There’s little question that a world in which only select libraries could afford access to leading research would pose a problem for the advancement of every academic discipline. Yet, this situation isn’t far from the truth as news circulates of libraries floundering to afford the skyrocketing prices of commercially published journals. In the quest for a solution to the serials crisis, proposals to make all scholarly contributions open access (OA) have come to the forefront. But the academic community is still trying to determine how to realize an OA future. Discussions of OA in academia often center around finding an ideal OA model to make research funding sustainable. The question is: Can an ideal model be identified in time to prevent more researchers from losing access to journals?
Roxanne Missingham, Chief Scholarly Information Officer at Australian National University and Deputy Chair of the Australian Open Access Strategy Group, brings the perspective of both a librarian and leader of the wider OA advocacy community to the issue. In the below interview, she shares her thoughts on what is needed for OA to prevail in the future. She argues that rather than seeking an ideal model, the community should embrace a range of OA publishing and funding approaches to meet the needs of different disciplines.
What do you think of current OA options in use? Do you think one OA model will come to the forefront?
RM: Our scholarly communication system is still in many ways grappling with open access. There are advantages in having a range of models that are flexible and allow for experimentation by publishers, libraries, authors, and funders. Together we should be creating new solutions that offer a diversity of approaches, rather than picking a “winner model.” I am heartened to see scholarly societies begin to engage positively in the debate. In terms of market forces there are great strengths that have been added by new solutions such as PLoS and Knowledge Unlatched.
The major challenges that concern me in looking at new models are:
- Assumptions that there is infinite additional resourcing available - many libraries have been cancelling subscriptions to journals and databases where there are major financial issues, such as falling exchange rates. I recently visited Myanmar and it reinforced to me that unsustainable price increases (anything over CPI which has been around 2-3%) simply means that fewer scholars will have access to the resources.
- Impact on the budget, which has reduced university purchasing of monographs and increased purchasing (proportionally) on journals and datasets.
- The role of authors in the system, in particular noting that the new model of Gold OA (not funded by government intervention outside the UK) requires additional payments beyond library subscriptions with early career academics particularly disadvantaged by this as they have low access to funding.
I foresee a future in which there are green publications (such as our university press and other university presses and some scholarly societies), gold publications like PLoS, and hybrid models. As in the print environment there isn’t a single solution. I think that pursuing an ideal model is unrealistic.
I note that in the print environment there were many different models - subscriptions, gift and exchange agreements, legal deposit, direct donations - this suggests that any distribution system for scholarly knowledge in the online environment will also have diverse models.
I would hope that more diversity in online publishing supports greater diversity in publishing as a whole and that sustainability comes from many solutions. In exploring that diversity it is timely to review different approaches to peer review (such as PLoS) and duplication of infrastructure.
Do you think corporate publishers and the academic community will be able to work together to develop sustainable OA models?
RM: Publishers - whether university or commercial - provide value in the scholarly communication ecosystem. Many work very openly and well with universities and authors. Those who are not able to form a true partnership are often creating an unsustainable future through outrageous price increases and publishing quantities of journals which, quite frankly, should not be published.
If our goal is high quality scholarly publishing then a new conversation is needed to actively change current practices. Are the large corporates likely to engage in such a conversation? Possibly not, but we must insist on a conversation that benefits authors, readers, and the flow of ideas.
I think it’s unrealistic to assume any group can “take over” scholarly publishing. The communication of research through repositories needs, however, to reach a new stage of technological maturity and move beyond being limited to content from individual nations and institutions.
RM: The current traditional journal publication model is unwieldy, takes too long (often taking a year or more from final draft to publication, which is inappropriate in this age), and places much power in the publisher’s hands.
When we set this within a need to communicate research that has never been stronger, with funders expecting a higher impact and engagement than ever before, it is clear that change is needed.
To respond to funder needs, the need to enhance careers of academics and the creation of more informed works, the journal publishing process needs a diversity of approaches that includes modern blog type initiatives, such as New Mandala, as well as reviewed papers.
I would like to see the nimbleness of PLoS and other open access quality journals encourage authors to demand more. Approaches must change.