By Amy Buckland

Note to readers: This is the second post in our new series “Building Open” where we interview those who are building tools and services to support scholarship in the open.

In terms of the future, I think we still have a long way to go in determining sustainable models. APCs aren’t it, especially outside of big science and North America and Europe. Our research into open access publishing cooperatives, which brings together the major stakeholders — researchers, societies, journals, libraries, funders — is showing that this can be an important alternative model.

Who are you?
Kevin Stranack, Community Engagement & Learning Coordinator for the Public Knowledge Project at Simon Fraser University Library. I tweet @pkp.

What is OJS?
Open Journal Systems (OJS) is a free, open source journal publication management system that deals with every step of the workflow from submission and review through to online publication. It is kind of like WordPress or Drupal for peer-reviewed journals. It is free to download and set up independently on your own server, or to work with us for fee-based hosting and support.

Why did you create OJS?
Back in 2000, when we first started developing OJS, we believed that the move from print to online publishing was going to provide the opportunity to significantly lower the costs of publishing, and therefore reduce the costs of subscriptions — to the point of eliminating them altogether. To help facilitate this transformation, we created OJS to increase workflow efficiencies and reduce the costs of online publishing, which, we hoped, would increase the ability of publishers to move to an OA model.
Since then, we’ve seen many journals make this “flip” from subscriptions to OA using OJS, and many more be born-digital and OA. Today, there are close to 10,000 journals using OJS, with the vast majority publishing under a fully OA model.

Who is involved with OJS?
OJS got its start as part of a research project, the Public Knowledge Project (PKP), of Dr. John Willinsky, at that time at the University of British Columbia. John remains the Director of PKP to this day, although he has since moved to Stanford University. Although perhaps best known for our software development, PKP continues to do research, such as the MacArthur funded Open Access Publishing Cooperative Study.
The operational and software development home for PKP, under the leadership of Managing Director Brian Owen, is at the Simon Fraser University Library. SFU Library has a long tradition of developing open source software for research libraries and was a logical choice for taking on this role as PKP grew. Since 2005, Alec Smecher has been the lead developer of OJS, as well as the overall technical architect for all PKP software projects, including Open Monograph Press (OMP).
PKP also enjoys the support of major development partners and has community-based Advisory, Members, and Technical Committees, with representatives from the hundreds of libraries and other organizations that use our software.
Our community also includes developers, translators, documentation writers, testers, and hundreds of others who use, modify, and help to improve the software, for the benefit of everyone, in the best tradition of open source.

What are the improvements in 3.0 that we are going to love?
There are so many, but perhaps the greatest is flexibility. OJS 3 makes it easier to customize your reader interface, your workflow,  and the various roles and responsibilities. We’ve also put a lot of effort into simplifying the configuration of OJS, how the workflow operates, and the registration, submission, and review procedures. The first thing you’ll notice is a much improved and more contemporary look and feel; OJS 2 out of the box was starting to look so 2005.

How long has OJS been around? What are your short term plans? Long term plans?
OJS 1.0 was released in 2001, so it has been around a long time.
In the short-term, we’re listening to the feedback we’re getting on the OJS 3.0 release and preparing a list of required refinements and additions for an upcoming 3.0.1 release later this year.
Medium-term (over the next 12- 18 months), we’re looking forward to integrating new features and services that are emerging out of some of our research projects, including article-level metrics and automated Word to XML typesetting, as well as from new external projects, such as,  Substance, Fidus Writer, and others. We’re also working on increasing the number of OJS journals in the PKP Private LOCKSS Network and the PKP Index as well as expanding the courses in PKP School (all of these are free services to the community).
Long-term, we’re investigating a more article-based editorial option, eliminating the need for uploading multiple revisions of a word processor document and working directly on the text within OJS. And of course, we continue to do usability testing and our own research into ensuring OJS remains highly usable and useful for the rapidly changing world of scholarly publishing.

Where would you place OJS in the scholarly publishing system? What about the scholarly infrastructure system?
We’re a small team, but we punch above our weight. With nearly 10,000 OJS journals, we are the largest open access publishing platform in the world. As an open source, decentralized platform, we need to have a different approach to our users than that of a centralized, proprietary enterprise. We can’t, for example, control how each OJS journal customizes its user interface or what they choose to publish. However, we strongly believe that providing an open publishing platform and helping new publishers develop their skills will continue to be an important part of a more sustainable, academia-owned and operated alternative for scholarly publishing.

What services will or do you integrate with?
As an open project, we are always happy to integrate with other open projects. Some of those services include LOCKSS, Substance, Dataverse,, and Fidus Writer.

How is OJS funded?
PKP has developed a diversified strategy to fund the ongoing support and development of OJS. The three main funding sources are: community support from our sponsors and development partners; research grants and awards especially for new development; and  revenue raised through our commercial PKP Publishing Services division, which provides fee-based hosting, support, training, and customization services. All of the income generated the PKP Publishing Services is invested directly back into OJS development for everyone. SFU also provides invaluable in-kind support by providing a home that allows us to draw on all of the administrative services and support essential for PKP’s daily operations.

What do you think about the state of openness in scholarly publishing? What kind of future would you like to see?
I’m pleased to see the growing recognition of the value and viability of openness. When I started working in this area, there was still a lot of skepticism about OA, but that seems to be much less. The community has done a great job of raising awareness. It is especially gratifying to see the increased  role that libraries have assumed during the past decade to support scholarly publishing and OA in a very direct and proactive way.
There is still work to do in supporting publishing and publishing expertise outside of the North America and Europe, and we’re pleased that OJS has played a small part in this, with over half of OJS journals, and PKP School students, being in the global south. Developing local infrastructure and local skills are key components in ensuing less dominant voices can be heard.
In terms of the future, I think we still have a long way to go in determining sustainable models. APCs aren’t it, especially outside of big science and North America and Europe. Our research into open access publishing cooperatives, which brings together the major stakeholders — researchers, societies, journals, libraries, funders — is showing that this can be an important alternative model.

Any thoughts on the recent Elsevier patent for a peer review system (which cited OJS as prior art)?
Surprised and yet not surprised at the same time. The general title of the patent was initially quite disturbing, but reading through it, is was more specific and less alarming. Nonetheless, software patents like this are the opposite of openness and the traditions of scholarship, only serving to impede innovation and knowledge development for short-term, commercial goals. They said mean things about OJS, too. But hey, it’s also a backhanded compliment of sorts if Elsevier felt it was necessary to single out OJS as one of their competitors.

Is there anything you wish I had asked?
What can we do to help support all of the work that PKP does?
Well, I’m glad you asked. There are a few things we’d love to see:

  1. Add your OJS journal to the PKP Index
  2. Sign up for the PKP LOCKSS Network to preserve your content
  3. Read our blog, follow us on Twitter, like our Facebook page, subscribe to our Youtube channel, and sign up for our free newsletter
  4. Share your stories on the PKP Community Forum – let us know what is working for you, and what we could be doing better
  5. If you have made some useful customizations to the software, or have done a translation, share them back with us on Github, for the benefit of everyone
  6. Participate in a usability testing session of OJS
  7. Join one of our committees or interest groups
  8. Come to one of our regular sprints or biennial conferences
  9. Consider becoming a sponsor or development partner
Amy Buckland

Amy Buckland is Head, Research & Scholarship at the University of Guelph. Her professional life revolves around open access initiatives, publishing support, copyright, and research data services. Prior to joining libraryland, Buckland worked in publishing for 14 years.

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