For Open Access Week 2023 we were excited to put the researcher front and center. We were joined by Vanessa Jaiteh, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for Development and Environment at University of Bern. She expertly filled us in on what it is really like to be a researcher publishing open access. Alongside Vanessa, AJ Boston from Murray State University, Sara Bosshart from RSC, and Chris Pym from ACS all put forward innovative ideas that could upgrade the OA publishing process.
For Open Access Week 2023 we were excited to put the researcher front and center. We were joined by Vanessa Jaiteh, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for Development and Environment at University of Bern. She expertly filled us in on what it is really like to be a researcher publishing open access. Alongside Vanessa, AJ Boston from Murray State University, Sara Bosshart from RSC, and Chris Pym from ACS all put forward innovative ideas that could upgrade the OA publishing process. Moderated by our own Head of Publisher Relations Romy Beard, the discussion delved into how to make publishing more equitable, making it an Open Access Week event to remember.
Vanessa kicked things off by taking us through her experiences, good and bad, of publishing! It really set the scene for the following discussion. Her OA journey started off on the wrong foot. After she posted an article on ResearchGate, she was notified by the publisher’s lawyers to take it down. What made this even more shocking was that the article was after the embargo period of two years. Ever since she has been an OA advocate. If an article is OA and you share it, you aren’t going to get scary letters from lawyers.
Vanessa’s passion for OA means that she actively promotes OA to other Swiss National Science Foundation researchers. This summer she even roped in ChronosHub to spread the word at a networking event! She acknowledged that having a funder who will support and pay for OA publication helps a lot, or does it? After she was awarded her post-doctoral research grant, she was invited to publish in a special issue of a journal that would be perfect for establishing her profile as a researcher in her field. Sounds easy, right? Just select an OA publishing option and SNSF will pick up the tab. Except, that’s not quite what happened.
“I think it's great that my funder is pushing for Open Access. I really resonate with their reasoning that publicly funded research should be accessible to the public immediately and free of charge. Some of the issues around gold OA for me are because I work with people in low-income and developing countries. I think for them it's much harder to cover APCs. If you don't have a funder who covers them, even in a developed country, it's difficult or impossible to publish gold OA.” Vanessa Jaiteh
SNSF have an OA policy and they also have a generous OA fund that will pay for OA publication fees (APCs). Distinguishing between SNSF OA policy and what the OA fund will pay for is important here. Vanessa was destined to publish in a hybrid journal; a journal which publishes a combination of OA and subscription only articles. Publishing OA in a hybrid journal fully complies with SNSF OA policy. However, the SNSF OA fund will not pay the APC. So, she was in quite the dilemma here: publish in the special issue and pay the fee herself or not publish at all?
Luckily for Vanessa, she reached out to ChronosHub. There could be a way around all of this, even if she didn’t believe it at the time. Some institutions have agreements with publishers that allow a certain amount of OA articles to be published by affiliated authors every year. It turned out that Vanessa’s affiliated institution in the UK had an agreement with the publisher of the special issue. All she needed to do was reach out to the library to find out if she could be added to it. She could tick two boxes: publish OA and the tab is picked up. Easy in theory, but a maze to navigate for a researcher who focuses their energy on working in the field.
“It's super handy to have people like ChronosHub in front of us, who can help us find a way through this jungle. I just hope that enough researchers know about these tools and can access them.” Vanessa Jaiteh
After Vanessa set the scene, we handed the mic over to the rest of the panel to get their perspectives. We were excited to hear about potential solutions! Next up was AJ Boston from Murray State University. As a Scholarly Communications Librarian, AJ has been an OA advocate for the past seven years. During that time, he’s served on committees, given presentations, and published writing about OA. It’s safe to say that AJ lives and breathes OA, which is why he’s come up with a proposal to help solve some of the issues Vanessa has encountered.
“Librarians, publishers, funders, we all have a stake in this system, but it's really researchers who are at the center and having to deal with this head on.” AJ Boston
He noticed that even if Murray State had a read & publish agreement with every publisher, they would still fall short of full OA. From his perspective, possibly controversially, libraries are an equal partner with publishers in maintaining paywalls! Publishers charge for access, but libraries pay the charges, therefore justifying the existence of paywall content.
