. “It’s also about how much administrative effort is needed to make that payment. It can be surprisingly complicated.” He pointed out that OA journals are responding to this need, increasingly, by offering membership or prepayment agreements, creating a fund from which APCs can be deducted. (A growing number of OA publishers, including Dove Press, sponsor of this series of articles/ Open Access in Action, are doing so.)

No matter how efficient and transparent publishers may become, institutional support is essential. Raising awareness, and guiding researchers through the changing publishing process, will be the librarian’s responsibility for the foreseeable future.

Open Access In Action

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