Tag Archives: open access

Chasing cash cows in a swamp? Perspectives on Plan S from Australia and the USA

Plan S was born in Europe, yet from the very start it aspired to accelerate conversations around open access on a global scale. After all, if free access to research outputs is good in one place, it will be good everywhere, right? Well, it turns out that things may not be that simple.

In this Open Access Week, we look East and West to find out how Plan S is being received across the globe. Dr Danny Kingsley explores how reliance on foreign students has trapped Australian universities in a ‘Faustian bargain’ with publishers and reduced the scope for change. Micah Vandegrift reports on the type of conversations that Plan S has inspired in the USA, as well as the potential political barriers, sounding a note of cautious optimism.

The uptake of Plan S or equivalent principles in countries beyond Europe is crucial to the overall success of the movement. Publishers are using the fact that uptake currently has limited geographic scope to stall change, arguing that they cannot alter their model to suit the requirements of a relatively small percentage of authors. The number of supporting funders is still small and concentrated in Europe, with a few US players. China initially looked set to join in and thus change the game, but since the end of 2018 we have seen little progress on that front. Has Plan S been successful in shaping conversations around the world?

Hearing from our colleagues in other countries highlights some of the promises and challenges Plan S is facing in making an impact outside Europe. Learning about those raises a number of interesting points for how we advocate for open access at home too.

Dr Danny Kingsley: Australia

Photo of Sydney Opera House over a calm sea.
Sydney Opera House. ‘ Plan S has not really caused much of a ripple Down Under ‘.

Rankings are a natural enemy of openness

When first approached by the Office of Scholarly Communication to write a piece about Plan S in Australia, my initial response was it would be very short. That is, Plan S has not really caused much of a ripple Down Under. Those in the know – people working in scholarly communication and some senior members of research institutions – are aware and watching closely. But as far as opening up a general discussion amongst the academic community, this simply hasn’t happened.

Over the past six months I have been trying to understand where some of the problems lie when it comes to openness in Australia. It is more fundamental than the usual concerns researchers have about Open Access, and goes to the heart of how universities work here.

Where the money flows

First a quick run-down on how research funding to universities works in Australia. There are only two government funders – the National Health and Medical Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC). The amount of funding these granted in 2017-2018 was about $943 million and $758 million respectively to all research organisations. As a comparison, the Wellcome Trust endowed in the range of £10m – £50m in Australia in 2017-18. For those interested there is a full breakdown of sources of research funding.

The funder policies on Open Access and Research Data Management are pretty weak overall. The NHMRC policy requires that any peer reviewed publication be available in a repository 12 months after publication and “strongly encourages researchers to consider the reuse value of their data and to take reasonable steps to share research data and associated metadata arising from NHMRC supported research”. The ARC policy requires the metadata of research outputs to be available in a repository 3 months after publication and the work to be OA 12 months after publication. But the policy specifically states: “For the purposes of this policy, Research Outputs do not include research data and research data outputs.”

Resourcing limitations mean these policies are not monitored, and there are no sanctions for non-compliance. This means they are basically ineffective, given the findings of a study last year that identified what policies need to ensure compliance.

But these policies simply reflect a lack of policy generally in Australia, partly due to the revolving door that has been the Prime Ministership over the past five years. So, on face value, the reason for the lack of engagement with discussions around Plan S just reflect this lassitude.

But I am wondering if there might be something deeper at play here.

Cash cow

Australian universities are heavily financially reliant on overseas students, with the numbers of international students several multiples greater than any other comparable university worldwide. Numbers of overseas students have doubled since 2008, with 398,563 students enrolled in 2018. In one instance, the University of Sydney, fees from Chinese students make up one fifth of its annual revenue with $500 million in 2017. Taken across the country, these figures outweigh public research funding significantly.

While this dependence has been labelled as highly risky from a financial perspective, it is also causing serious issues elsewhere in the sector including concerns about eroding educational standards. But it is also causing a perversion in the way research is managed.

The role of the ranking

University rankings are extremely important in the recruitment of overseas students. The vast majority of Australian university websites list some interpretation of their rankings. Monash University and the University of Western Australia both note they are in the “top 100 universities in the world”. Other universities are more specific, naming their place, like UNSW at 43rd in the world and University of Queensland listing no fewer than five rankings, trumped by Queensland University of Technology with six rankings listed.

Chasing rankings comes at a price. In some instances, increasing a University’s position in the rankings is a specific strategy, with the University of Canberra a recent success story.

