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Open access: academic libraries and article processing charges

Despite challenges, the new emphasis on OA provides librarians with a positive platform to re-establish their role in the research process.

A new report published by SAGE explores the current – and future role – of academic libraries in helping implement OA processing charges.  The report explores the current state of the art, and shares recommendations.  Although librarians support the goals and principles of open access, the OA mandates from funders are creating many challenges.

Institutional policies – still evolving

  • Although some participants reported full OA policies were already in place, the majority of policies are still ‘evolving’
  • Libraries at every participating institution are involved in OA policy development
  • Institutional repositories are an essential element
  • Participants expressed concern at possible shortfall in funding for author pays (‘gold’) OA publishing (RCUK is currently making some funds available)
  • Some institutions are making up the shortfall; others are not

What roles and tasks are librarians undertaking?

  • Entering into publisher OA agreements
  • Allocating funding for individual papers – including one library which split its total funds into equal quarters for the year
  • Most reported a low take-up of APC requests by researchers – many librarians are working to educate and advise researchers
  • Working with publishers to administrate the cost – a task which many reported as frustrating or overly-complicated


  • Funders should provide clear guidance on reporting and measurement
  • Publishers need to better communicate copyright options and which of their publications are RCUK policy compliant
  • More robust systems for managing APCs are needed
  • Cross-industry initiatives and international standards should be developed

The report Implementing Open Access APCs: the role of academic libraries summarises the round table discussions of a panel of academic librarians and other interested parties and is available for free download here.

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The Cost of Knowledge versus Elsevier

There has been much coverage recently of the website petition launched by Cambridge mathematician Timothy Gowers, winner of the Fields medal, to encourage academics to publicly declare that they will not support any Elsevier journal. According to The Cost of Knowledge website, more than 6000 academics have currently signed up. Robin Peek takes an in-depth look at the issues in this ITI Newsbreak.

Students and academic texts

Now that students (and their families!) are expecting to pay more for higher education, how have their attitudes to the delivery, format and cost of learning resources changed?  As part of a one day conference organised by the Publishers Association, a panel of students shared their thoughts, experiences and wish-lists.    They had interesting things to say to academic publishers, university programme directors, librarians and lecturers.

Key messages from the student panel

  • Too much information – students are often overwhelmed by the amount of information, across a variety of formats, that they are attempting to manage.  Although access to information is important, the critical skills to analyse and filter are greatly in demand
  • There is an overwhelming need for information analysis skills
  • Not all students want e-everything.  Several panel members expressed their love of the hard copy text book.  However, another called reading anything in print format ‘a chore’.  Most students recognised that a mixture of formats is necessary or even desirable
  • Overseas students sometimes need help in transferring to the UK model of education (especially if they come from an educational culture where they learn by rote).  Teaching tools for overseas students would be greatly appreciated.
  • Students would love, shorter chapters, chapter summaries, key learning points, revision aids etc.

Challenges and opportunities for academic librarians

The library is a trusted partner for many of the students. They rely on librarians to help them develop their information skills, to help with information quality assurance and to guide them to useful resources beyond the reading lists.  When it comes to recommended reading, students are often asking students in the years above them for their honest opinions on reading list resources.  At the same time, only one student reported that she was ever asked for her opinion on learning materials.  Several students reported that they would be uncomfortable with criticising material/text books written by their own lecturers.  Institutional librarians could perhaps help facilitate quality control and student feedback of learning materials and recommended reading.

Because of the cost of their education, students expect their learning resources to be made available by their institutions/ libraries – and think most of them should be free.  They should also be available in any format they can.  Libraries and publishers still have some way to go to ensure that e-textbooks are available to meet this demand.


The panel of students, from the LSE and the University of Greenwich, formed part of the Publisher’s Association one day conference ‘Students at the Heart of the system’ held in London on 21 November 2011

Open up your library data and unlock its power

Libraries, museums and archives have a wealth of information about their collections that is too often locked away in isolated silos, according to open data expert Owen Stephens who was speaking at Internet Librarian International.

Opening up access to library data can enable others to innovate in unforeseen ways, adding value to the originating organisation as well as to the wider community.

Passing a box of chocolates round the audience, Stephens described a continuum of openness, rather than a binary ‘open/closed’ scenario. In an ideal world, data would be openly licensed, open accessible, openly discoverable and openly connected.

Stephens described the Discovery initiative, which aims to improve resource discovery by establishing a clear set of principles and practices for the publication and aggregation of open, reusable metadata.

A likely outcome of openness is that external users will find valuable new ways of engaging with the data. For example, Cambridge University documented the APIs available for their data and a student then built an iPhone app which enables users to find out whether a book is available in the library nearest to their current location.

To quote Rufus Pollock, co-founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation, “the coolest thing to do with your data will be thought of by someone else“.

The issues facing STM publishers

In 2004, Richard Poynder interviewed Derk Haank, who had moved from Elsevier Science to head Springer, a company formed by the merger of BertelsmannSpringer and Kluwer Academic Press.   Now, in a wide-ranging interview for Information Today, Richard has again interviewed Derk.  Their conversation covered many of the key issues facing STM publishers and their institutional customers. 

When Derk joined Springer, he made the decision to launch Open Choice – a hybrid open access (OA) model that led the way for other subscription-based publishers.  With the purchase of open access publisher BioMed Central (BMC) in 2008, Springer became the world’s largest open access  publisher.  With the launch of SpringerOpen in 2010, Springer created a range of ‘pure’ OA (sometimes known as Gold) journals in the STM field.

Derk considers OA to simply be one of several business models pursued by Springer. The ‘traditional’ subscription model is just as sustainable as OA now and into the foreseeable future.   However, Springer will be looking to the potential of ‘nontraditional’ markets too – smaller institutions, individuals and businesses for example might find Springer content of interest if the right pricing/access model can be found – via the iPad or other mobile devices perhaps.

The full interview can be found here, and provides an illuminating overview of the issues facing STM publishers – from OA and pricing to the ever-increasing growth in research.

EU and me, me and EU

New Media Age reports on the launch of the new website that sets out to be an accessible resource for EU public information for a UK audience.

The website presents some positive stories of the work of the EU as well as publishing some EU ‘mythbusting’ content, some of which is highly entertaining (sadly, it turns out that the story ‘EU forces farmers to provide toys for pigs’ is untrue.

Interview with Stevan Harnad – 2010 the Tipping Point for Universal Open Access?

Open access advocate Stevan Harnad looks back over the progress made by the OA movement to date, in a detailed and far-reaching interview with Richard Poynder for Information Today. Harnad speculates as to whether 2010 will see the tipping point needed to usher in universal open access, with the aim of getting the 2.5 million articles a year that are published in 25,000 peer-reviewed journals all freely available online.

Harnad is realistic in his assessment of the progress made to date: “…the history of OA so far has been one of gratuitous over-reaching that has not only netted little, but it has failed even to grasp what has already been well within reach for some time: free online access to refereed reseach.” But he is cautiously optimisitic about the initiatives underway in 2010.