“Subscribe to Open” as a model for voting with our dollars

Elsewhere in this blog I’ve made the case that academic libraries should “vote with their dollars” to encourage and enable the kind of changes in the scholarly communication system that we’d like to see — those that move us towards a more open and equitable ecosystem for sharing science and scholarship.  Most recently, Jeff Kosokoff and I explored the importance of offering financial support for transitional models that help publishers down a path to full open access, and we called out Annual Reviews’ emerging “Subscribe to Open” model as a good example of one that provides a pathway to OA for content that is not suited to an article processing charge (APC) approach.  Here, Richard Gallagher, President and Editor-in-Chief of Annual Reviews (AR), and Kamran Naim, Director of Partnerships and Initiatives, explore with us the rationale for AR’s pursuit of an open access business model that is not based in APCs, provide details how “Subscribe to Open” is intended to work, and describe its transformative potential.
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Supporting the Transition: Revisiting organic food and scholarly communication

This is a joint post by guest Jeff Kosokoff, Assistant University Librarian for Collection Strategy, Duke University, and IO author Ellen Finnie, MIT Libraries.

From the perspective of academic libraries and many researchers, we have an unhealthy scholarly information ecosystem. Prices consistently rise at a rate higher than inflation and much faster than library budgets, increasingly only researchers in the most well-financed organizations have legitimate access to key publications, too few businesses control too much of the publishing workflow and content data, energy toward realizing the promise of open access has been (as Guédon describes it)  “apprehended” to protect publisher business models, and artificial scarcity rules the day. Massive workarounds like SciHub and #icanhaspdf have emerged to help with access, but such rogue solutions seem unsustainable, may violate the law, and most certainly represent potential breaches of license agreements. While many of the largest commercial publishers are clinging to their highly profitable and unhealthy business models, other more enlightened and mission-driven publishers — especially scholarly societies — recognize that the system is broken and are looking to consider new approaches. Often publishers are held back by the difficulty and risk in moving from the current model to a new one. They face legitimate questions about whether a new funding structure would work, and how a publisher can control the risks of transition. Read more

Offsetting as a path to full Open Access: MIT and the Royal Society of Chemistry sign first North American ‘read and publish’ agreement

Over the past few years the MIT Libraries – like many US research libraries– have been watching with interest the development of “offsetting” agreements in Europe and the UK.  In offsetting agreements, a single license incorporates costs associated with access to paywalled articles and costs associated with open access publication.   This type of agreement has emerged in Europe and the UK and been the source of both new deals and broken deals.

In the MIT Libraries, we have been following this offsetting approach closely, as it seems to have the potential to transition subscription-based journals to a fully open access model.  We have felt, though, that there was one major contingency we would want met in order for us to go down this path: the agreement would need to establish that over the long term, the publisher plans to use the hybrid approach to enable a transition to full OA.  Our concern is that –if perpetuated indefinitely– a hybrid model will not realize the full potential of open access to make research available to all, worldwide, rather than to only those with the capacity to purchase access.

Given this context, we are pleased to report that we have just completed a license with the Royal Society of Chemistry –the first “Read and Publish” license agreement among North American institutions – that contains language acknowledging that the read and publish model is a step on a path to full OA. The language reads:

Publisher represents that the Read & Publish model, with its foundation in “hybrid” open access – where some articles are paywalled and others published open access – is a temporary and transitional business model whose aim is to provide a mechanism to shift over time to full open access. The Publisher commits to informing Customer of progress towards this longer-term aim on an annual basis, and to adjusting Read & Publish terms based on its progress towards full open access.

The agreement will run for two years, through 2019; articles published by MIT authors during that period, when the MIT author is the corresponding author, will be made openly available at the time of publication.  Costs are calculated through a formula based on the volume of MIT authorship and the volume of paywalled articles.  The idea is that over time, as more universities adopt this kind of contract, the proportion of paywalled articles will decline, and funding will shift from paying for access to closed content, to supporting open access to research produced by authors on one’s campus.  In this way, the read and publish model provides a mechanism for a staged transition from hybrid to full OA.

For the MIT Libraries, this contract represents an important experiment with a nonprofit scholarly society, in which we use library collection funds to accomplish open access to MIT research through a business model that aims to transition journal publishing more broadly to open access.   This experiment builds on the idea that there is enough money in the system to support a move to open access, if there is a collective will to make that move, and it is accompanied by transparent, sustainable mechanisms (possibly, as some have called for, incorporating author participation) to shift subscription dollars towards open access models.

