Saturday, April 05, 2014

Interview with Jean-Gabriel Bankier, President & CEO of bepress

Founded in 1999 by three Berkeley professors, bepress (formerly Berkeley Electronic Press) spent the first decade of its existence building up a portfolio of peer-reviewed journals — much like any scholarly publisher. In 2011, however, it  took what might seem like a surprising decision: it decided to sell all its journals to De Gruyter and reinvent itself as a technology company.
Jean-Gabriel Bankier

Instead of publishing journals, bepress is now focussed on developing and licensing the publishing technology it created for its earlier publishing activities, and its flagship product is a cloud-based institutional repository/publishing platform called Digital Commons.

Digital Commons is currently licensed to more than 320 academic institutions, who use the software to publish over 700 journals, 94% of which are open access. This publishing activity is invariably managed by the institution’s library, and often includes the publishing of books, conference proceedings, data sets, audio-visual collections, and other digital content types too.

Is this a sign of things to come: Publishers becoming technology companies and librarians becoming publishers? President and CEO of bepress Jean-Gabriel Bankier believes it is. As he puts it in the Q&A below, “Library-led publishing is an integral strategy in the university taking back ownership of scholarly communication.” As such, he adds, the future of scholarly publishing now “lies in the hands of libraries and scholars.”

To support his argument Bankier cites a US study in which 55% of the universities and colleges surveyed said that they are offering or considering offering library publishing services.

Moreover, bepress is not the only game in town for libraries looking for a publishing platform. In 2001 the Public Knowledge Project released the first version of the open-source publishing software Open Journals Systems (OJS), and today OJS estimates that over 6,000 journals are being published using its software. Many of these journals are undoubtedly being published (or soon will be published) by university libraries — e.g. the library at University College London and Stellenbosch University library

We could also note that in 2012 US-based Amherst College announced that it was launching its own press. This will publish peer-reviewed books in the liberal arts, and will be managed by the library. 

What all this means, says Bankier, is that if publishers “want to continue to play a significant role in supporting the changing needs of the research community” they will need to consider following the example of bepress, and morph from content provider to technology company.

Doubtless other publishers would challenge this assertion. But whatever the future holds, I think anyone interested in open access, or scholarly communication more generally, will find what Bankier has to say below of great interest.

The Q&A begins

RP: As I understand it, bepress was founded as a scholarly publisher in 1999. Can you say briefly who founded it and what the initial goal was? Is it for profit or non-profit?

J-G B: In 1999, UC Berkeley professors Robert Cooter, Aaron Edlin, and Ben Hermalin banded together to launch Berkeley Electronic Press, now simply called bepress.

The heart of bepress has always been about listening to faculty and responding with simple technology-based solutions that support scholars in the rapidly changing world of scholarly communications.

Initially, for us, that meant exploring alternatives to commercial scholarly journal publishing which were plagued by slow turnaround times, limited access, and unreasonable prices. Later, that meant providing authors and universities themselves with the means to publish their research openly and widely. We are a for-profit company.

RP: You say bepress is a for-profit company. I assume the shareholders are the three founders? Can you tell me what the company’s revenues and profits were for the last financial year?

J-G B: Yes, the founders are shareholders. The company was born with just a little seed money from the founders, parents, and incredibly supportive friends and neighbours, most of whom continue to own part of the company. Bepress has never had venture capital or private equity. Berkeley isn't far from Silicon Valley, but we weren't that kind of start-up. Our first office, after we moved out of one of the founder's kitchen, had no natural lighting and ceilings so low that it necessitated skidding around mismatching, three-wheeled chairs to avoid banging one's head on the ceiling.

I'm happy to report that around 15 years later, we've now got offices with actual windows and chairs that don't wobble. Our business doesn't wobble any more either. Our revenues are around $10 million a year with an unbelievably low cancelation rate for subscribers (below 1% in 2013). We are very stable and run at a modest profit. It is a great feeling to finally be able to send small dividend checks to those friends and family members who put their faith in us back in the beginning.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The State of Open Access

Last year I ran a series of Q&As to which I gave the title “The State of Open Access”. In total I conducted 19 interviews, which are all listed here.

