Open Access publishing—both Green and Gold varieties—are gaining greater acceptance. Librarians need to focus on ways to promote and improve the process.
In light of last month’s political turmoil over Federal agency communications, Open Access may take on new significance. In response to a 2013 White House request, NASA announced in August that space agency-funded research articles must be publicly accessible in the PubSpace database (a part of PubMedCentral) within one year of publication. Like other government-funded research, the mandate to use Green OA repositories is subject to exceptions involving patents, personal privacy, and national security. However, the trend towards openness is clearly gaining traction. Combined with an increasing number of Gold and hybrid journals, the Open Access trend is likely to withstand political pressures towards the proprietary model.
Implementation, however, is the real key. Although Open Access has existed for years, misconceptions still abound. The tools and techniques for accessing OA materials are also improving, but much more is needed. As has been made clear in this series, the burden for making this transition faster and easier falls in large part on academic libraries and their professionals.
Library Best Practices
To get a better idea, we spoke to Anneliese Taylor, the Assistant Director for Scholarly Communications & Collections at the University of California San Francisco Library, and Lisa Schiff, Technical Lead for the Access & Publishing Group at the California Digital Library. Both were positive about the progress of Open Access, but were acutely aware of lingering public misconceptions and the need for a proactive library community.
“What librarians can do the most is offer guidance and clarification,” Taylor said, referring to confusion about Green and Gold Open Access, and a tendency to conflate the two. “Librarians can do simple things like add OA journals to catalogs and link resolvers, so they’re more discoverable.” She also noted that librarians have had to overcome researchers’ concerns caused in part by the rise of “predatory” journals acting in the guise of Open Access. “I think they like the idea of Open Access, but they get bombarded with spam emails from journals that don’t have the best peer review process, or some other questionable practice. So, they get overwhelmed and their response is to completely block it out.”
Taylor noted two methods that can be used to evaluate OA journals. One is the blacklist method, typified by Beall’s Scholarly Open Access list, which has recently gone dark. (Taylor noted that Cabell’s International may be planning to resurrect the Beall’s blacklist as a free service later this year.) The other method involves whitelists of qualified, reputable OA journals. “I don’t think Open Access journals are any harder to evaluate than a subscription journal,” she said. “Unfortunately, the ‘author pays’ model has spawned a number of questionable publishers.” That puts an additional burden on scholars, who in turn must rely on library resources to make the distinctions.
Schiff said librarians’ efforts need to center on raising basic OA awareness. “Surprisingly, there are still a lot of misconceptions,” she said, “one of which is the notion that Open Access journals do not employ peer review at all! That is simply not true—Open Access is a business model, not an indicator of scholarly quality.” Schiff also stressed the importance of making researchers aware of all the many different places where OA journals and journal articles—from institutional repositories to discipline-specific locations like PubMedCentral and Open Library of the Humanities—can be found. “Raising the profile of those sources is very helpful,” she said.
Taylor added some sage advice for Gold OA publishers who want to make their journals a better fit for libraries. “Of course, they have to follow standard practices that show they are ethically sound,” she said. These include established guidelines for peer review, and a reputable editorial review board. “Transparency is important, but so is their mission. If it’s a new journal, we need to know why it exists, and what makes it important.”
Schiff added, “We need to know how unique is this journal within the field. Is it really new and interesting, or is it just one more journal with a slightly different take than other journals?” She also noted that to be considered by libraries, an OA journal needs to be sustainable, including a succession plan for when the founding editor moves on. Credibility also hinges on basic steps, like having a valid ISSN and other common identifiers.
For Green OA repositories, the issues are different, but no less vital to librarians. “Best practices include submission and deposit workflows that are easy for people to use, and that you’re assigning unique identifiers to the publications and the content in your repositories,” Schiff said. Librarians should do everything possible to make such content discoverable—using standard metadata—and giving information to authors about how their content is being used.
An Open Conversation
Both Taylor and Schiff agreed that scholars and researchers need to be a significant part of the Open Access discussion. “Librarians like myself are very much Open Access advocates,” Taylor observed, “but it’s important for us to keep an open mind. We need to listen to what our researchers, scholars, students, and administrators want.” She cautioned against giving only the positive benefits of Open Access for institutions, without understanding the concerns and reservations of those doing the research.
“It’s important to get correct information out there,” Schiff added, “but it’s important to get scholars to jump into the conversation. For example, it would be great if scholars were more involved in discussing the economic challenges in the scholarly communication world. Librarians are naturally involved because our budgets are a huge part of that mix. But we’re paying for the work of scholars. They not only need to be more informed about how their work is part of this economic ecosystem, they also need to advocate for how they think that ecosystem should be sustained—and how resources should be allocated.”
Librarians and their research counterparts clearly have their work cut out for them.