There is incredible pressure on researchers in Australia to perform. This can take the form of reward, with many universities offering financial incentives for publication in ‘top’ journals. This is fairly widespread, with some universities having this position on the public record. For example, Griffith University’s Research and Innovation Plan 2017-2020 includes: “Maintain a Nature and Science publication incentive scheme”. Publication in these two journals comprises 20% of the score in the Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Other institutions take a more draconian position. Murdoch University’s proposed ‘academic career framework’ identifies specific numbers of articles researchers are expected to publish in top journals per year. Not surprisingly this approach has been highly criticised for its “extremely narrow view of academic career success”.

Australia’s Chief Scientist has recently been arguing the need for a different way of assessing our researchers, with concern that the current system is fuelling bad science. With exception of some groundswell activity, this is as close as anyone is getting to using the ‘reproducibility’ word here in Australia, possibly from nervousness in the sector from government interference in the allocation of research grants in 2018. There is certainly nothing comparable to the UK or the US on this issue.

The Open Access challenge

But what has all of this to do with Open Access or Plan S? Well, everything actually.

For a start, signing up to the Declaration of Research Assessment (DORA), or the Leiden Manifesto is one of the principles of Plan S, with the Wellcome Trust stating that it will not fund research at institutions that have not signed up. Only a handful of Australian research organisations have signed DORA, none of which are universities. Given many Australian institutions are not only judging researchers on their publication record, but in some cases proscribing which journals in which they are allowed to publish, it would be extremely difficult for these institutions to become a signatory to DORA or the Leiden Manifesto.

But the main problem for the open agenda is the total reliance on specific metrics that deliver ranking numbers – metrics which enfold Australian universities into a Faustian bargain with the large commercial publishers.

Australian universities are not engaging with Plan S because they cannot afford to. And while the Australian funders remain silent on the topic (literally – a search for Plan S on each website comes up empty), there is little incentive to worry about it.

If anything, this situation further underlines the need to shift the academic reward system away from the single measure of publication of novel results in high impact journals.  Given how deeply ingrained that measure is in Australia it will be interesting to see where we are at this time next year.

Micah Vandegrift: USA

An image of a river in the USA.
A meandering river in the USA. Plan S has sparked conversations in the USA, but progress is slow.

A shot heard around the world

A little more than a year ago, open access had its “shot heard around the world” moment. Plan S expanded out from Europe, encompassing angst and excitement, requiring think-pieces from thought leaders, policy briefs from the wonks, and general malaise from lots of stakeholders. The European open agenda is, by design or by accident, shaping the horizon and Plan S continues to be a marker of that progression. I had the unique opportunity to be on the ground in Europe for most of the fallout last fall, and now with the benefit of time and geographic remove, I am observing the after effects, especially in how U.S.-based research communities are responding in kind. 

Ripples and tides

The greatest surprise is that Plan S seems to be the thing that is getting people from all corners out to debate the issues. The tidal wave of Plan S seems to have crashed on our shores with something for everyone – publishers, libraries, researchers, and funders. Librarianship tends to pivot around shifts in the publishing landscape, finding crevices to leverage our expertise and chances to show off that knowledge to researchers, and I expected Plan S to offer that as well. The weird thing, though, is that the responses have been uneven, distributed, and displaced. For example, I was invited along with Rick Anderson of Scholarly Kitchen fame to debate the Plan in front of 200+ managing and technical editors as the plenary session at their conference. On the flipside, Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, announced as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in January 2019 (after a vacancy since something happened in November 2016), flippantly addressed Plan S in an interview simply saying “we won’t ever tell people where to publish.” Bizarrely, a research policy affecting labs and scholars from Norway to Portugal is giving me a chance to meet and chat with publisher colleagues more than ever before, and not opened any new doors for communicating finer points of licensing with faculty on my campus. 

A slow-flowing river

Following the current into the near future, I believe that there are three tributaries that will come together. Funders will continue to exert their influence, supplanting publishers as drivers of the conversation, disciplines will adapt discipline-specific means of scholarly sharing (see the rise of pre-prints [PDF]), and policy makers will attempt to legislate cautious action toward a global research marketplace. However… in the U.S. context there are two barriers that could dam the flow. Uncertainty in our political climate, and an America-first foreign policy agenda, is boiling up concern about “undue foreign influence,” and I fear that isolationism will compel a counter narrative to the open and public sharing of research worldwide. Secondly, America is a god-damn huge country and developing a coherent national framework for openness seems to be a fool’s errand. However, what sometimes appears to be a bog can actually be a river barely inching along. If Plan S was a splash, Plan Open U.S. will be a steady drip, creating geologic formations of systemic change toward a more open research ecosystem. 