During the time I was running the series I had a number of people suggest to me that, in fairness, I too should give my views on the current state of open access. I was initially resistant to the idea, since I see myself more as an observer of the movement than a participant.

After giving it some thought, however, I concluded that — in the interests of transparency and openness if nothing else — I ought to be prepared to answer the kind of questions I put to my interviewees.

I am therefore today publishing answers to a set of 11 questions that were put to me by neurobiologist and open access advocate Björn Brembs. (Brembs was one of those I interviewed, and his Q&A is here).

For those interested in reading my answers I have put them in a downloadable PDF file. But be warned gentle reader, the PDF is 28 pages long. I know, I know, it is too long. But I am not going to apologise.

I am not going to apologise because it seems to me that most of the commentary one reads on OA today tends to take place either on Twitter, in short fiery blog posts by OA advocates, or in self-congratulatory articles and communications by publishers. Moreover, much of this commentary tends to consist of assertions rather than reasoned argument, and much of it amounts to little more than cheer leading, or attacks on those who hold different views about OA. That, of course, is the way of the world. But I feel there should be space for longer, more reflective pieces too, which I hope I have achieved in my answers to Brembs.

I do not anticipate that many, if any, OA advocates will agree with most what I say, and I don’t expect publishers to agree either. But for good or bad they represent the views of someone who has been observing and reporting on the OA movement for more than a decade.  Feel free to ignore them!

For those who prefer not to download long PDFs here is a bullet list of some of the things I say:

     In my view, OA to research papers is inevitable.

     I see a number of weaknesses in the way the OA movement has organised itself over the years, and as a result of these weaknesses it is likely that we will see OA policies introduced that OA advocates do not welcome, and that the research community at large dislikes intensely.

     That said, as the research community moves toward OA I see two possible scenarios, one in which publishers effectively appropriate OA to their own ends, another in which the research community takes charge and oversees the development of an OA environment more suited to its needs than the needs of publishers.

     Essentially, therefore, I believe OA is at an important transition point. If the research community wants to ensure that it gets an OA regime that best meets its needs it should be urgently embracing OA today, and on its own terms. If it waits until OA is thrust upon it will likely have to accept it in a far less pleasing way. Act Now or Repent at Leisure!

     I believe that institutional repositories need to be filled with as much content as possible, as quickly as possible. So instead of advising researchers to opt for pay-to-publish Gold OA, OA advocates should be telling them to continue publishing in subscription journals and self-archive their papers in their institutional repository by means of Green OA.

     Research institutions should also be moving quickly to follow the example of universities like University College London and Yale, and start publishing their own OA journals and books using their institutional repositories.

     I expect that by the time the  transition period for the RCUK policy ends (in five years’ time), we will know whether the scholarly communication system is going to continue to be managed and controlled by publishers in the OA world, or whether the research community has found it in itself to get into the driver’s seat and begun moving full speed ahead to create a system in its own image.

     Ideally, the research community should be working to develop a global scholarly communication infrastructure based on networks of OA repositories. However, what currently seems more likely (in the short term at least), is that there will be a bipartite system, with the developed world opting for a system based on pay-to-publish Gold OA journals, and the developing world adopting repository-based systems that build on the work of services like SciELO and African Journals Online (AJOL), along with networks of institutional repositories like La Referencia.

Please note that I am not an OA advocate, and so my aim is not to persuade anyone. These are just the views of someone who has spent ten years writing about OA.

To read the Q&A (as a PDF file) click HERE.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Guest Post: Charles Oppenheim on who owns the rights to scholarly articles

The recent decision by Elsevier to start sending take down notices to sites like, and to individual universities, demanding that they remove self-archived papers from their web sites has sparked a debate about the copyright status of different versions of a scholarly paper.

Last week, the Scholarly Communications Officer at Duke University in the US, Kevin Smith, published a blog post challenging a widely held assumption amongst OA advocates that when scholars transfer copyright in their papers they transfer only the final version of the article. This is not true, Smith argued.

