February 16, 2018

Flipping Journals, Changing Ways of Publishing

Cheryl-LaGuardiaAs a reference librarian, I’m keenly following developments in the Open Access (OA) movement, because I (along with all of you folks also working with researchers) am aware of how journal and serial costs have gotten so large and burdensome to libraries that titles must be cut, and thus access to important research is becoming ever more difficult for students, faculty, and other scholars around the world. So I was intrigued when I saw last June that Harvard Library’s Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC) had awarded a contract to three individuals —David Solomon, Bo-Christer Björk, and Mikael Laakso—to “write a comprehensive literature review on methods for converting subscription-based scholarly journals to open access.” The OSC calls this the “journal flipping project.” When I heard that the preliminary version of their report, Converting Scholarly Journals to Open Access: A Review of Approaches and Experiences, was available for public comment, I took a look at what it says.

It’s exciting, in part because it’s realistic. The best thing about it to me is that it points the way forward for excellent research to be shared much more broadly with other researchers who can benefit from it. The benefits to libraries are pretty obvious: taking the strain off library budgets while enabling librarians to assist researchers in getting access to the best possible research in their fields.

I also got in touch with Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Library Office of Scholarly Communication, to get some of the context for the “journal flipping” report (for background about Peter and OA in the library context please see my Interview with Peter Suber on Open Access, from September 30, 2015).

Here’s what Peter told me about the report:

  • He emphasized that this is a preliminary report, not the final version—that will be published later this year, after it can incorporate public comments, comments from a hand-picked panel of experts, and the authors’ own final edits.
  • He pointed out that the report does not favor any single method of journal flipping. Instead, it reviews the literature to find all the methods tried and proposed.
  • A call will be issued to folks active in OA in a variety of professions to bring the report to the attention of publishers, because the report will provide publishers with a host of options for taking subscription journals Open Access.
  • Peter noted that 70% of OA journals charge no article processing charge (APC) fees. That’s an impressive percentage that surprised me.
  • But he also noted that 50% of articles published in OA journals are published in the APC-based variety.
  • He urges interested parties like librarians to read the report and comment on it, and to spread the word to others potentially interested in OA, because it offers survival strategies for journal publishing, offering different sustainable models to follow in taking a journal into OA.
  • He notes that the report documents cases in which journals have converted to OA to improve their [number of] submissions (!), their revenue stream (!!), and the quality of submissions (!!!).
  • After the public comment period, the report will be run by 25–30 OA experts (who will be named in the final report) to recommend the conversion scenarios they find worth recommending and to advise against the conversion scenarios they find inadvisable.
  • Of course he notes that the final report will be OA.

The period for public comment on the report lasts until near the end of April so I hope you will give it a look (here’s the link again). It is pretty long and detailed (as it needs to be), but if you don’t have the time to go through the entire preliminary report, I do suggest you take a look at least at the Executive Summary (which gives you the goals and findings in a nutshell) and the List of Converted Journals Mentioned in the Report. This last knocked my eyebrows well up into my forehead; there are quite a few top-notch journals listed there.

The bottom line for me is: this report provides hope for the sustainability of scholarly research with practical ways for subscription-based publishers of all kinds to proceed. The potential impact on libraries and what we can offer our users is great, so I hope you’ll read it, comment on it if you have something to add, and bring it to the attention of colleagues, too. IMHO, this is one of the highest priority issues for libraries as we move forward into the 21st century.

A last, but important, note: the Office of Scholarly Communication is grateful to Sarah Thomas, vice president for the Harvard Library and University Librarian/Roy E. Larsen Librarian for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, for authorizing the use of Arcadia funds to underwrite this report. I echo that gratitude: this is a crucial report for research everywhere.

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.

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