Experiments in Open Access Publishing: Community Efforts Work; Payoff=Learning & Access

Where have I been since July? I’ve been conducting two experiments in open access publishing, volunteering to be:

  1. Co-editor for Evidence Summaries at Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, a fully open journal hosted by the University of Alberta (Canada)
  2. Engaged in the IFLA Document Delivery and Resource Sharing (DDRS) committee and the organization of the 16th ILDS conference, which takes place every two years. As part of this involvement, program subcommittee members (including myself and NTK’s Sasha Skenderija) created a “light” peer review process for conference papers and decided to publish our conference proceedings openly as an eBook using the existing NTK infrastructure, including a pre-existing repository and creation of an official cataloging record to improve access to the document.

While at times daunting (finding EBLIP peer reviewers during the summer at times seemed like climbing Mount Everest! And who knew some Czech ISBN rules date back to the mid-90s!), both experiences have left me with a clear understanding of what fully moving to an open access environment can mean, when members of various academic communities take it seriously. It all boils down to a community’s rolling up its sleeves and being serious about defining and implementing what scholarly communications/output mean to that particular community plus utilizing (and pushing to expand and improve) existing technological infrastructures.

When this work is done, everyone involved in the process learns: the educational benefits of really engaging in working behind-the-scenes on an open access journal or eBook (in any role: author, publisher, peer reviewer, copy editor, editor) are tremendous, and anyone with an Internet connection interested in the community’s outputs (note: there are still serious Digital Divide hurdles to be solved in this regard) can engage in discussion about the published output.

Stepping back: defining (seriously) what scholarly communications means to a community

I can understand why metrics defining what is considered to be “scholarly output” were developed (funders—including universities and not just grant funding agencies—must have fair and transparent guidelines for academic promotion and distribution of limited grant funding), but I know I’m not alone in feeling that such standards can be misinterpreted, can be overly inflexible, and can be “gamed” by certain players. In the end, each academic community defines its rules.

In terms of contributing to open access movements, it’s up to each academic community to do its soul-searching. Do we want everyone in the world to be able to access our efforts? Why do our journals charge article processing charges (APCs), if they charge them? Are the APCs fair? Will reducing APCs impact quality (or not)? If there’s money involved, where does all the money go?

If it’s hard for your community to answer such questions, it’s maybe time for the community to ask itself why.

Taking advantage of (and pushing to expand and improve) existing technological infrastructures

In thinking about APCs, if a community decides to handle behind-the-scenes work with volunteers (“paid” by learning to be better writers, reviewers, and editors; by gaining academic service activities to put on CVs and to talk about in annual reviews; fame and glory [j/k]), the only “cost” to providing open journal access is the technological infrastructure. EBLIP works with the Open Journal Systems (OJS), a Public Knowledge project, hosted by University of Alberta Libraries; for the ILDS eBook, we used a pre-existing library repository.

Many of these kinds of individual initiatives, at individual institutions or libraries, have sprung up over the past decade. They’re there for members of academic communities to take advantage of, but are often forgotten and/or limited to members of an individual institution. Sometimes, maybe too often, commercial solutions are more user friendly and have broader reach. If we’re serious about open access—and long-term access to information we can trust—maybe it’s time researchers and libraries start asking themselves better questions about solutions which already exist. Why does “Commercial Solution X” work better than our repositories? Are we fast enough to deliver new solutions that can compete with commercial ones? If we’re too slow, why is this the case? How can we do better?

Then there are the even bigger questions: What can we do to change the common issues we face—not just at our institution, but across our global academic community as a whole? How can we share resources to make our efforts accessible to all? How can we serve a greater good better? 

Such questions are easy to lose sight of in the day-to-day sea of academic activities. I’d argue it’s maybe time to stop getting jostled by the waves and to put our hands on the rudder.

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