As he put it:

Each version is a revision of the original, and the copyright is the same for all these derivatives.  When copyright is transferred to a publisher, the rights in the entire set of versions, as derivatives of one another, are included in the transfer.  Authors are not allowed to use their post-prints because the rights in that version are not covered in the transfer; they are allowed to use post-prints only because the right to do so, in specified situations, is licensed back to them as part of the publication agreement.

If correct, this would seem to have important implications for Green OA, not least because it would mean that publishers have greater control over self-archiving than OA advocates assume.

However Charles Oppenheim, a UK-based copyright specialist, believes that OA advocates are correct in thinking that when an author signs a copyright assignment only the rights in the final version of the paper are transferred, and so authors retain the rights to all earlier versions of their work, certainly under UK and EU law. As such, they are free to post earlier versions of their papers on the Web.

Charles Oppenheim explains his thinking on this below:

Charles Oppenheim

In this article, I will try to tease out the copyright ownership issues associated with scholarly articles.  Before I do so, I first have to explain certain terms used in this piece:

Assignment is when the current copyright owner of a work gives or sells that copyright to a third party.  Assignments cannot be done informally.  They require a signed contract (a formal contract or a letter).  The need for a signature means it is usual to do this by means of the post, face to face, or by fax, though it is possible to do so using e mail under some circumstances.

In contrast, a licence (spelt “license” in the USA) occurs where the copyright owner retains copyright in the work, but grants a third party (the licensee) certain permissions to do things with the work which would not normally be allowed under copyright law.  Licences are usually in writing (for example, the licences libraries sign for access to Elsevier’s Science Direct).  Licences may be charged for, or can be free of charge, e.g., Creative Commons licences. But unlike assignments, licences can exist without any formal agreement. 

Such licences are called implied licences.  In such cases, permissions are granted by custom and practice, rather than by formal agreement. A typical example is where an author submits a manuscript to a scholarly journal.  The author grants the journal editor and publisher an implied licence to forward a copy of the manuscript to peer reviewers and/or to store the article temporarily on its management systems.

Imagine I prepare an article that I would like published in a scholarly journal.  Let us call it D (for draft).  I send D to the editor of the journal, who also receives the implied licence from me mentioned above.  The editor forwards D to some peer reviewers.  In due course, the reviewers pass comments back to the editor, who in turn summarises them in a message to me.  Let us assume certain amendments are required to D.  I make those amendments, and submit the final manuscript (called F) back to the editor.  The editor then asks me to assign copyright in F to the publisher.  Let us assume I sign it.  What are the legal consequences of that signature?

1.      The publisher acquires the copyright in F.  This means no third party – including myself – is allowed to copy, disseminate or amend F without the publisher’s express permission – which may well not be forthcoming.  If I do copy F, say onto an Open Access repository without permission, I am infringing the publisher’s copyright, and the publisher is entitled to insist I take it down (as Elsevier has famously done recently), and could in principle sue me for damages because I have infringed its copyright.

2.      But crucially, I retain copyright in D.  How come?  Because the assignment I gave relates ONLY to F. Assignments precisely specify what is being assigned, and nowhere does the assignment I signed refer to “precursors of F”.  Indeed, it cannot, because that would include the very first stab I made at writing the article, perhaps just a few sentences written many months previously and bearing no relation to D or F. This crucial difference means I am free to do anything I like with D, including posting it on an OA repository.

If D is identical to F – in other words, the reviewers and the editor are so happy with my manuscript that no changes are needed, what follows below does not apply.  However, I suspect in the vast majority of cases, D is different to F.  Note that it is irrelevant if F is very similar to D, or is greatly different, to what follows below.

Posting D on an OA repository is the so-called “Harnad-Oppenheim” solution, first proposed by Stevan Harnad and me more than 10 years ago. 

When the solution was first enunciated, publishers dismissed it for two reasons:  firstly, why would anyone want to read a draft when the final perfect version can be obtained via the publisher? And secondly, it would be difficult to track down a copy of D anyway.  Their comments remain valid today, though the second one is not as strong because of services such as Google Scholar.  But no publisher suggested that the solution was illegal because publishers owned the copyright to D, and they were right not to do so.  The law is clear that I own the copyright in D. That is why I am so puzzled that some recent non-publisher commentators seem to think publishers own the copyright in D. 

