November 24, 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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Open Access at the Crossroads

annokerson_300x400Discussions of open access to online journal content go back 20 or more years.  In 1995, James O’Donnell and I co-edited perhaps the first book — but by no means the last — on this theme.[i]  Based on a series of internet discussions about “self-archiving,” that book laid the foundations for what was later called Green Open Access, where articles are typically posted to authors’ web sites, or subject repositories, or institutional repositories.

Our book appeared around the time STM publishers began offering online subscriptions to their journals.  The intervening years have seen a burgeoning OA interest in the library/research community, enormous expansion of openly available repository content[ii], and an explosion of business success for publishers utilizing a traditional subscription model, first adapted to the online environment and then to OA.  Time has passed, much has happened, and I find myself open-minded, optimistic, and skeptical all at once when it comes to the OA movement.  And sometimes I feel a little marginalized around so many people who are so fierce and urgent and expostulatory on the topic.

Open access experiments, pilots, and startups have, in those 20+ years, have become legion.  This new OA world should be deemed a success, except, of course, that it falls short of total victory:  all information freely available to everyone all of the time.  And while that vision spurs many ever onward, it can also lead to frictions and factions as well-meaning folks spar over the best ways forward.  What’s up?

Take “journal flipping” as an example.  In May 2015, for the LJ Open Access Series, a group of us presented a webinar on this model that has lately achieved recent visibility, notoriety, and controversy.  Analytical work at the Max Planck Institute had determined that there is enough money in library funds to pay Article Processing Charges instead of subscription fees, and thereby convert (“flip”) all articles to OA.  The “OA2020 initiative” has met with downright skepticism (most heavily from the US) and huge support (among Europeans and many others).[iii]  Some strong words have been exchanged.

Hmmm:  pragmatically, why not support numerous experiments in business models?  Flipping journals to an author-pays model is promising in interesting ways, not least because it could give experimental evidence of all the ways authors, institutions, publishers, and readers would react to change of that kind.  Flipping has been successfully demonstrated with the SCOAP3 particle physics OA project (with which I’ve been closely connected for several years now).[iv]  SCOAP3 demonstrates that over 3,000 libraries worldwide can negotiate for APC prices well below the norm and contain prices over time.  Yes, it took a lot of work to do this particular “flip” but as for the result:  what’s not to like?  Could this be ported to other disciplines?  In some cases yes, but not always.

There is no single path to open access.  Pragmatic experiments can show us both consequences and impact on the market.  There are real concerns about flipping – and about nearly every other model now proposed.  We ought to be as scientific about our publishing (gathering evidence, framing new hypotheses, and adjusting experiments) as we are about our science.

Lighten up, folks — we don’t live in a time of disaster and gloom when we require draconian measures to make scholarly publishing great again.  We have opportunities before us to make the system better, more efficient, and more effective than ever.  Can we learn to embrace possibilities open-mindedly and work with all interested parties?


 

[i] Ann Okerson & James O’Donnell, eds.  Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads:  a Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing.  Washington, DC, Association of Research Libraries, June 1995.

[ii] On October 6, 2016, Heather Morrison writes that “Globally OA repository contents have exceeded a milestone of over 100 million documents” and DOAJ is adding on average 1.5 titles per day.  http://poeticeconomics.blogspot.ca/2016/10/dramatic-growth-of-open-access.html

[iii] For a summary, see “The Great Flip,” by Ann Okerson, in Against the Grain, June 2016, pp 86 and 83.

[iv] See:  https://scoap3.org/

Open Access In Action

Ann Okerson About Ann Okerson

Ann Okerson is the Senior Adviser on Electronic Strategies, The Center for Research Libraries

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