The Collaborative Road Towards Open Access
If there’s one thing we’ve all observed about politics in recent years, it’s that while polarization makes for great soundbites, it doesn’t lead to progress or results. Unfortunately, the same approach has been applied to scholarly publishing in the past, with some defining the industry — inaccurately, in our view — as comprising old-guard legacy publishers on one side and ideologically driven evangelists on the other. Such polarization was behind the slow initial uptake of open access, where green OA was fragmented at best and nonexistent at worst, and gold open access offerings were virtually absent in mainstream publishing.
Fortunately, in more recent years the ecosystem has moved past the rhetoric and begun to develop into a real market, and a more rational policy framework that encouraged the so-called old guard and the evangelists to work together to increase the volume of open access content, along with new technologies through which to use it.
This has been particularly true over the last year, when the scholarly research ecosystem has seen significant progress in making open access, open data and open science a reality. The volume of gold open access content globally now stands at 20%, and the remaining 80% of articles published under the subscription model are eligible for the green road to open access. This change has been driven by one key variable: collaboration.
The Benefits of Collaboration
As US federal funding agencies continued to explore how to implement their public access plans in line with the OSTP Memo published by the White House Science and Technology Office in 2013, the collaborative initiative CHORUS made great strides in coordinating publishers and funders. Today it enables access to about 75,000 articles on research funded by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and others and is ready to enable access to many more.1
CHORUS is a partnership between participating publishers and funders to use existing publisher infrastructure to effectively enable public access. The benefits of CHORUS are that it avoids duplication of effort (why should funders, often taxpayers, invest in and build additional infrastructure when much of it already exists?) and requires minimal effort on behalf of researchers (why deposit manuscripts when publishers have these and can open them at the right time?). And it ensures 100% open access compliance. CHORUS is currently monitoring and auditing for public-access status, reuse licenses and archiving arrangements close to 330,000 articles published by members such as AAAS, Elsevier, Taylor and Francis, Wiley and SAGE.2
Best of all, anyone searching for research funded by participating agencies is automatically directed to view the best available version of the paper. The final published article is available if the reader is an entitled user or if the article has been published gold open access; for others, the accepted manuscript is available after the embargo period.
CHORUS has already begun exploring how its system can be used to enable open access efficiently and effectively at the institution level. It is piloting its services with the University of Florida, which remains at the forefront of experimenting with innovative solutions for public access, and has attracted international interest, with pilots between the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) and Chiba University in Japan and, more recently between the Australian Research Council and LaTrobe University in Australia.
This all proves that publishers, institutions and funders can and do work together, and when they do the results are fantastic. One can also point to the UK which, thanks to the collaboration between stakeholders that were part of the Finch Group, is one of the leading open access nations: Monitoring the Transition to Open Access, published in 2015 on behalf of the Universities UK Open Access Monitoring Group, found that the UK was ahead of global trends in both gold and green open access.3 Stakeholders continue to work together in the UK through the Universities UK Open Access Monitoring Group.
Collaboration has yielded excellent results for progressing science in the open data space too, most notably through The Framework for Scholarly Link Exchange (Scholix), which provides a robust, sustainable infrastructure that connects published research with underlying data. Establishing links between data and the published literature is crucial to enhancing data discovery, visibility and utility, enabling articles and data to be read together in context.
A number of publishers have been working closely with data repositories for some time to enable bilateral linking between deposited datasets and articles. Scholix makes this process scalable and more efficient, enabling links to be shared with minimal effort and combined with links from other sources to develop a global standard and web of interlinked research datasets and publications. It also makes it easier for researchers to find and access relevant articles and data sets because increasing visibility and usage acts as an additional incentive for researchers to share their own data. CrossRef, DataCite, other organizations such as the Research Data Alliance and the International Council for Science World Data System, and of course publishers, have all collaborated and contributed to the success of this framework.
A key driver of open science is improving research performance, and enabling researchers to collaborate more efficiently is central to this. Open access and open data are the most notable headline items associated with open science in many parts of the world, including Brussels, Tokyo and Washington, DC, but it can have other features too, for example collaboration. Publishers and scholarly collaboration networks have been working closely over the last year to give researchers a much clearer understanding of how they can get on with what they love doing — research — and collaborate without having to worry about access and usage rights.
Resources such as howcanIshareit.com help researchers understand how and where they can share responsibly and can also provide a springboard for further discussions around why responsible sharing is important for all stakeholders. Of course enabling seamless collaboration is a primary goal, but there are others. For example, when different versions of articles are shared across different platforms, it is hard for a researcher to know which version they are accessing and whether it is the definitive version of record published and maintained by the publisher. This can impact the integrity of the scholarly record and can also lead to (or result from) incorrect version sharing. Publishers worry about incorrect version sharing, as it impacts their ability to keep journals in operation — important for the progress of science.
Similarly, without a system in place to measure usage (and other metrics) of all the different versions on different platforms it is hard for a researcher to know how their work is being used and therefore to demonstrate impact — increasingly important for funding applications. Usage and other metrics also help publishers evolve their services for the research community.
A Look Ahead
Building on the successes of the last year, one likely area of focus is a proposal for Distributed Usage Logging (DUL): a systematized way of measuring article usage across different platforms while respecting privacy. Given how far we have come in enabling scholarly sharing through a distributed network of connections, a challenge is to ensure that sharing can be measured. Again, without a system in place to measure usage of the different article versions on different platforms, it is also hard for a researcher to know how their work is being used and therefore to demonstrate impact.
Measuring usage is also important for librarians who want to know how their subscribed content is being used. For publishers, the signals we get from how researchers interact with content helps us enhance our platforms and services for the wider research community. These considerations have motivated CrossRef and COUNTER to look at DUL to enable parties to transmit sensitive data on user content interactions directly to authorised end points. The technical infrastructure needed to support this is in development now, alongside multiple stakeholder dialogues, to ensure the relevant standards and protocols to make DUL a success are taken into account.
There’s a tremendous amount of progress being made in scholarly publishing today as more head down the collaboration road together. Is your institution going along for the ride?