Another idea going the rounds is to post F on a repository before signing anything with the publisher, so the publisher is forced to accept that the item has already appeared.  The problem with that approach is that publishers’ licence or assignment terms require the author to confirm that F has not been published before, or is not being considered for publication elsewhere. That’s why it must be D that is posted, rather than F.

I don’t particularly recommend the Harnad-Oppenheim solution, for the reasons publishers gave when the solution was first propounded.  The approaches authors should be taking, in order of preference, are:

1.      Offer the article only to an OA journal or some other OA vehicle

2.      Offer the article to a subscription-based journal which is happy that you give the publisher a sole licence to publish, leaving you free to put F on a repository, possibly after an embargo period

3.      Offer the article to a subscription-based journal, which nominally requires assignment, but will back off and let you insist on a licence if you stick to your guns. (Elsevier is a good example)

4.      Agree to assign copyright to the publisher, and then use the Harnad-Oppenheim solution.

5.      Agree to assign copyright and don’t do anything more.

For nearly 20 years, I have only used options 1, 2 or 3 without problems. I don’t use option 4 because I’ve not needed to. (Disclaimer: where my article has been co-authored with someone from another institution and they are happy to use option 5, I have gone along with it – but that’s been very rare). 

N.B. This commentary is based upon my understanding of UK and EU law; the laws of other countries may be different, but I believe that a copyright assignment in every major country requires a written, signed agreement that refers precisely to the work being assigned, and only that work.


This text is made available under a CC BY ND licence.  As such anyone is free to re-use it as long as Charles Oppenheim’s name is retained and it is not amended in any way.


Charles Oppenheim was, until he retired in 2009, Professor of Information Science and Head of the Department of Information Science at Loughborough University. He is currently a Professor at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, and a Visiting Professor at Cass Business School, part of The City University, London.  Previously he held posts in other academic institutions, and for twelve years worked in the electronic publishing industry. 

Charles is an Honorary Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Profession.

He has been involved in, given talks on, and published on the library and information professions, Intellectual Property Rights and other legal issues relevant to the library and information professions, bibliometrics, evaluation of research quality, and on scholarly publishing trends.

He can be followed on Twitter: @CharlesOppenh

Monday, December 23, 2013

Robin Osborne on the state of Open Access: Where are we, what still needs to be done?

One of a series exploring the current state of Open Access (OA), the Q&A below is with Robin Osborne, Professor of Ancient History at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of the British Academy.

Earlier this year Osborne published an essay questioning one of the basic premises of the OA movement — that research funded by the taxpayer should be freely available to all. To claim as much, he said, was “a gross misunderstanding” of the nature of academic research and of scholarly publication. Yet this was the premise of the UK government-commissioned Finch Report, this was the conclusion of the UK government when it accepted the Finch Report’s recommendations, and this was the assumption of Research Councils UK (RCUK) when it subsequently introduced a new OA policy.

Robin Osborne
Osborne’s essay met with considerable hostility from OA advocates, who complained that it was elitist, that it was insular and arrogant, and that it was dim-witted. Doubtless Osborne could have been more judicious in his choice of language when challenging the OA movement. But then so could his critics when responding to him.

Be that as it may, in conducting the Q&A below with Osborne it seemed to me that three key questions arise from his intervention in the OA debate. First, of course, is whether the arguments he uses are valid. Second, we might want to ask how representative his views are. Third, we might wonder how Humanities and Social Science (HSS) researchers (and their societies) should respond to the growing demands that they make their research OA, particularly since OA policies are invariably based on the habits and practices of scientists.

As my thoughts on these three questions turned out to be somewhat lengthy, instead of publishing my usual foreword to this Q&A, I have attached an afterword below it. I do this in the expectation that some readers may only want to read the Q&A. At the very end is a further comment from Osborne in response to the afterword.

Q&A with Robin Osborne

Q: In an essay you wrote for the British Academy earlier this year you argued that Open Access “makes no sense”. You explained, “There can be no such thing as free access to academic research. Academic research is not something to which free access is possible. Academic research is a process — a process which universities teach (at a fee).” I think your point was that giving someone physical access to information is not the same thing as enabling them to make use of it (As you put it, “For those who wish to have access, there is an admission cost: they must invest in the education prerequisite to enable them to understand the language used.”).

