The “Open Access in Action” series has explored many but certainly not all the facets of this highly disruptive publishing trend. To put the issues in perspective, and to focus on the resulting changes to the role of academic and research librarians, we interviewed Dr. Stephen Pinfield, Professor of Information Services Management at The University of Sheffield.
Professor Pinfield joined Sheffield in 2012. Before that, he was a self-described practitioner of academic information science, serving as CIO for the University of Nottingham. In 2001, he helped set up the U.K.’s first open access institutional repository, followed by the SHERPA project in 2002. In 2006 he set up at Nottingham the first UK institutional central fund for paying APCs, and has authored open access policy papers for The Russell Group. Commenting on his role as an academic with a technical background, he described his research as “at the interface of practice and theory.”
Library Journal: What are the important differences between those who implement and support open access systems and the faculty members and researchers who use them?
Professor Pinfield: Faculty shouldn’t have to be experts in the mechanics of scholarly communication. They should be carrying out their research—communicating it in ways that are appropriate for their scholarly community and beyond. However, those who provide support, like libraries and IT services, have to understand the research cycle—the processes that researchers go through. Twenty or thirty years ago, librarians had to understand a narrow aspect of scholarly communications: negotiating subscriptions with publishers, storing and preserving collections, and making them available to researchers. Now, librarians need to understand and engage with a much wider range of activities in the research process, in order to provide credible services.
LJ: What are some examples?
Pinfield: Librarians can intervene earlier, encouraging researchers to deposit at the preprint stage, for example. They need to have a clear understanding of the publishing process, and how it may vary from discipline to discipline. They can design workflows that fit the way faculty works—not assume that all faculty have the same requirements and motivations for publishing their research.
Many repositories are designed in isolation from what faculty actually do or care about, creating an unnecessary burden. Librarians have to understand their users, so they can incentivize faculty [by emphasizing] the importance of a deposit [to] increasing usage and citations, for example. Then they can design services to demonstrate that.
LJ: In the article series, we discussed various open access funding models, APCs, Green versus Gold, and the prospect of “flipping” subscription journals to open access. Can you comment on where we are now—and where we’re likely to go?
Pinfield: This is a challenge. If you look system-wide, there’s enough money to pay for APCs—if you look at the whole universe of research funding. The key challenge, of course, is how that happens, and how it affects individual players. The European focus has been on system-wide shifts, mainly because negotiations with publishers happens more at a national level. The U.S. is a very different environment. It’s far larger and more fragmented, so there’s a tendency for large institutions to resist the increased cost implications of APCs. I think that changes will come as we start thinking of the bigger picture for research as a whole. The recent Pay It Forward study points to the possibility of research funders shouldering more of the cost. The benefit of an APC model is that it scales with the funding.
LJ: What is the main resistance to this type of change?
Pinfield: I think the resistance to open access is more on an operational level than it is on principle. When I first became involved in the open access movement, I naively thought we just had to persuade academics it was a good idea and they’d just start doing it. What we didn’t understand then was the level of inertia and vested interests there are in the system. So, we started adding conversations with policy makers and funding entities, who in turn began encouraging more open access behaviors in institutions.
LJ: To what extent is open access adoption driven by differences in academic discipline—such as STEM or the humanities?
Pinfield: Differences in disciplines should not be underestimated. Even within STEM, some disciplines gravitate towards the Green model, while others—like health sciences—tend to be Gold. (That’s not to say that Green and Gold aren’t both valuable. I see them as complementary and interactive in many cases.) In the humanities, there are new models for monographs and open access, so what we’re seeing in STEM may not apply. Martin Eve’s recent book, Open Access and the Humanities, is a good place to start there.
LJ: Let’s get back to librarians. How would you advise them when it comes to open access?
Pinfield: I think these are exciting times for information professionals. It’s an opportunity to be engaged to a much greater degree. As other opportunities for librarians diminish—like the importance of managing large print collections—this is an opportunity to stake out new territory. With open access, we’re now at the stage of how we deliver it, not whether we do so. This puts the focus on the library community.
We’re also thinking about it in a much broader way—in terms of open science and open data, not just open access journal publishing. Becoming more conversant with that sort of strategic vision is becoming increasingly important. Having a professional confidence in these skills will revitalize the library profession. It’s not a narrow, diminishing path, but a wide one.
LJ: Could this be seen as a bulwark against library funding cuts?
Pinfield: Potentially, yes. Collections are still important, but there’s also more emphasis now on delivering services. You can see this now in how libraries are designed—not just as a place to house collections but also as spaces for collaboration, use of technology, and creative activity. That’s all to the good, but it will require agility on the part of the library profession.