Image Credit: Pexels
Image Credit: Pexels

Soon after the historic 2001 Budapest Open Access Initiative, Lars Bjørnshauge embarked on a project with the help of colleagues at Lund University, where he served as director of libraries at the time, to create a vetted listing of OA journals from all over the world. Bjørnshauge completed the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) in 2002 and launched it in 2003 as a global online index of OA journals.

Now, nearing its 15th anniversary, what began as a database of 300 journals, has since reached nearly 11,000. DOAJ is helping to elevate awareness of OA journals that meet established quality standards. The database receives over 4 million visitors a year and, with API connections to major research indexes, founder Bjørnshauge says that its impact is even greater. “There are millions of visitors coming to our site each year, and I would estimate that the actual impact is ten times more than our visitor data shows, because researchers are finding DOAJ listed journals using other major discovery services.”

After building out the database the first 10 years with a core team of 3 people, DOAJ now has 80 volunteers working to maintain and expand the index. Below, Bjørnshauge and DOAJ Editor-in-Chief Tom Olijhoek discuss the mission of DOAJ, its journal criteria, and plans for the future.

Working to increase access to quality OA journals from all over the world

The mission of DOAJ is twofold. First, to gather a curated list of OA journals based on established quality standards, and, second, to help increase access to research via a global platform for discovery.

“From the very beginning, our mission has been to create a list of what we call ‘good’ open access journals,” said Bjørnshauge. “We are not in the business of ranking journals, but we do assess journals based on a set of quality standards. We do that in a global sense and we cover all subjects from humanities to STEM.”

Bjørnshauge said attracting and serving as a platform for journals all over the world is very important to DOAJ. “Our mission is to contribute to the creation of a truly global scholarly communication system. The existing scholarly communication system has been very much defined by Western Europe and North America. In our view, the current system is leaving major parts of the world out of the loop, making it difficult for researchers in the Global South to be published in prestigious and high impact factor journals. We want to support OA journals from all over the world to help them be attractive publishing channels.”

For DOAJ, a big part of fulfilling its global mission is becoming a hub for storing and making available metadata for the journals it indexes. “All our data are harvestable via the open archives initiative metadata harvesting program and our API. When a journal is listed on DOAJ any metadata it provides are cascaded and integrated into major discovery services to libraries and other stakeholders all over the world,” explained Bjørnshauge. “We have fantastic traffic from our site from Google to major library systems providers such as EBSCO and SCOPUS.”

Requirements for inclusion in DOAJ

DOAJ asks applicants over 54 questions to assess journal quality. Among requirements journals must meet to be listed in DOAJ are publishing under a valid OA copyright license and providing a definition of OA on their website. Journals must follow the Gold OA model, making research free to read upon publication. The index does not accept hybrid OA models. All DOAJ journals must also provide an explanation of their peer review process on their website. “They can’t just say ‘we do peer review,’ they have to describe it on their website,” said Olijhoek. Journals must also publish at regular intervals.

Olijhoek said DOAJ also looks closely at journal editorial boards. “If you have a website that has the editorial board of the journal and it says Professor Smith and has no credentials, that is no good for us,” he said.

Other aspects of DOAJ criteria are evaluated on more of a case-by-case basis, such as journal article processing charges (APCs). “What is a bit difficult for us is if you have a very good OA journal that has a high APC. Then, of course we can say it is a good OA journal. But we have a bit of a problem accepting journals with an OA fee of say four thousand dollars,” said Olijhoek. “We haven’t quite resolved that issue. Of course, we would like for OA journals to have an APC that’s as low as possible. But, it’s not a criteria for us that they have to be low.”

Bjørnshauge said all of DOAJ’s requirements come down to ensuring publication transparency. “Many research funders and universities use the DOAJ data to determine whether OA journals are eligible for APCs from grants and publication funds. We make this information available in machine-readable form so anyone can search for journals in a specific subject, language, OA license model, and so forth.”

DOAJ accepts journals in all other languages as long as they publish an English version.

Benefits of DOAJ indexing for journals and authors

For publishers and authors, DOAJ serves as an indicator of journal quality as well as a platform for journal discovery. “I think for many it is a kind of certification for approval. There are countries now saying that they only recognize OA research as a good contribution if it is listed in DOAJ,” said Bjørnshauge.

Olijhoek added that DOAJ is also significantly increasing the visibility of research in underrepresented regions. “We can improve the discoverability of things published in Pakistan or in Malaysia or in Indonesia for the rest of the world and for those countries themselves through DOAJ, because it provides a platform where the discoverability is much higher, which means the impact of the research will grow.”

Looking at DOAJ data, Bjørnshauge said many journals listed in DOAJ see a correlation of increased website traffic. “We hear from publishers who have recently gotten their journal listed that the traffic to the journal, as well as the number of submissions it receives, increase quickly. So there is a whole range of benefits for journals that are listed.”

Plans to build out DOAJ further

Looking to the future, Bjørnshauge said DOAJ is working on developing its own harvester to be able to automatically gather journal metadata. They also plan to eventually make it possible for publishers to update their DOAJ metadata records.

Building a global research community remains the core focus of DOAJ in the coming months and years. The DOAJ team is working to spur more involvement from publishers and the wider academic community.

“We have a network of ambassadors in many countries and we are adding new ones all of the time. We want to have volunteers in as many countries as possible to provide DOAJ in all languages,” said Olijhoek. “Our plan for the future is to keep building out a strong network.”

We want to thank Lars Bjørnshauge and Tom Olijhoek for taking the time to interview. You can learn more about DOAJ, including how to become a volunteer, on their website.

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