OA advocates responded by accusing you of elitism. As palaeontologist Mike Taylor (interviewed earlier in this series) put it on his blog, “[I]t breaks my heart to read this fusty, elitist, reactionary piece, in which Professor Osborne ends up arguing strongly for his own irrelevance.”

Have I understood the point you were making about access correctly, and how would you respond to those who say that your argument was an elitist one?

A: Yes, you have understood correctly.

The charge of elitism seems to me extraordinary. If we did not think that there were some sorts of communication for which there is prerequisite training we would not have an education system. Once one has an education system one must treat those who have been through it differently from those who have not been through it — otherwise one is massively wasting their time. That means writing needs to be adapted to its readership. That way what is written is less likely to be misunderstood and is going to be more effective at making the points that it makes.

This is not to argue for the irrelevance of any form of scholarship, it is very precisely to argue the opposite — that scholarship has relevance within a particular context (that is, after all, what relevance means).

Q: You also argued that there is “no clear dividing line between projects funded by research councils and an academic’s daily activities of thinking and teach. If there are fees to teaching there should be fees for access to research.” And you further said that attributing any particular publication to a particular funding body “is simply impossible.”

I think you made these points in order to rebut OA advocates’ argument that publicly-funded research should be made freely available to the public. That of course is only one of the arguments used by OA advocates. I am struck, for instance, that the university that has done most to advocate for OA is a private US university — Harvard. When I asked Harvard’s Stuart Shieber why a privately funded university has become a leader in a movement whose main rallying cry is “public access to taxpayer-funded research” he replied, “Harvard’s activities toward openness are based on the mission of all universities, both public and private, to disseminate knowledge.” Would you agree that that is the mission of all universities? If so, should not all universities and all scholars be advocating for OA today, now that the Internet had made it possible?

A: The issue here is not whether scholars should make some of their work available free-of-charge to the world at large but whether scholars should be obliged to publish all work funded in a particular way or that is to count as research that can be graded in a REF exercise as OA.

I have no objection to making suitable research available to all on a suitable website. But in fact I know that I shall have greater impact — that is, be read by more people who are in a position to make the most of my research — if I publish within a particular framework.

So I am currently involved a) in making my research on Athenian democracy available in a ‘reader’ (‘LACTOR’) that will be widely used by A-level students in the classroom; b) in producing a magazine (‘OMNIBUS’) aimed at sixth-form students (now in its 34th year; I’ve been involved for 27 of those years) which commissions, edits and prints short articles in which scholars bring the insights of their research to bear on texts and topics relevant to Greek, Latin, Class. Civ. and Ancient History A levels.

Neither of these publications is free but publication in either LACTOR or OMNIBUS format will get read and studied by more people than posting on an internet site. And certainly my publishing the more technical research from which these publications derive would have no effect at all, since the length of exposition required for scholarly colleagues will turn off non-scholarly readers immediately.

So effective dissemination and OA simply are not the same thing. I’m an advocate of the former, which is why I oppose being forced into the latter.

Q: In reading your BA essay I formed the impression that your main objection is to pay-to-publish Gold OA, rather than OA per se. You may know that Harvard’s Peter Suber (interviewed earlier in this series) recently estimated that nearly 70% of journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals do not charge an article-processing charge (APC) so they are free to publish and free to read.

And of course there is also Green OA, where authors continue to publish in subscription journals, but then make their papers freely available by self-archiving them in their institutional repositories. In their submission to the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee inquiry into Open Access earlier this year The Classical Association (of which you are a former President) and The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies (of which I think you are also a former President) said that they supported the principle of Open Access to research, but argued that this can be achieved most effectively by Green OA, so long as an embargo period of 36 months is applied. They added that they do not feel that the subscription model for learned societies is “in itself flawed or unsatisfactory”.

Do the views of these organisations accord with yours? If not, in what ways do your views differ?