We take seriously our effort to ‘vote with our dollars’ by supporting publishers whose values and aims align with ours and whose business models have the potential to make science and scholarship more openly available.  That effort includes assessing whether costs are reasonable and justifiable.  We carefully considered whether increased library-based payments to the Royal Society of Chemistry, necessary in order to adopt the read and publish approach, was viable and justifiable for us.  We concluded that it was a worthy experiment, particularly as the added costs are directly making MIT authored articles openly accessible, and because the Royal Society of Chemistry was willing to work with us to contain the cost.

These kinds of judgements and strategic decisions –within a complex and evolving market– are difficult. We recognize and are engaging with important questions about how a move to a publishing-based fee structure for journals could impact universities and authors around the world.   For now, we believe this experiment promises to be a productive one on the path to finding a workable model for scholarly societies to transition their highly-valued, high-quality subscription journals to open access, and for universities like MIT – whose mission is to disseminate research as widely as possible – to expand open access to articles authored on their campuses.

In order for the transition to full open access to take place, however, it will take more than the actions of one campus.   We look forward to engaging with others throughout this experiment, and to thinking together about how we can collaborate to advance open access to science and scholarship in productive ways.







Free the Science: One Scholarly Society’s bold vision for open access and why it matters now more than ever

The Electrochemical Society, a small nonprofit scholarly society founded in 1902, has an important message for all of us who are concerned about access to science.   Mary Yess, Deputy Executive Director and Chief Content Officer and Publisher, could not be clearer about the increased urgency of ECS’ path:  “We have got to move towards an open science environment. It has never been more important – especially in light of the recently announced ‘gag orders’ on several US government agencies– to actively promote the principles of open science.”    What they committed to in 2013 as an important open access initiative has become, against the current political backdrop, truly a quest to “free the science.”

ECS’s “Free the Science” program is designed to accelerate the ability of the research ECS publishes — for example, in sustainable clean energy, clean water, climate science, food safety, and medical care — to generate solutions to our planet’s biggest problems.  It is a simple and yet powerful proposition, as ECS frames it:

“We believe that if this research were openly available to anyone who wished to read it, anywhere it the world, it would contribute to faster problem solving and technology development, accelerate the pace of scientific discovery, encourage innovation, enrich education, and even stimulate the economy.” Read more

The fox guarding the henhouse? Or, why we don’t need another citation-based journal quality index

Nature announced on December 8 that Elsevier has launched a new journal quality index, called CiteScore, which will be based on Elsevier’s Scopus citation database and will compete with the longstanding and influential Journal Impact Factor (IF).

Conflict of Interest

One can hardly fault Elsevier for producing this metric, which is well positioned to compete with the Impact Factor.  But for researchers and librarians, there are serious concerns about CiteScore. Having a for-profit entity that is also a journal publisher in charge of a journal publication metric creates a conflict of interest, and is inherently problematic.   The eigenfactor team Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin West have done some early analysis of how Elsevier journals tend to rank via CiteScore versus the Impact Factor, and conclude that “Elsevier journals are getting just over a 25% boost relative to what we would expect given their Impact Factor scores.”  Looking at journals other than Nature journals – which take quite a hit under the CiteScore because of what Phil Davis refers to as Citescore’s “overt biases against journals that publish a lot of front-matter” — Elsevier journals still get a boost (15%) in comparison with Impact Factor.


Perpetuating problems of journal prestige in promotion and tenure

But more broadly, the appearance of another measure of journal impact reinforces existing problems with the scholarly publishing market, where journal brand as a proxy for research quality drives promotion and tenure decisions.  This tying of professional advancement, including grant awards, to publication in a small number of high prestige publications contributes to monopoly power and resulting hyperinflation in the scholarly publishing market.  Indeed, I was recently informed by a large commercial journal publisher that a journal’s Impact Factor is a key consideration in setting the price increase for that title—and was the first reason mentioned to justify increases.


Let’s support an alternative

In an age when we can measure impact at the article level, journal quality measures should play a secondary role, behind article-level quality measures.   As Martin Fenner of PLoS notes, journal measures create “perverse incentives,” and “journal-based metrics are now considered a poor performance measure for individual articles.”   While traditional tools perpetuate journal prestige, article-level metrics and alternative metrics look at the full impact of an article, including for example downloads; views; inclusion in reference managers and collaboration tools; recommendations (e.g. in Faculty of 1000); and social media sharing.   As Fenner also reports, citation based metrics take years to accumulate, and don’t necessarily capture impact in fields with more pragmatic applications of research, such as clinical medicine. Alternative metrics engage with more recent technologies: tweets have been shown in a 2011 study to correlate well with – indeed to predict– citation rates.  These metrics can be applied to data sets and other scholarly outputs well beyond the article.   Such alternative metrics provide something new: an ability to “measure the distinct concept of social impact,” which, in our era of climate change and global health and social problems, is arguably as important as measuring more purely scholarly impact, by citations alone.

