By Shan Sutton

(Note: This post was collaboratively written by several members of the ARL project group described below.)

How can libraries develop more robust mechanisms for supporting services and platforms that accelerate research sharing and increase participation in scholarship? What kind of funding and partnerships do scholarly communities, public goods technology platforms, and open repositories need to transform into true, academy-owned open access publication systems? In an initiative formerly known as “Red OA,” these are the questions a group of ARL deans and directors have recently committed to address through engagement with scholarly communities and open source platform developers.

The current system of scholarly journal publishing is too expensive, too slow, too restrictive, and dominated by entities using lock-in business practices. Fortunately, there are a growing number of scholarly communities embracing services and platforms that accelerate research sharing and increase participation in scholarship. Some of these communities are keenly interested in integrating journal publishing and peer review services into repository platforms, and bringing greater transparency and efficiency to the peer review process itself. At the same time, there is a global movement to build value-added services on top of distributed, library-based repositories, in order to “establish [open] repositories as a central place for the daily research and dissemination activities of researchers,” rather than the commercial sphere.

As stewards of the scholarly record at research institutions, research libraries have a fundamental interest in maximizing access to and preservation of that record to further research, teaching, and learning. Research libraries have a long history of supporting open access scholarship, in the form of policy advocacy, open access funds to support authors willing to pay article processing charges (APCs) to make their scholarship open immediately upon publication, and through investments in open infrastructure to disseminate scholarship—including institutional repositories and established disciplinary preprint services like arXiv. But with more than 70% of a typical academic library collections budget consumed by paywalled electronic resources (databases and journals), it’s not surprising that the open alternative is under-resourced. (See ARL Statistics 2014–2015, p. 9.)

“We want to honor the tremendous labor and advocacy that scholarly communications librarians in our organizations have put into advancing open access,” says Chris Bourg, MIT Libraries Director, and a member of this collective as well as the SocArXiv Steering Committee. “While also recognizing that the next big breakthrough requires that deans and directors, step up to the plate and put our combined resources and influence behind collaborative, high-impact initiatives.”

For journal articles, one pathway toward the goal of open academic scholarship lies in developing platforms for publishing open, peer-reviewed journals that are managed by the academy in conjunction with scholarly societies and communities. The ARL project group is particularly interested in models that are both free to read and free to publish, without APCs. There may be a place, particularly in a transitionary time, for low-cost APCs in academically-grounded publishing models, but the group’s long-term focus is on retaining control of the content and keeping the costs of sharing and participating in scholarship as low as possible.

While green and APC-funded gold OA have made some progress in making research articles more accessible to readers, these approaches do not by themselves transform the underlying economics of scholarly journals, and they allow commercial publishers to retain control of the scholarly record, a situation that does not serve the current and long-term interests of the academy. This group of library leaders offers an alternative vision in which the academy assumes greater responsibility for publishing research articles, contributing to a more sustainable, inclusive and innovative alternative to the existing system.

Through direct library investment in developing publishing layers on preprint servers and open repositories, these ARL libraries aim to influence the scholarly marketplace. The proposed strategy is designed to provide authors with high-quality, peer-reviewed publishing options; for example, through overlay journals, to accelerate the publishing capabilities and services available through open academic infrastructure. As these new journal forms gain traction with authors, research libraries will be positioned to redirect subscription and APC funds toward support for the development and maintenance of these new journals and the infrastructure that supports them. The project group also envisions helping subscription journals flip to a sustainable open model by investing in the migration of those journals to open platforms and services sustained by universities and libraries.

“If we want to improve the academic publishing system, we must invest in the development of trusted and sustainable alternatives,” says Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director of the Confederation of Open Access Repositories. “Our work aims to help nurture a diversity of new models that will strengthen the open ecosystem, as well as contribute to defining a significant role for research libraries in the future.”

This group, which is already engaging with scholarly communities in sociology, psychology, mathematics, and anthropology, will be meeting over the next two months to map out its 2018 plans and investments.

ARL project group: Ivy Anderson, California Digital Library; Austin Booth, University of Buffalo; Chris Bourg, MIT; Greg Eow, MIT; Ellen Finnie, MIT; Declan Fleming, UC San Diego; Martha Hruska, UC San Diego; Damon Jaggars, The Ohio State University; Charles Lyons, University of Buffalo; Brian Schottlaender, UC San Diego; Kathleen Shearer, Confederation of Open Access Repositories; Elliott Shore, Association of Research Libraries; Kevin Smith, University of Kansas; Jeffrey Spies, Center for Open Science; Ginny Steel, UCLA; Shan Sutton, University of Arizona; Kornelia Tancheva, University of Pittsburgh; Günter Waibel, California Digital Library

ARL staff liaison: Judy Ruttenberg

Shan Sutton

Shan Sutton is Dean of University Libraries at the University of Arizona, where he advocates for models in which academia assumes responsibility for preserving and disseminating the scholarship its members produce. Sutton also asserts the principles of Open Access truly began with Grateful Dead tape trading.

Comments (4)

  1. I have two questions. 1) Rather than try to build a completely separate infrastructure for OA publishing at another site on campus, why not cooperate with the already existing one at your local university press? The press and library did this successfully in the TA space, creating Project Muse, which most librarians seem to like. Why reinvent the wheel? 2) Scholars publish where they can get the most bang for their buck in prestige. How does this project foresee going about creating a publishing space that has the prestige of the existing system of commercially dominated publishing? How are you going to get scholars to buy into this alternative?

  2. […] 5. Accelerating Academy-Owned Publishing (ARL Project Blog via “In the Open”) […]

  3. This is important work, and I’m glad to learn about it. In future updates, it would be useful to know how your efforts track with the recently-published recommendations from COAR on behaviors and technologies for next-generation repositories (

    And, though this may extend beyond your own goals, I’d also find it valuable to know how existing repositories may prepare for this more networked future. What should we be doing now to enable our content to engage with the kinds of overlays you are planning?

    Thank you.

  4. Laudable and worthy initiatives. However, until academic libraries successfully woo scholarly societies away from commercial publishers, and, by extension, bring the faculty who support these societies into the fold, I believe will continue to experience the status quo. A plan needs to incorporate strategies to support the needs of these societies.
    As much as I would like to take a look at the data in the ARL Statistics report referred to in this post, I can’t because it’s behind a paywall.

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