Dani Guzman, Ex Libris
Open access publishing is changing the nature of academic scholarship, making research more accessible so that “researchers can build on the shoulders of others,” says Martin Kirk, director of research operations for King’s College London.
But if open access publishing is to reach its full potential, there are still many hurdles for academics and institutions to overcome.
In wide-ranging conversations with members of the Ex Libris Research Management Advisory Council, participants discussed the challenges involved in open access publishing and how their institutions are trying to solve these challenges.
According to council members, here are three key issues that must be resolved, along with ideas for addressing them.
Good research is good research, no matter where it’s published.
1. How can researchers and institutions manage article processing charges for open access publishing?
Concerned about a loss of revenue from open access publishing, a growing number of academic journals are assessing article processing charges (APCs, or publication fees) to researchers or their institutions for publishing articles in an open access format. These fees can be cost-prohibitive for scholars at less affluent institutions, and they serve as a disincentive for academics to make their work openly available.
“If we say we want an article to have open access, (large publishers) charge an APC to bring that article outside their paywall—but that amounts to double dipping,” Kirk says. “We’re already paying for access to the publisher’s journals through subscription fees.”
Academia needs a better model that will satisfy publishers and is fair to institutions, while encouraging the spread of open access publishing. “It’s got to be a compromise,” Kirk says. “We must be willing to pay more money for journal subscriptions, and in return, the publishers would agree to do away with APCs.”
2. How can researchers store their data in a way that others can easily find it?
“If we could solve this question, the world would be a better place,” Kirk says. “We have institutional repositories, but we rely on researchers to store their data in a way that’s properly catalogued. We can do better.”
Current institutional repositories fall short of meeting the needs of academics in many ways. They’re often hard to maintain, with inefficient workflows that make it cumbersome to add new research outputs, link research papers with data sets, and add metadata to make these assets discoverable. As a result, research outputs aren’t as easy to find as they could be — and staff are spending too much time on these labor-intensive tasks.
“The infrastructure isn’t there,” says Paul Ayris, Pro-Vice-Provost for University College London (UCL) Library Services. “There’s a vacuum waiting to be filled.”
Vendors and their university partners are working to solve this challenge. In the meantime, Ayris says, the entire research community should come together to develop a common solution for storing and sharing open research data.
The European Open Science Cloud aims to create a trusted environment for hosting and processing research data to support open science, but universities must encourage their researchers and support staff to participate. “What we really need is a global version of this index,” Ayris says.
3. How can institutions measure the impact of research when journal citations are no longer sufficient?
For years, institutions have looked at traditional metrics such as journal citations to measure the impact of their research. But “that’s an outdated model,” Kirk says. “There’s a lot of research that isn’t being published in scholarly journals.”
The rise of open access publishing requires more creative and expansive approaches to measuring impact. “Mentions in policy documents and on Wikipedia, tweets and shares on social media — these are all important indicators of impact that institutions should be paying attention to,” Kirk adds.
UCL Library Services has spent the last few years developing a new bibliometrics policy with input from all 67 academic departments. The new policy — which recognizes that quantitative measures can complement, but should not replace, expert assessment — was recently approved by the Academic Committee in early 2020.
“We’re saying that the best way to evaluate research is to read it,” Ayris says. “Good research is good research, no matter where it’s published.” The policy identifies some 30 or so numeric indicators that can be used to support the qualitative judgment of a work’s merits.
Having the conversation
Overcoming the challenges involved in open access publishing will require academic libraries to take a leading role by leveraging their substantial expertise in making information easily accessible and applying it to making research more accessible, council members agree. It will also require breaking down the silos that exist both within and among research institutions.
“We’re not a long way down the path toward getting this right,” Kirk says, “but at least we’re having these conversations.”
May 18, 2020