Conclusions

We read Danny and Micah’s contributions with great interest. They raised several questions about Plan S, which we hope to discuss with Micah after today’s talk.

  1. What can we do to increase engagement of our local academic communities with the open access agenda?
  2. Is it possible to uncouple decisions about research practice from financial or political/ideological considerations?
  3. How can government funders find a balance between dictating open research mandates and respecting the academic freedom of researchers?
  4. Can institutions measure research accurately without creating perverse incentives?
  5. Is there any country in the world where the mention of politicians does not trigger an immediate eye-roll?

Published 24 October 2019

Written by Dr Danny Kingsley (Scholarly Communication Consultant) and Micah Vandegrift (Open Knowledge Librarian at NC State University Libraries).

Compiled by Dr Beatrice Gini

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Open Access monographs: Reflections from our recent symposium

Open access book formats have been under discussion for several years and have attracted interest – and concern – from researchers in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences as well as amongst institutions, publishers, and funders. Earlier this month the Office of Scholarly Communication organised a one-day symposium on ‘Open Access monographs: from policy to reality which took place at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. It aimed to enable discussion about the open access monographs agenda and its future challenges with the Cambridge community and beyond, to bring together researchers with publishers, funders, experts and innovators in the field of open monograph publishing, and to share experiences about the opportunities and realities of publishing an open access book. 

In this blog we summarise the key themes that emerged from this symposium. In favour of simplicity we accept that many of the issues discussed do not belong to one theme category only and are interlinked with each other. 

Picture showing the front cover of the symposium programme.
Symposium programme

‘What would it take to implement open access books for REF?’ 

This was one of the first questions in Prof Martin Paul Eve’s (Birkbeck, University of London) keynote speech which highlights an uncomfortable truth in the discussions about open access monograph policy in the UK these days. 

‘To publish 75% of anticipated monographic submission output for the next REF would require approximately £96m investment over the census period. This is equivalent to £19.2m per year. Academic library budgets as they are currently apportioned would not support this cost.’ [1] 

The figures are staggering and immediately show that money is the number one challenge in any discussions about monographs in this context. Which brings us swiftly to our first theme: The economics of open access. 

The economics of open access 

The distribution of the economics is the most important factor in the puzzle of open access monograph publishing. The overall consensus from both publishers and academics are that BPCs (Book Publishing Charges) for monographs do not work well in the humanities. They scale badly and concentrate costs. However, it is clear that one business model does not fit all in this sphere. A diversity of business models and ecosystems in which monographs can be published as open access would give authors choice and avoid monopolies. It was thought provoking to hear Rupert Gatti say that Open Book Publishers couldn’t scale up on their current business model to publish 250-300 books (10 times the amount they do now) but they shouldn’t have to. Instead, they can envisage a system where numerous small publishers like themselves exist next to large publishers, like Cambridge University Press (CUP). The idea of avoiding monopolies is not only key for authors but also readers as having a few publishers controlling the methods of distribution of this literature could end up restricting the way we access and use content. 

Questions were also raised about how BPCs (or their replacement) should be set. Monographs vary in length and complexity, usually determined by their subject matter, which in turn have vastly different production costs. Should there then be a pricing structure that better reflects this? And in a culture of openness, can we ask publishers to be transparent about their costs and services so researchers can make more informed choices about where to spend their grant money? 

Publishers are very aware of the impact that open access is having on the business models and the need to maintain quality in production and the peer review process. CUP stated that digital sales are becoming an important part of monograph publishing and that timing of open access is also quite an important factor in the economics. Exploring models of delayed open access might provide one solution to protecting publisher incomes whilst still opening up access to content. 

‘Students cannot learn without images’ (Dr Nicky Kozicharow, University of Cambridge)

Another important piece of the puzzle is who pays for the costs of publishing an open access book? The current model used for STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) journal article APCs (Article Processing Charges), where funders usually pay the costs, was referred to an epistemic injustice that should not be replicated as researchers in less economically developed countries are disadvantaged.

