Friday, 26 October 2018

Open Access - what, monographs too?

Concluding our series of Open Access Week posts, Kate Petherbridge muses on the increasing importance of open access monographs and some of the different publishing models emerging... 

We are used to the idea that many funders and universities want academics to publish articles Open Access (OA). However, dismay met the push to make monographs available OA as well. In 2016, HEFCE (as it then was) flagged the expected expansion of OA requirements to monographs in the third Research Excellence Framework (REF). When this was discussed during the University Press Redux in February 2018 there was great debate about whether this is realistic - or even desirable. So what are the concerns and are they valid? What would be the benefits of OA monographs?

What is Open Access?

The International Open Access Week website describes OA as “the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need”. In order to achieve the second aspect, content needs to be licenced to enable reuse. Commonly, this means that content is published under Creative Commons Licences, which allow authors to retain the rights to their work and to set the conditions around which others can copy, distribute, and reuse that work.

Why is it important? 

OA is important for a number of reasons. The obvious ones include meeting REF requirements and funding conditions. OA content tends to be viewed more than content that needs to be paid for, and this often results in higher citation rates. The increased visibility helps build your academic reputation. OA brings research to new audiences, inside and outside academia, and this is likely to increase public engagement. Increasing the public’s perception of the relevance of HE is important in the current climate, and demonstrating this has been difficult when the research done is closed and inaccessibly to so many. It also brings the maximum value from research by allowing it to be reused as a building block in ongoing conversations and research.

When is Open Access not really Open Access? 

To start with, let's look at OA models for article publishing. These are now widely accepted (though it’s worth remembering the concerns when this discussed began). The Green OA model seems most common. Academics deposit a pre-publication version of their accepted article manuscript in either an institutional or subject repository. They then publish their article, often in a traditional journal. After an embargo period, set by the publisher but (hopefully!) in line with the funder’s criteria, the repository version can be accessed for free. So while the published article may still sit within a subscription journal, a free version is available to everyone once the embargo period ends.

All good, right? Well, yes and no. The repository version is not the same as the published article (usually considered the “version of record”). Academics can find this frustrating.  The arguably more accessible repository version (embargo period aside) sometimes lacks key formatting, may not look as professional, and will lack citation-relevant structure (page numbers etc.). Having multiple versions can also mean it’s harder to measure impact and combine metrics etc. Repository versions can also fall under publisher copyright, preventing them being shared and reused freely. This doesn’t really embrace the full spirit of OA (even if it does tick all the boxes from a funder perspective).

Hybrid journals publish some articles free-to-access while others remain behind subscription paywalls. Again, while this offers free access to the OA articles, the copyright remains with the publisher so limiting sharing and reuse. Many funders are now considering if hybrid journals really do meet their OA criteria.

Gold OA, where an article is published in a full OA journal, with no issues around different versions, paywalls or embargo periods, and where the content is published under a licence that allows sharing and reuse, delivers both the free access and reuse aspects of OA.

Image Open books by Latemplanza available under
CC-BY-SA 4.0 at Wikimedia Commons

So... back to monographs

That was relevant. Really! Having a clear understanding of how OA monographs models could work in practice will save time if we hope to include monographs in the third REF.

A Green OA monograph model sees the book sold for a period before becoming free to access online. While being sold it would presumably be “rights reserved” but could flip to a more liberal licence once it becomes OA. This is almost equivalent to the article embargo period. Some publishers already use this model, or something very similar. It doesn’t replicate the version/formatting issues we see with Green OA article publishing, but does create other questions.

Is it fair to the book’s audience that one day they have to pay for something that becomes free the next? Publishers would need to declare the “becomes free” date to prevent backlash. This could change customer behaviour, with readers waiting till the book was free to access it. In the current context of ever-increasing pressure on library budgets, it’s hard to justify buying access to research that will become free for everyone after 12 months. This could then delay the impact of the research by a year, which would frustrate authors and funders keen to see research embraced by the academic community.

There is also question of sustainability. Green OA for articles doesn’t require funding of publishing charges. The publisher covers the costs out of profit made from journal subscriptions, as normal, while the author simply deposits e.g. a PDF of the pre-published manuscript in a repository. For monographs publication costs will apply. These are unlikely to be covered by e.g. a single year of sales. If OA publishing becomes widespread, how will publishers fund these monographs unless passing costs on to funders/institutions? If that happened, wouldn’t this be the Gold model with a delay?

Gold OA monographs

Gold OA for monographs would see instant free access to the full published version with maximum potential impact through widest possible dissemination from initial release. A recent White Rose University Press (WRUP) publication, Star Carr, reached nearly 1000 downloads in its first week of release and has now reached well over 4000 downloads after 6 months. Published under liberal licences, so the author retains ownership of their work and to enable sharing and reuse, this would seem to be the obvious solution. So what is the problem? 

Who pays?

It’s a thorny issue. Gold OA is often called “author pays”- though in reality funding should come from funding bodies, institutions, societies rather from the author themselves. It might be more accurate to call it a “funding required” model. This is likely to be true of any sustainable OA monograph model if we are honest so it’s probably best to explore how to handle it. In Plan S, Science Europe’s cOAlition S addresses fees and funding (who should pay, potential capping). Institutions need to consider the reason for the research they support. Surely, releasing the knowledge gained can only help in engaging with the public, with outreach, with student recruitment etc. as we showcase what we do in HE and why this is so important. Shouldn’t that be part of a business model and so worth investment?

How can we ensure quality?

There is a suspicion, hopefully dwindling, that OA content is of a lesser quality. This may come from misunderstanding “author pays”- they pay and OA publishers will publish anything. This is not the case, and it should be noted that “vanity publishing” is neither new nor linked exclusively to OA. As with any publisher, academics should consider the publisher’s quality control process. How are works commissioned? Is there rigorous Peer Review? What will the quality of the published output be? Publishers, OA or not, should be able to answer such questions. WRUP, for example, details its Editorial Board, commissioning and peer review process on it’s website, and authors can explore for themselves (freely!) the quality of the digital publications.

What about third party content?

It’s assumed to be difficult to use third party content in OA publishing. (Which is ironic, as if everyone published content OA, there would be no barriers). This doesn’t have to be a problem. Most right holders don’t have policies in place for use of their content in OA publications, though a growing number do, and WRUP has found that most are very reasonable when the OA model is explained. Third party content can be licenced separately from the main volume e.g. in an image caption- very much as you might see in a traditional publication. Often the issue for a rights holder can be around the free to access digital version of their content. This is little different in terms of risk to putting the image on their website, if the same rights statement is applied. Working through this can put the rights holder’s concerns to rest. Authors can also search content licenced for reuse (a growing amount is), especially where something is illustrative only rather than a specific image being required.

Isn’t OA complicated? Who can help?

Like anything new, OA can seem complicated. There are lots of people around that can help. Most institutions have the equivalent of York’s Research Support Team: email them at Open Access is just one of the many areas they can advise on. York, Leeds and Sheffield Universities also support a “friendly” OA University Press in WRUP (email to offer help and answer any general questions about OA publishing, or to discuss potential proposals for journals or monographs.

Support is out there and the appetite for OA is growing, as is the pool of scholarly OA content. Engaging with the drive to include monographs in this would seem the next logical step.

As White Rose Libraries Executive Manager, Kate Petherbridge works across the university libraries of Leeds, Sheffield and York, leading and facilitating their areas of collaboration. These are varied, and include shared repository services, shared collection management work and, most recently, White Rose University Press.

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