Scholars and librarians have choices about what measures they use when deciding where to publish and which journals to buy.  Altmetrics, EBSCO’s PlumAnalytics, and the nonprofit Impactstory provide citation and impact analytics at the article level, and expand the notion of how to measure the impact of research.  The team behind Impactstory, funded by NSF and the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, describes their aim this way: they are “helping to build a new scholarly reward system.”   While there is convenience — and inertia — in the long-standing practice of using journal citation measures as the key journal quality assessment vehicle, article-level and alternative metrics provide a needed complement to traditional citation analytics, and support flexible, relevant, real-time approaches to evaluating the impact of research.  Our dollars and our time would seem to be well spent focusing on these innovations, and moving beyond journal citation-based quality measures as a proxy for article quality and impact.




Beware the Trojan Horse: Elsevier’s repository pilot and our vision for IRs & Open Access

By IO blogger Ellen Finnie with Guest co-author Greg Eow, AD for Collections, MIT Libraries

As charged discussion around Elsevier’s purchase of SSRN continued in the past week, Elsevier and the University of Florida (UF) announced a pilot that links UF’s institutional repository with Elsevier’s platform. By employing an automatic deposit of metadata about Elsevier-published UF articles into UF’s repository, with pointers to Elsevier’s site for access to the articles themselves, users of the UF institutional repository will be able to discover and, if they have authorized access, access final copies of Elsevier journals.

Elsevier describes the pilot as a means of “exploring how publishers and universities can work together to make their platforms and repositories interoperable.” And in the words of Judith Russell, Dean of University Libraries at UF, “The project addresses several university needs including showcasing UF’s body of works, providing a better user experience for researchers who use its repository and facilitating compliance with US policies on public access to federally funded research.” liveporncams

While proponents of this pilot suggest a number of potential benefits, at MIT Libraries our initial take is that this approach does not align with our vision for scholarly communications and open access. In fact, when an Elsevier/CHORUS team asked us to participate in a similar pilot program, the MIT Libraries declined. Our repository [email protected], like many others, was designed to be, and has remained, an open access repository, not a de facto discovery layer for commercialized content.   The MIT faculty recognized as they developed their Open Access Policy in 2009 that publishers couldn’t be relied on for permanent access, or access at all—indeed, a main motivation of the faculty Policy was that licensing models in the digital era had left universities without assured access to scholarly articles, vulnerable to losing access to even their own research output. In ceding data gathering, reporting, and article access to a for-profit commercial entity legally bound to focus on profit for stockholders, this kind of pilot risks what we hold dear – our ability to access and build upon prior science and scholarship in the service of humanity.

At MIT Libraries, our aim is to create a world where global access to scholarship, both today and in the future, is as frictionless as possible. And this commitment goes beyond current access to research articles, to include a commitment to build, share, and preserve our cultural heritage in support of this aim. We are not convinced that our larger objectives — including digital preservation, long-term access, and access to the fruits of scholarship as democratizing knowledge and promoting social justice – are accomplished through this kind of new partnership. In fact, we are concerned that this pilot represents a Trojan Horse strategy that, rather than making Elsevier’s platform more open, serves to undermine the value and promise of our institutional repositories by turning them into little more than discovery layers for commercialized content.

Our vision for a healthy, global scholarly communications environment is different, and it is this: a community of organizations, including libraries, museums, university presses, and government agencies building a wide-ranging open infrastructure to achieve our goal of democratized access to science and scholarship, including for example the following:

  • Shared repository ecosystem
  • Unified deposit interface for all campus, government, and nonprofit repositories
  • System for aggregated and inexpensive usage data, including research analytics
  • Nonprofit campus-supported disciplinary repositories
  • Shared print collections
  • Shared print storage
  • Shared digital collections and discovery systems
  • Collaborative digital preservation
  • Top quality open access journals
  • Less expensive, open source publishing systems and services
  • Read more

    Using library content licenses to shape the scholarly communications landscape

    As announced Friday, the MIT Libraries have included innovative language in our agreement with Springer : a provision that MIT-authored articles will automatically be deposited into our campus repository.

    This partnership reflects the strategy mentioned in my previous post – our newly created Department of Scholarly Communications and Collections Strategy is assessing potential purchases using a new lens: whether purchases transform the scholarly communication system towards openness, or make a positive impact on the scholarly communication environment in some way—to take one example, through licensing.

