Open Access

This week in #citylis #inm380 we looked at the Open Access movement. This post will attempt to cover most of what we discussed in broad outline. It is a complex subject so I can’t go into too much detail. Thanks to the session, I can point you to some more in-depth resources on the subject though (see Resources section). I’d particularly recommend Martin Eve’s monograph, Open Access and the Humanities, freely available online. The introductory chapter sets out the main issues clearly and thoroughly. We were lucky enough to have Martin Eve give a presentation on OA and the humanities in the second half of our session. Most of what I write will be a summary of what Ernesto and Martin presented to us.

Definition of OA

Coming away with a clear, succinct definition of OA was one of the most useful aspects of the session. Martin Eve’s definition in his book is as follows:

‘The term ‘open access’ refers to the removal of price and permission barriers to scholarly research.’

Essentially, this means that OA work is:

– free to read

– free to reuse

It is also worth emphasising that OA scholarly research is peer-reviewed just like non-OA research.

History of OA

Martin Eve distinguishes two contexts for the OA movement. Firstly, the fact that the high price of academic publications and increasing number of specialist publications have made it difficult for libraries to afford access to scholarly research. (This is sometimes referred to as the ‘serials crisis’.) Secondly, the open software movement (originating with Richard Stallman’s writings in the late 1980s) and free culture movement (alluded to in my earlier post on copyright) have bolstered the arguments for scholarly research to be freely reusable. Digital technologies and the Internet have also been a key catalyst for the OA movement by providing the means for publishing at virtually no cost.

Need for OA

As well as the economic and socio-cultural factors outlined above, there is the political argument that scholarly research which has been funded by the taxpayer should be freely available. Also, given that researchers are not dependent on revenue from their publications OA should not be detrimental to them financially. Indeed, scholars are not paid for submitting articles to journals. Nor are editors on a peer review board paid for their work. The main incentive for scholars to write or edit for a journal is to disseminate their work and thus increase their prestige.

Key concepts

Gold OA – the journal article or book is made available using the publisher’s PDFs (i.e. the edited, proofread and paginated version of the work) as soon as it is ready to go to print; the publisher’s costs are met by charging the author’s institution an Article Processing Charge (APC) or Book Processing Charge (BPC) which can be up to £2500, although Martin Eve’s book points out that at the time of his writing in 2014, the majority of gold venues listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals did not charge APCs and instead funded their operations through other means, covered in further detail in Chapter 2 of his book

Green OA – this route involves the author publishing a pre-print copy of their work (i.e. not necessarily proofread or paginated by the publisher) to an institutional or subject repository. The author must check that their publisher allows them to do this. And they must check whether the publisher requires them to wait a certain period of time before publishing their work open access. Green OA is the minimum for fulfilling HEFCE’s requirements for journal articles to be published OA from 2014.

Gratis – research that is free to read

Libre – research that is free to read and reuse (often licensed using Creative Commons licences); requisite for full OA status


Martin Eve took us through some of the reasons academics, publishers, librarians and others disagree with OA. To sum up very briefly, academics object to OA because not all the most prestigious journals have OA policies. Publishers are worried about the impact on their revenues and the need to change their business models. And librarians, although mainly in favour of OA, are anxious about how their roles would have to change if the traditional library collection was replaced by OA publications and repositories.

OA and the Humanities

OA hasn’t made as much headway in the humanities as in the sciences, perhaps because budgets for funding Gold OA are lower. However, all the arguments for OA apply to the humanities as much as to the sciences. And, as Eve points out in his book, it would be particularly useful to be able to click through to check citations and follow up references in humanities research. He devotes a chapter of his book to exploring OA monographs – a medium that is particularly favoured in the humanities.

Libraries in all of this?

As noted above, librarians are questioning how they would fit into a new scholarly research landscape where dissemination via OA was the norm. The immediate question, to my mind, though should be how libraries go about facilitating compliance with new HEFCE OA mandates and reassuring academics concerned about these mandates. Martin Eve presented some really interesting solutions to the problem of high APCs, including an international library consortium, the Open Library of Humanities, that funds a gold open access journal and books platform without APCs. This kind of development is what librarians could and should be promoting. And of course working on the repositories and preservation technologies that make OA possible are another area that librarians can help with. Not to mention providing guidance on resources for specific subjects, citation standards etc. Just as they always have.

I’ll leave you with a video that Ernesto showed us and some references and further resources.


Eve, M. P. (2014). Open Access and the Humanities [online]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Available: DOI:


Suber, P. (2014). Open Access [online]. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Available:

Finch Report – report commissioned by UK government into open access

QMUL website’s open access pages – useful introductory info

Stuart Lawson’s datasets on figshare (including journal subscription costs – FOIs to universities)

SHERPA/RoMEO – publisher policies on OA

Directory of Open Access Journals

Stephen Curry’s blog – OA-related posts by science academic, includes review of Martin Eve’s book

Beall’s list – list of predatory publishers, including OA publishers


Scholarly Publishing Part 1 – Learned Societies, ALPSP and future gazing

This week we looked at scholarly publishing. We had a guest lecture from Suzanne Kavanagh (@sashers), Director of Marketing and Member Services at the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (@ALPSP).

The field of scholarly publishing seems to encompass four main types of publisher:

– commercial (e.g. Elsevier, Springer, Wiley and Taylor & Francis – known as the ‘Big Four’)

– university presses

– learned societies

– open access journals

(I’m not sure to what extent the last three are for-profit but I got the impression from the ALPSP lecture that most are non-profit.)

There is some overlap between these four types of scholarly publisher. For example, learned societies sometimes partner with commercial publishers to produce their publications. And some universities publish open access journals, for example Berkeley Electronic Press. I found it interesting on Berkeley Electronic Press’s About page that they changed from charging subscriptions to only publishing open access in 2011. To quote their blurb, ‘we believe the future of scholarly publishing lies in the hands of libraries and scholars to provide open access and effective research dissemination’.

Suzanne Kavanagh’s talk gave us a useful overview of what learned societies are and what the future holds for scholarly publishing. Learned societies were the first scholarly publishers and the first scientific journal published in English in 1665 was the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Suzanne gave the example of the Royal Society of Chemistry as a learned society still going strong today. Amongst other things, it provides its members with the latest news and research (including through subscription-based journals) and networking and funding opportunities. It also promotes chemistry in schools and the wider community.

To get the perspective of ALPSP members on the future of scholarly publishing, we watched a video from the ALPSP 2014 conference.

(The ALPSP Youtube channel is definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in scholarly publishing.)

Suzanne discussed many of the things that she thinks will affect the future of scholarly publishing, focusing on four key areas: political, economic, sociocultural and technological factors. Key aspects that seem to have had or will probably have an impact include changes in HEI (particularly funding and research policies), copyright legislation, the open access movement, the global recession, changes in scholarly communications, mobile technology, discovery and search trends.

I was particularly interested to hear about how EU directives can have a significant impact on scholarly publishers. For example, the harmonisation of copyright law across the EU has driven many policy changes. And the recent changes to VAT legislation whereby if you are selling digital services direct to a consumer you have to pay the VAT in the countries in which those services are consumed have had a similar impact.


Rolnik, Z., P. Binfield and T. Graves, 2008. Publishing 101: The Basics of Academic Publishing. The Serials Librarian, 54 (1/2). doi:10.1080/03615260801973414