A: You are right that my BA article aimed primarily at Gold OA — partly because it was first written more than 6 months before it appeared, when I was trying to get the BA to take OA seriously, and at that point Gold OA was the chief game in town.

I’m more cautious about Green OA than the CA/SPHS etc. have been, partly because dispositionally I regard the approach that says ‘yes, but’ as politically problematic when there are points of principle that need making, and partly because there simply isn’t the experimental data to allow a judgement to be passed as to whether with scholarly journals in the humanities 36 months is too short or unnecessarily long. (The figure of 70% of journals listed in the Directory of OA journals does not move me since in the humanities journals serve niche markets, and so what matters is the practice of the journals serving your niche.)

The issue under debate is not whether a scholar should be allowed to make their work available OA — if it were I would be fighting for that possibility. The issue is whether scholars are going to be compelled to make their work available OA however unsatisfactory the OA options are for them.

If journals were being compelled towards a Green OA policy by market pressure, that would seem to me fair enough. But instead the pressure is being applied by research councils and by government when there is clear evidence that neither research councils nor government have seriously thought about the consequences or have any notion of the different publishing patterns in different subjects and disciplines.

Q: You prefaced your BA article by saying that the claims you were making about OA were limited to research in the Humanities. You added, however, that “very similar arguments apply to research in the sciences also”.

In the recent Guardian live chat on OA that you took part in I formed the impression that you found yourself talking at cross purposes with those with a focus on the sciences. Do you continue to think that similar arguments to those you used in your article also apply to the sciences, or might it be that the situation is actually rather different for the sciences (not least, perhaps, because there is much more funding available for the sciences)?

A: I’ve become convinced that there are some pretty fundamental differences between what publication means in the sciences and what it means in the arts.

I suspect that one sort of scientific publication is dominating the science debate, and that there are other sorts of scientific publication that are much closer to arts publications, but I do acknowledge that there is a big difference between arts and STEM (though I’m not so sure about Mathematics…).

Q: Another distinction we should perhaps make is that between journals produced by commercial publishers and those produced by learned societies. I suspect your focus is more on the latter (I think you are on the editorial boards of several learned society journals for instance). The Classical Association and The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies certainly drew the distinction when making their submission to the BIS Committee. And they pointed out, for instance, that excess revenue earned from their publications helps support the Institute of Classical Studies and their other activities (conferences, lectures, and seminars etc.).

Learned societies often make this argument. Critics respond by suggesting that such a strategy is back to front. If there is a shortfall in society funds, they argue, it is more appropriate to increase membership dues than to tax readers.

Others argue that scholarly publishing is currently inefficient and that OA offers the best long-term route to improving the efficiency of learned society publishing — see this Harvard blog post, for instance, which argues that society publishers would be under less threat from commercial publishers if they adopted Gold OA, since shifting from the reader-pays to the author-pays model would make the scholarly publishing market more efficient, and so help society publishers, many of who are currently threatened by the “big deals” offered by large commercial publishers. Do those who make these arguments have a point, or is their argument erroneous?

A:  In many learned societies the journal comes free with membership, so it is not a matter of increasing membership fees rather than charging for the journal. The journal is the major ‘good’ that the society produces.

The problem with the Harvard blog argument — that learned society journals would be better off under a Gold OA policy — is that it ignores the desire of such journals to be homes to contributions from independent scholars, retired scholars, and young scholars who are unlikely to have access to appropriate APCs. The more care a journal takes over its submissions the better they are for such scholars, who often have much less chance of quality feedback from other sources before submitting their papers, but by the same token that high quality of care means that the realistic APCs need to be very high.

Spreading what is now paid for by 1,000 subscribers across 10 or 12 contributors has obvious consequences for the relation of APCs to journal subscriptions: essentially scholars would be paying up to 3 life-times of journal subscriptions for a single contribution…

There clearly are some small scholarly fields where readership levels are small and the particular readership so expert that it does not need much in the way of refereeing or copy-editing. But in fields with a significant readership in numbers and range (e.g. classics journals being read by school teachers and by students) high-quality refereeing, which not only sorts out the good from the bad but much improves the good, both refereeing and copy-editing are essential. Refereeing is done free of charge because it is in the interests of the journal and of the learned society that runs it.