The problem around costs of reproducing third-party images was also widely discussed, especially by Dr Nicky Kozicharow. Not enough is being done to support researchers, such as art historians, who rely on images for teaching and research activities. There is a (perceived) lack of training in copyright, which was a useful message, if not an uncomfortable one, to our librarians who routinely deliver training in this and are now revisiting their communications about this. But also image holders should consider how they support researchers – whilst some big holders, such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Wellcome Trust, the Getty Collection and Wikimedia, do provide images free of charge, there was the suggestion that other collection holders should consider opening up access for researchers at affiliated institutions. This access would need to continue for a number of years beyond that affiliation so the images are accessible during the period in which a book will often be written up. 

Ethics, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion 

“Who and what is OA for? We need to start with the right question” (Prof Margot Finn, President of the Royal Historical Society) 

It is also important to view the economic question of who can afford to pay to publish an open access monograph through the lens of equality and inclusion. How can we ensure everyone has equal access to the opportunity to publish open access? Is open access a human right? The role of politics here is critical if we want to make open access work for everyone. Policymakers need to consider issues such as access, gender and nationality when making decisions that institutions and publishers have to interpret and adhere to.

Another group that suffers from the current set up for open access monographs are the early career researchers (ECRs). They often work in a precarious situation, moving between institutions on short term contracts. This restricts their ability to publish a monograph, which takes considerable time and effort. It is important that when institutions look to sign up to and implement statements such as DORA (San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment), that both monographs and journal articles are considered when looking at academic career progression. 

Of course, as we strive to make open access work for everyone, we need to be mindful of impinging on academic freedoms. As noted by Dr Steven Hill (Director of Research, Research England), researchers should still be free to choose the questions they study within the constraints of the system. Academics should also be free to choose the licence that they publish their work under. This has been a major sticking point for many academics (as we have previously written) with CC BY licences seen as an ethical issue in the humanities. Instead, what is needed is a softening of licence choices with options such as non-commercial and non-derivative available – a point also highlighted in the recent Universities UK report on ’Open Access and Monographs’. Finally, we should not make assumptions that the ethical issues around licenses are the same worldwide, because they are not. 

Scalability and sustainability 

‘We need to understand fully the obstacles that underpin academic research in order to have a sustainable, scalable, global open access model – but we are not there’ (Prof Margot Finn, President of the Royal Historical Society)

The issues around open access monographs are, at times, inextricably linked. Problems to do with economics are inseparable from issues of fairness (to sum the above section up badly) but also in scalability and sustainability. The academic monograph has its own distinct ecosystem in scholarly research. Open access monographs have a global readership, but production of open access books is not necessarily global, but concentrated on local or national levels. We need to consider the far-reaching consequences of this, including the relationship between the ‘global’ academic researcher and the ‘local’ publisher. We must also consider the role of the policymakers, often European, who set the rules in one country or part of the world and those academics who are not part of this system. Do the levels of academics in these countries and their outputs justify this dominance? We should also obtain more information on how open access books are used in order to justify the expenditure in publishing them, yet Hannah Hope, speaking for the Wellcome Trust, commented that the impact of open access books is hard to measure. Download statistics are often available and provide one measure. For example, UCL Press have had 2.5 million book downloads since its launch four years ago and Open Book Publishers report that their books are being freely accessed worldwide by over 20,000 readers each month. 

The ability of publishers to innovate is seen as a key factor in the sustainability and scalability of open access monograph publishing. The size of the publisher will most probably determine their ability to innovate, with smaller publishers being in a better position to ‘take risks’ and try out new models, even if such models end up failing or not being appropriate to implement in bigger organisations due to scalability and financial constraints. Radical OA are experimenting with various business models and bringing down BPCs. The RHS’s New Historical Perspectives (NHP) book series is designed to provide high-quality publishing support to ECR historians (ECRs defined as researchers within 10 years of finishing their PhD) whilst absorbing the costs of BPCs and relying on a generous donation to cover some of the image costs. Indeed, ‘Learned societies have a long history of innovation and experimentation in publishing’ according to Prof Margot Finn, but how they take their experimentation to the next level is yet to be figured out. 

Understanding how open access monographs can scale and be sustainable is key to figuring out the type of open access that will prevail. Green open access is not considered to be the future goal for CUP, who are experimenting with a number of different business models such as consortium models, crowdfunding and freemium models. They have also been engaging with authors, researchers and librarians worldwide to understand the monograph landscape better and to demystify issues concerning publishing process. Likewise, SpringerNature voiced concerns with green open access and although open access humanities publications account for a very small proportion of their overall open access publications (~10%) they feel that they are well positioned for a more open future. 