    Like many libraries, we’ve been using our library content licenses as a significant and important opportunity to meet campus needs related to scholarly communication. Some key language we focus on to promote access that is as open as possible includes fair use rights; author rights for reuse of articles they authored that appear in the licensed content; scholarly sharing language; use in MITx classes (i.e. MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses); interlibrary lending; off-setting strategies to support open access publishing in relation to toll-access publishing; access for walk-in users; perpetual access; and text/data mining rights. As part of our support for author reuse rights, we aim for publisher agreements that allow us to fulfill the wish of our faculty, as stated in their Open Access Policy, that “compliance with the policy” be “as convenient for the faculty as possible.”

    Through our new agreement and partnership, Springer will send final peer-reviewed manuscripts of MIT-authored scholarly papers directly to the Open Access Articles Collection of [email protected], the Institute’s open access repository.  This will reduce the burden on authors to locate and deposit the correct version of their manuscripts, and, because we can pass metadata through from Springer and apply our own automatically during the deposit process, this arrangement will also speed deposit and cataloging time for library staff.

    Springer has been on the forefront of commercial publishers working with us on making access to MIT’s research– and research in general– as widely accessible as possible. In recent months, Springer has signed a license with us that allows researchers to text and data-mine Springer materials for noncommercial purposes, and language that allows MITx course teams to use Springer e-journals and e-books in MOOCs. As our Director Chris Bourg said in the press release about automatic deposit: “We are grateful for Springer’s partnership in expanding [the] impact” of “work emerging from MIT.”

    We don’t know exactly what the future of scholarly publishing looks like, but we know that to benefit MIT researchers, the broader community of scholars and scientists, and all the potential beneficiaries of the science and scholarship they produce, we want to move toward more openness.   This innovative partnership with Springer allows us to take steps in that direction.

    We hope this model will encourage other publishers to consider automatic deposit.  And we hope that the library community will continue to develop, advocate for, and use model licensing language that advances our joint objective of transitioning the scholarly communication landscape towards more openness.

    What organic food shopping can tell us about transforming the scholarly communications system

    In the MIT Libraries we’ve just launched a new and innovative approach for our scholarly communications program — and for our collections budget: the collections budget is now part of the scholarly communications program.

    Yes, you read that right: through the vision and leadership of new Associate Director for Collections Greg Eow and Director Chris Bourg, the collections budget has been incorporated into, essentially under, the scholarly communications program. Not the other way around.

    We made this change because we want to use our collections dollars — in a more systematic and strategic way — to transform the scholarly communications landscape towards more openness, and toward expanded, democratized access.

    I like to think of this as voting with our collections dollars, an idea I first grasped through Michael Pollan’s powerful and influential prose about food:

    “Depending on how we spend them, our food dollars can either go to support a food industry devoted to quantity and convenience and ‘value’ or they can nourish a food chain organized around values—values like quality and health. Yes, shopping this way takes more money and effort, but as soon you begin to treat that expenditure not just as shopping but also as a kind of vote—a vote for health in the largest sense—food no longer seems like the smartest place to economize.”
    Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

    Pollan has encouraged us to leverage consumer power to transform food systems toward health for people and the planet. In the MIT Libraries, we believe that by adopting this vote-with-your dollars approach to spending our collections budget, we will be contributing to transforming the scholarly communication system towards a healthier environment for people and the planet, too.

    This will mean, as Pollan suggests, assessing value in a broader, more holistic way than relying primarily on traditional measures like list price versus impact or cost per download. For as Pollan points out, when evaluating cost, we need to incorporate full costs in our assessments.   Some foods come cheap but cause health or environmental problems that are not included in the price we pay. In the same way, some pay-walled purchases may seem to offer value in the moment, but may cost us dearly in lost opportunity through artificially limited access, less efficient science and scholarship, and the resulting slower progress working on the greatest problems facing humanity.

    In making a more holistic and values-based assessment, we will be using a new lens: assessing potential purchases in relation to whether they transform the scholarly communication system towards openness, or make a positive impact on the scholarly communication environment in some way, whether via licensing, access, pricing, or another dimension. Of course, like shoppers in the supermarket, we’ll need to view our purchase options with more than just one lens. We have finite resources, and we must meet our community’s current and rapidly evolving needs while supporting other community values, such as diversity and inclusion (which I will write about in a future post). So the lens of transforming the scholarly communications system is only one of many we will look through when we decide what to buy, and from what sources. How we will integrate the views from multiple lenses to make our collections decisions is something we will be exploring in the coming months – and years.

    I hope others will join us in this exploration, though we recognize not all libraries will feel positioned to do so. The MIT Libraries are relatively well-resourced, and are privileged in having a bit of wiggle room to take this values-based approach. Our aim is to use that privileged position to act for the collective good. Ultimately, though, as Pollan tells us — and as the evolution of food markets has demonstrated — the power to transform a market comes not from one individual, or one library, but in the aggregated purchases all of us make, placing our votes for healthier options.