But when a commercial publisher asks for referees’ reports it pays for them. If an author is paying for my refereeing services I am likely to think myself entitled to some of what he pays. If a reader is paying for the product, then I am proud to have had a part improving the product that the learned society produces.

Q: How would you characterise the current state of OA, both in the UK and internationally?

A: Lots of resignation here, and because Green is so much less horrific than Gold people have rallied behind it, forgetting the completely objectionable compulsion that is being applied. I’ve less sense of the position abroad, which seems to me to be much more varied, partly because there are many parts of the world (e.g. USA) where the scope for compulsion is much less.

Q: Assuming that OA is now inevitable, and recent developments (e.g. the US OSTP Memorandum, the RCUK OA policy, the European Research Council Guidelines on OA and the new OA policy at the University of California) suggest it probably is, what do you expect the respective roles of Green and Gold OA will be going forward, and how is this likely to differ between the humanities and sciences (if at all)?

A: Green is going to be prime in the humanities; gold may be bigger in sciences. But primarily I expect confusion as to what counts as Green, and a lot of multiple publication of essentially the same article, partly in OA form, partly in non-OA form.

People who want to be read in the humanities will stick with non-OA forms for some time to come, except when compelled to do otherwise.

Q: If you do support the general principle of OA, what do you think still needs to be done to achieve it, and by whom? If you do not support OA, what do you think should be done to resist it, and who should do that?

A: I think compulsion is to be resisted by everyone in all circumstances. I find the attempt to pretend that there is a moral issue here itself morally repulsive.

Q: OA advocates argue that the greatest beneficiaries of OA will be those in the developing world, where many universities can generally afford no more than a handful of journal subscriptions. Would you agree that the developing world faces a serious accessibility problem, and do you think that OA can solve that problem?

A: There is no doubt about the access problems, and many journals have distributed copies free or at much reduced prices in certain parts of the world for a long time. But without an appropriate educational base most scholarly literature will remain ‘Greek’.

Q: The seeds of the OA movement (certainly for librarians) lie in the so-called “serials crisis”, which is an affordability problem. It was this affordability problem that created the accessibility problem that OA was intended to solve. Publishers argue that OA will be no less expensive. OA advocates, by contrast, argue that it will be less expensive than subscription publishing. What are your views on the question of costs? Does cost really matter anyway?

A: Yes costs matter. But high journal costs were a product of scholars needing a proxy for quality. Learned society publications provided that in small fields, but the problem in science was very different. OA has done nothing to help that problem. The problem of having a way in each field of sorting out the important research from the merely interesting (or indeed the mistaken) is one that remains to be sorted, OA or not OA.


Robin Osborne FBA is Professor of Ancient History in the University of Cambridge, Fellow and Senior Tutor of King’s College Cambridge and a Fellow of the British Academy. He was Chairman of the Council of University Classical Departments 2006–2012, and President of the Classical Association in 2012–13. He is the Chairman of Sub-Panel 31 in the upcoming REF 2014. His work ranges over the fields of ancient Greek History, archaeology and Art History. His recent books include the second edition of his Greece in the Making, 1200–479 B.C. (London: Routledge, 2009); Athens and Athenian Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) and The History Written on the Classical Greek Body (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

His list of publications is freely available herebut you have to pay for his books.


Afterword: Background and futures

When commenting on Open Access, observers often (and rightly) point out that the OA movement has been driven primarily by scientists. One consequence of this, they add, is that when governments and research funders introduce OA policies they tend to build them around the research practices of the STEM disciplines, and then take a one-size-fits-all approach, regardless of any differences between the disciplines.

Critics argue that this is problematic, not least because it fails to recognise that the culture and practices of scholars working in, say, the humanities and social sciences (HSS) are very different to those of scientists. HSS scholars tend to use different research methods, and they generally communicate their scholarship differently. (Academics in the humanities, for instance, are more inclined to publish monographs than submit papers to journals — thus, in the UK’s 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, only 36% of the history submissions were of journal articles, the remainder being monographs or volumes of essays).

