Libraries promote open access to academic journals

A new U fund helps academic writers cover publishing costs.

Libraries promote open access to academic journals

Tyler Gieseke

The smattering of orange garb on campus isn’t in preparation of Halloween, it’s University of Minnesota students and staff promoting the sixth annual Open Access Week .

The event, recognized around the world, aims to raise awareness about the benefits of free access to online academic journals. Graduate students and University Libraries  staff will inform others about open access and a new fund that will underwrite fees for authors publishing in open access journals.

Proponents of open access highlight its role in spreading ideas to a wider audience and the advantages of free access in the context of ever-rising journal subscription costs. But critics maintain that the inherent costs of publishing can’t simply be ignored.

Open Access Publishing Fund

One way that online journals achieve open access is by shifting fees from the reader to the author, said Nancy Sims, copyright program librarian for University Libraries. If authors pay an upfront charge, their work will be free to the
public.

The pilot $20,000 Open Access Publishing Fund,  approved by the University last spring, will cover the authors’ publishing costs. Funding comes from University Libraries and the Office of the Vice President for Research, Sims said.

Authors looking to publish on a “hybrid” site — where some articles are open access and some are not — can have up to 50 percent of their fees covered by the fund. Authors publishing on fully open access sites will have fees covered in full.

Sometimes, Sims said, it costs the University less to underwrite authors’ costs than it does to pay to view works when they are not open access.

Besides this, she said, the University benefits when scholars publish in open access journals because a professor can assign another’s work as a course reading without requiring students to pay to view it.

Sims said scholars can increase access to their work by retaining their rights to self-publish online. University Libraries maintains a digital conservancy  site that gives open access to research submitted by the author. Scholars can submit if they have retained the right to
self-publish.

Student support

Part of this year’s focus is on outreach across campus and getting students involved, Sims said.

“[Graduate students] have a really big investment in getting our work out there as much as possible,” said Andrew McNally, executive vice president of the Council of Graduate Students.

With open access, he said, a scholar’s work can be seen by more people.

Members of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly  will participate in activities with University Libraries throughout the week that aim to spread awareness regarding open access.

Open access can benefit society through a wider dissemination of ideas, said Alfonso Sintjago, GAPSA executive vice president. It also increases the accessibility of academic pieces to scholars since they are free to view.

To Sintjago, open access is also important for scholars since open publications are cited more often, he said.

“A scholar’s goal is to be cited,” he said, “to create an impact to society.”

Rising costs

Subscription costs for academic journals have been rising well beyond the rate of inflation for years.

“It’s not a new trend,” Sims said.

In 1976, a library subscription to a chemistry journal would cost about $200, according to Sims’ blog. Adjusting for inflation, the subscription would cost $766.45 in 2010.

By contrast, a chemistry journal subscription in 2010 costs a little less than $3,800 on average, according to Library Journal.

In fiscal year 2012, University Libraries spent about $9.7 million in subscriptions on just under 11,000 electronic or print titles, Director of Communications for University Libraries Mark Engebretson  said in an email.

University Libraries Collection Development Officer Charles Spetland  said subscription hikes are a constant strain on the University.

Rising costs can be attributed partly to efforts by publishers to increase their profit margins, Sims said, but also because there are more items being published than in the past.

Libraries are forced to cancel some subscriptions because of rising costs, Sims said. In turn, journals sometimes raise costs to account for fewer subscribers

“It’s kind of a vicious cycle,” she said.

Costs haven’t increased as rapidly in nonprofit publishers, she said, and vary depending on the discipline. Open access publishers can follow both for-profit and nonprofit business models, she said.

Critical thinking

Opponents also argue that there is no clear business model that can support an open access journal, she said. They say open access proponents are ignoring the costs of publication and that someone must foot the bill.

“We know it costs money,” Sims said, citing activities like editing, publishing and peer review. “That’s why we set up this publication fund, among other things.”

But she said some of the emerging open access sites have found ways to operate that costs less than it has before.

Some critics claim open access journals don’t provide rigorous enough peer review, Sims said, but she said the review process is unrelated to whether a journal has open access.

Another concern is that providing open access isn’t worthwhile because the public isn’t interested in academic articles, Sims said.

“I’m a librarian, so I don’t understand that,” she said. “Librarians want everybody to be able to read whatever they want.”