Monday, 20 April 2009

The world turned upside down. Open access and academic journals.

Paying for open access publication charges: guidance for higher education and research institutions, publishers and authors.

This publication from the Research Information network and Universities UK looks at the practical implications of the emergence of open access publishing for scholarly articles. The old model was that academics had their peer-reviewed articles published in journals and the publishers sold subscriptions to academic libraries. When electronic publishing came along it first followed this model (though often with dramatic increases in the cost of subscriptions and tight restrictions on subscribers to prevent them making the articles available outside the institution.)
Increasingly however publishers are making articles available free of charge to all readers immediately upon publication but in order to maintain a revenue stream they are charging a publication fee for authors. The authors in turn look to their institution or the funder of their research to pay these fees. As the report says "This turns the traditional publishing model on its head, and this poses challenges for publishers but also for researchers and the institutions that employ them. They have to find new ways to meet the cost of publication fees, alongside the well-established budgets for the majority of journals that still operate the traditional subscription model". All this against a background of even higher price rises due to the falling value of the pound. Academic libraries are particularly concerned that their institutions should develop a coordinated and strategic approach to this development and not just let it fall on the library budget by default.

I don't feel myself qualified to comment on the guidance itself (as I am a bear of little brain) and I am sure my colleagues in the HE sector will do this. I am, however, interested in the wider implications. First, all librarians need to be aware that the model is changing. Public libraries have never seen it as their role to purchase specialist academic journals and with the increase in subscription charges and the move to electronic publishing I suspect that few librarians outside the HE sector are familiar with how much things have changed.

Second, public libraries are concerned with the wider issue of making research accessible to the public and these developments will help with this in many ways. If the author pays for open access rather than the reader - or the reader's library - having to pay a subscription then this should remove some of the barriers that currently exist. It is good to see that this report acknowledges that open access brings benefits not only to the research community but to society at large. Having said that, we are talking largely about material published by academics for academics and its direct relevance to most public library users is limited. (see my postings with the access tag).

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