Too much work, too little time
The laborious transition to open access
Daan Ornée, a third-year PhD candidate of psychiatry, no longer publishes anything closed access. ‘Last year, I made the choice that if a magazine doesn’t publish things open access, I won’t publish with them. But I think I’m an exception’, says the young scientist.
Ornée is one of the open access ambassadors at the university. He started this summer. There are ambassadors at every faculty, providing quick access for academics with questions. This is useful, as both European and Dutch financiers demand that all research results fully or partially funded by public money are published OA starting January 1, 2021.
According to the University Library’s latest numbers, 54 percent of Groningen publications from 2019 were published open access. ‘We’ve been improving every year, and this is another step in the right direction’, says Peter van Laarhoven with the UB. But they haven’t made it to 100 percent just yet.
Let’s quickly explain the basics: Publishing open access simply means that scientific articles should be freely accessible to everyone who wants to read them. This in contrast to closed access (CA), where readers need a subscription to the journal in order to read an article.
‘At the library, we’ve been working on open access for approximately twenty-five years’, Van Laarhoven explains. ‘At first it was just for the library itself, as we kept running into the ever increasing subscriptions for scientific journals.’
We kept running into the ever increasing subscriptions for scientific journals.
The articles in these journals had been written by the university’s own scientists. These journals depend on scientists acting as editors and peer review the articles, which is all unpaid work.
The UB’s budget couldn’t keep up with the ever-increasing subscription costs. Large publishers’ revenue models have become a problem not just in Groningen, but for the entire academic community. If they want to continue to subscribe to the best journals, they have to let other journals go. ‘It’s a vicious cycle, but open access looked like it would be able to break that cycle’, says Van Laarhoven.
If publishing companies no longer make money off subscription, they need another source of income. The transition to OA means that scientists now have to pay to publish their articles. These costs have been labelled Article Processing Costs (APC). ‘Those are the costs the journals estimate they incur when they publish a full article’, says Van Laarhoven.
In 2018, Plan S was introduced as an impetus to continue the OA model. The initiative from the European Committee, called cOAlition S, stipulated that all publications that were fully or partially funded by public money had to be freely accessible to anyone starting in 2020.
The first time you’re publishing OA you have to figure a lot of things out
The Associations of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) acted as an intermediary for deals with big scientific publishers like Springer and, more recently, Elsevier, to ensure that the scientists themselves wouldn’t fall victim financially to the transition.
Nevertheless, the change has been difficult. Publishers have had to adjust their revenue models, and scientists have had to get used to the new way of publishing. In order to help them out, the OA deadline has been moved to January 1, 2021.
The biggest obstacle facing the RUG scientists in the OA transition is simply a matter of experience, says Vera Heininga, post-doc and open access ambassador at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences. ‘The first time you’re publishing OA you have to figure a lot of things out. Which magazines are OA and which ones aren’t? Which magazines does the university have deals with. Where can I get a potential discount on APCs? It’s not that difficult, but it just takes time.’
Unfortunately, scientists tend to have very little time. ‘In publishing an article, we’re mainly focused on which journal to publish in. Whether or not to make it OA comes second to that’, says Ornée.
What do you do if the journal you want to publish doesn’t do OA ?
And don’t forget the impact of the journal. ‘What do you do if the journal you want to publish doesn’t do OA, or doesn’t have a contract with the universities?’
The UB provides plenty of information on OA, like a specific online page. It has an overview of all the information you might need, as well as the OA Journal Browser, a database of journals the UB currently has contracts with. ‘I think the ambassadors are also a step in the right direction’, says Heininga. ‘It makes the information much more accessible to the researchers.’
If we really want to launch OA, researchers should be stimulated to work OA. According to Ornée, the key is in rewarding people. He says there’s a simple solution to reward young researchers.
‘The Graduate Schools are setting excellency criteria’, says Ornée. ‘Like publishing a fixed number of articles in a top-ten journal or publishing something within a deadline. For each criterion you meet, you get two hundred euros that you can use to publish. It would be easy to add OA publications as a criterion.’
Heininga also thinks this would be a good idea. ‘That would end once you finish your PhD though, since there is no financial stimulus once you’re a post-doc.’ This would therefore fail to convince the experienced scientists. ‘I think there’s a lack of concrete policies. People at the university know how important it is, but it’s not structurally embedded properly. You have to stimulate people if you want to make that intrinsic change.’