More importantly, critics add, HSS scholars do not have access to the same levels of funding as those working in the STEM disciplines. Consequently, they say, any model requiring that researchers pay to publish is impracticable for HSS scholars.

Nowhere have the potential problems of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach been more evident than in the UK, where earlier this year RCUK introduced a new OA policy (which was first announced in July 2012).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ann Okerson on the state of Open Access: Where are we, what still needs to be done?

One of a series exploring the current state of Open Access (OA), the Q&A below is with Ann Okerson, Senior Advisor on Electronic Strategies for the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), and a former Associate University Librarian at Yale University. Okerson also serves as a consultant on library projects.
Ann Okerson
Prior to joining Yale, Okerson worked as founding senior program officer for scholarly communications at the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) in Washington, DC, after having written the consultant report Of Making Many Books There is No End: Report on Serial Prices. Published in 1989, this was one of the early rallying cries to libraries and academia about the spiralling costs of scientific journals.

After arriving at Yale, in 1996, Okerson organised the Northeast Research Libraries Consortium (NERL), a group of 28 large research libraries (and over 80 smaller affiliates) that negotiates licences for electronic information (i.e. “big deals”) and engages in other forms of cooperative activity.

In 1997, with funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), Okerson and colleagues at Yale library mounted an online educational resource covering the topic of library licensing of electronic content, in a project called LIBLICENSE. In addition to web resources and tools, this includes the influential mailing list liblicense-l, which today has over 4,200 subscribers, including librarians, publishers and attorneys.

Describing her current job at CRL in a recent Wiley Exchanges interview, Okerson said, “I’m engaged with Bernie Reilly (CRL’s dedicated, creative president) and his senior staff to identify openings and opportunities for CRL electronic engagement:  for example, playing a supporting role in some digital activities (such as supporting work for newspaper digitization projects) and a lead role in others (such as cross-consortial negotiations for significant archival and current e-resources).”

At CRL Okerson is leading a community working group tasked with rewriting the “Model Contract” originally pioneered at LIBLICENSE in the late 1990s. She has also just completed a two-year term as Chair of the Professional Committee of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) as well as four years on its Governing Board.

Open Access

Okerson has been both a participant in and observer of the OA movement since the beginning. In 1995, for instance, she co-edited — with classicist Jim O’Donnell — the book Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads: a Subversive Proposal for Electronic Journal Publishing. This consists almost entirely of e-mail messages, and covers an extensive multinational Internet discussion about the future of scholarly journals that took place across many e-lists. The debate was sparked by an online message that OA advocate Steven Harnad (interviewed earlier in this Q&A series) had posted in 1994 under the title “subversive proposal”.

Harnad’s message is now viewed as one of the seminal texts of the OA movement, although it (and the book it led to) was published before the various strands of the movement had coalesced into a single effort (and adopted the name “open access”) which happened in 2001 at the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI).

Today Okerson is a member of the international steering committee for SCOAP3, a project designed to transition the principle scientific journals in the field of high energy physics to an OA business model. SCOAP3 is set to go live in January 2014.

Given her background, Okerson is well placed to give an informed view on the current state of Open Access. Inevitably, she views matters through the eyes of a librarian.

What is striking to me, however, is that — at a time when many librarians have come to view publishers as the enemy — Okerson appears surprisingly balanced and objective in her views.

It is no surprise, then, that she views herself as belonging to the “pragmatic wing” of the OA movement. “I’m always thrilled with ‘better,’ but I also like ‘now’”, she says.

For that reason, she adds, her biggest disappointment is “the way that the desire for the best can get in the way of the really pretty darned good. The dialogue that we need to have among academics, librarians, publishers, and policymakers breaks down when it becomes ideological, and real opportunities can be missed.”

What in Okerson’s view is the current state of Open Access? “I remember getting my head around the concept of the asymptote back in Algebra II, that ideal line the curve is trending towards, closer and closer without ever absolutely reaching,” she says. “That’s my mental model for how we are progressing with open access. We’ll likely never get 100% there, but the trend and progress are real. If we were all a little less ideological, a little more pragmatic, there would be a variety of things we could be doing now that would advance our objectives and push the curve closer to the ideal line.”