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One of the different elements of working in an academic library as opposed to a public library is that writing an article to be published in a proper ‘academic’ journal becomes more likely.  It becomes something you might do whereas in the past it wouldn’t have been something I would have particularly considered.  Articles for ‘trade’ publications maybe, possibily in one of the library technology journals perhaps.  But not something that was particularly high up on the list of things to do.

As an aside I’ve felt that the importance of journals (or serials) is one of the biggest differences between public and academic libraries.  The whole journal infrastructure (both technical and publishing aspects) weren’t ever particularly prominent in the agenda of a public library.   It’s interesting though to find that there’s now a pilot to provide public walk-in access to academic journals through public libraries.   I will be fascinated to see how that pilot turns out as my experience in public libraries was that we rarely had any demand for widespread academic journal access over and above the odd inter-library loan article request.  So it will be interesting to see what demand they see and how it might be promoted to build up an audience for this material.  My suspicion has long been that the reason for the lack of demand was that library users simply didn’t have an expectation that it might be possible.

Going through the publication process for an article (even as a co-author) has been a useful experience in helping me understand more about the publishing process that academics have to go through as part of their professional life.  Faced with the practical decisions about whether to go open access and pay an article processing charge (APC), or publish in a subscription journal (a choice between author pays or customer pays) throws a sharp focus on the practical implications of Green or Gold and Open Access.  Getting a copy of an early version of the document into the institutional repository was another task that had to be included.

It’s been interesting to see how the focus on publication swiftly turns to a list of things to do to promote the article, such as setup your identity on Google Scholar and link your publication to it (fascinating for me in that it showed up a report for a project as well as a long forgotten dissertation listed in Worldcat).   But also things to do like establishing an Orcid ID (that put me in mind of LinkedIn for academics for some reason) and then linking your publication to it.  Although the importance of citations was something I’ve been aware of (and I work at one of a few UK academic libraries with a bibliometrician post), it certainly does make you realise how critical it is for an academic’s reputation and how their career depends on their papers being cited when you realise that there are a list of things to do to promote your article.

Finch and Open Access
News today that the UK Government has accepted the recommendations of the Finch report about Open Access publishing of scholarship.  There have been a lot of comments on the report, what it means and what might the consequences be over the last few weeks while everyone was waiting for what the Government response would be.  [A few blog posts from Peter Suber here, from SV-POW here, from Martin Weller here amongst many from academics on the subject].

As someone working in libraries my thoughts are about Open Access from a library perspective, what it might mean and what some of the implications for libraries and the services they run might be.  A few things come to mind, such as the transition, the impact on subscriptions to journals, and on institutional repositories and on what it does to the discovery process, for example.

Finch recommends the ‘Gold’ OA model, where academics pay a charge (an Article Processesing Charge or APC) to the publisher essentially as an up-front compensation for their loss of income from sales of their subscription journal.   The thinking seems to be that after a period of transition payment will move from a library subscription model to a payment to publish model.   Now I understand that UK research publication makes up around 6% of global research publication which suggests to me that unless the rest of the world moves swiftly to follow in the same direction then UK libraries will still be paying significant amounts in subscriptions.  Across that transition period library costs look unlikely to be reducing, and given that journal costs have continued to increase year on year at a rate well above inflation, it doesn’t seem obvious that there will be cost savings in the short term.

Journal subscriptions and APC costs
By advocating the Gold OA model the Finch report puts a lot of the cost model under the control of publishers.  Libraries/Universities/Academics will be dependent on publishers deciding the level of APCs.  Evidence from the journal subscription model is that publisher charges have continued to increase year on year.  Will the same rate of increase apply to APCs?  How will publishers model their subscription offering as more new content moves to Open Access?  Do UK publishers just publish everything as OA?, will publishers still look to continue publishing their subscriptions version of their journals?   What happens to access to older non-OA content?  Do libraries need to mantain their subscriptions to access this content, or will they have to use archive services (LOCKS?) to mantain access to that older content?  Quite a few questions.

Institutional repositories
If academics are going to have to pay to publish through publisher OA then what is the incentive to publish through an institutional repository?  If REF mandates OA publication you can see the advantage to an academic of publishing in a renowned journal on its OA platform, rather than spending time adding your publications to your institutions OA repository where it might not be so visible (or citable, or prestigious).  But Gold OA does still maintain the ‘peer review’ model that institutional repositories rely on, often a condition of inclusion in an institutional repository, is that the scholarship has been peer-reviewed.

What are the implications for discovery?  Will publishers have a subscription and an OA version of their journals?  Two places to search, two places to make sure are included in your discovery platform?  Will the OA platform be open to the web? or integrated with the publisher’s platform, some content closed others open?  It sounds like the potential proliferation of places to find content once you add institutional repositories, domain open access systems and maybe institutional open access journals to the mix.

Final thoughts
It interests me that the Finch report made a point of working with representatives of public libraries to make sure that open access materials can be accessed through public libraries.  I’m not too sure of the thinking there.  As someone who spent more than twenty years in public libraries it was very rare for anyone to ask for access to academic journals.  That may be because there was no expectation that academic journals would be provided through public libraries, but I’ve never had the sense that there is great untapped demand.  But if it acts to stimulate interest that would be great.  But public libraries are under threat, and free internet access by no means universal.  And if open access is ‘open’ then wouldn’t it just be ‘open’ on the web for anyone to access?

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July 2020

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