“As more and more articles become Open Access, the value of our subscriptions decreases. As that devaluation continues, it's going to mean that libraries will stick with a bad deal, which is bad for libraries, or they'll cancel that subscription, which is bad for publishers. A third scenario is that paywall journals simply shift fees from readers to authors, which is bad for underfunded or under affiliated authors like the examples that Vanessa shared.” AJ Boston
AJ has been floating an idea for a model called ‘Read and Let Read’. It’s a reworking of the current subscription model into a model where institutions pay per article read rather than paying to access a selection of journals. Potentially, a library could have access to everything a publisher publishes, and readers just select what they want to read. The library is billed for what they use.
In this scenario, no article is off limits. A library could pay in advance every year, based on their previous years’ usage, making sure readers don’t run out of prepaid uses. AJ reckons that the library could have some prepaid articles over at the end of every year – and this is where the magic of ‘Read and Let Read’ happens!
Every prepaid article usage that goes unused could be made available to anyone. He mentioned the JSTOR program which lets users create accounts and read up to 100 free articles per month. There could also be a scenario where an article must earn a certain amount to make it OA for everyone. AJ thought this could be a pretty collaborative approach to funding OA and switches things up, so the author isn’t responsible for paying.
This all sounds great and an imaginative move away from the way we currently conceptualize OA. If making everything available for a small fee means more people can read and access cutting edge research, that aligns with the principles of OA. It would take some buy in from publishers, to test how it could work. It’s not too far away from the model ‘Subscribe to Open (S2O)’, which was covered in an earlier webinar of ours!
Sara Bosshart Head of Open Access Journals at Royal Society of Chemistry, and Chris Pym, Key Account Manager Funder at American Chemical Society, covered the ground from the publisher’s perspective. They both put forward some of the models that we are already familiar with. The panel looked at how well these models are performing and what they think might be coming next.
“We need to really figure out what types of models are going to support our journal portfolio, where we flip it to 100% Open Access. We do want to work towards a future where the burden of payment is not on the author.” Sara Bosshart
Chris gave a complete rundown of the existing models, predominately gold, hybrid, and subscription, and how they relate to national and funder policy. Gold is growing, with a huge uptake in the UK and the rest of Europe. In the US, whose main funders rely on green OA, we all know that a lot is hanging on the implementation of the Nelson memo, which calls for immediate OA on publication.
“Funder policies do not necessarily match up with one another. This is something that a librarian from Imperial College in the UK refers to as policy stack, where you have multiple different policy requirements that may be at odds with one another, and this makes things very difficult.” Chris Pym
Perhaps when the US gets on board with immediate OA on publication this will help to align some policies, but not everything. The responsibility still stays with the author to make sure that the article matches their funder requirements and as Vanessa outlined, that can be a maze to navigate!
Sara opened with covering alternative models that are gaining traction, such as diamond open access, which costs nothing for the author or the reader, but it is difficult to fund. She touched on subscribe to open, which we ran a webinar on, and of course, transformative, or read & publish agreements, which solved Vanessa’s problem of publishing OA for free in a hybrid journal. Herein lies the problem, we can list all these models, but it is still down to the author to work it out after they’ve worked out the funder requirements. Romy wondered if we were confusing researchers by offering too many models, even if those models were intended to make things better!
The panel acknowledged that we are in a transitional phase with OA, and some of these pains are teething pains. Everyone was optimistic that things would settle down and change for the better. It was noted that in the early stages of Plan S, there was an idea that there shouldn’t be a burden on researchers for making the payment, and whilst that holds true in terms of the fact a lot of funders in Europe offer an OA fund to pay for the fees, it is still difficult to work out what will be paid, if you don’t have access to tools and expertise that will support you with this.
We started with the researcher and author, so we are going to give them the final word, this time as a reader – the person that OA is designed to benefit. When Vanessa finished her PhD she worked for the government in Palau, a Pacific Island nation. Since the very start of her studies, she had always had access to the research she needed through a university and now it felt like she had been shut out of a club.
OA relieves some of this problem but, if the research you need to find has been paywalled for any reason, then it is still hard to access the articles you need. That’s why the panel were so keen to discuss alternatives, even if not all of them fully solve the problem or if the proliferation of them causes confusion. It’s through community endeavor from libraries, funder policies, and innovative thinking from publishers that this will eventually be solved so that the reader, author, and researcher are able to access research without barriers.