Collaboration, relationships, communication 

Publishing is not the end point. Academy as a whole needs to engage with that’ (Dr Rupert Gatti Trinity College/Faculty of Economics/Open Book Publishers) 

What is clear is that there are many players in the field of open access monograph publishing and continued and open communication between all parties is key. Within institutions, academics and research support providers (such as librarians) need to have conversations to ensure the help required is accessible, so authors are not battling with copyright issues alone or remain unaware of the full spectrum of publishing options available to them. Senior leaders at universities must engage with their academic communities to understand the issues they face. They can then in turn engage with policymakers to encourage realistic rules and guidance that would lead to meaningful, measurable outcomes. It was reassuring to hear that consultative approaches are being taken and we welcome the continuation of these. 

Publishers also have an important role in re-defining their relationship with academics. As Prof Martin Paul Eve questioned, are publishers solely service providers and academics content creators or are both parties co-producers and academic collaborators in the research process? Prof Roger Kain emphasised ‘the relationship of an author with their publisher with a journal is a very different relationship to the relationship of an author and their publisher with a monograph’ and as such this may lead to the chance to experiment further with business models, if publishers offer more added value through intellectual support for their authors. Of course, Learned Societies and holders of large collections of images have to be involved as well so that their position within the research process is well understood. These conversations should also happen in and between different geographical places because academic research will always have international collaborations. 

We also have to be mindful of the messages that come out of these conversations. Time and again we heard the notion that “open access means bad peer review” is still alive in the academic community. This is a myth that all publishers, as well as librarians and other research support staff, are keen to debunk. Another myth is the misconception that “open access is the end of print”. As Prof Roger Kain put it ‘open access does not mean wholly replacing the physical copies of a book but help creators of content to reach wider audiences…OA and print will co-exist’. The term “open science” was noted as appearing to exclude the humanities and, therefore, disengaging researchers before they’ve even got started, even though open science includes all disciplines (this is the reason why in Cambridge we prefer to use “open research”). The language used in Plan S communication was seen as being too opaque, especially for non-native English speakers. If we are encouraging open research, we should be using language that is open and transparent, especially when open research is an international endeavour, as already mentioned. It is important that messages are correct and clear so humanities scholars and other stakeholders can engage fully in debates about the future of open access monograph publishing. 

Summary 

‘If we are going to take open access for monographs forward in a timely fashion it has to be taken forward as a shared enterprise…an enterprise involving academics as content creators, their funders, their universities…but above all their publishers’ (Prof Roger Kain, School of Advanced Study, University of London & Chairman of the UUK OA Monographs Group)

The symposium saw common themes emerging around issues with open access for monographs as the system currently stands, but also the potential benefits and possibilities that open access could open up into the future. There was consensus that open access needs to go forward as a shared enterprise with all stakeholders being equal players. Looking into the future there was also concern about the visibility of humanities research going forward when compared to the natural sciences and that humanities authors should strive to demonstrate the impact of their publishing activities. 

Many of the themes discussed in this symposium echoed the recommendations as well as concerns outlined in the Universities UK Open Access Monograph report which was published a few days after this symposium took place. The report emphasised that complex questions still remained around issues such as costs, scalability and business models, but it was positive to read statements that the ‘academic book occupies a very distinct space in scholarly research’ reinforcing the fact that monographs are fundamentally different in intention and in kind when compared with journals or fields of research, and that ‘academic book publishing is an international activity’, with whatever implications this entails, as discussed earlier. 

Perhaps it is fitting to conclude with a dose of pragmatism by quoting one of Dr Steven Hill’s remarks at the end of the symposium 

‘...a really strong dose of pragmatism has entered this debate; that we all recognise that there are different visions of utopia that different actors in the system might have, but we can see that some of our visions of utopia have to be compromised in order to achieve something that is better than we have now and enable the kind of innovative scholarship that more openness will drive’. 

and a note of optimism by Prof Martin Paul Eve who said the following when he was asked if there are lessons to be learnt from how open access has been applied to journals so far. 

‘…we can learn a lot from how the open access debate has played out. I think we also learn a lot in seeing how compromises were reached within that to get to a point that is far better than a decade ago in terms of open access for journals…Momentum is growing, and acceptance is growing. And the idea that we don’t lose quality when things are available openly is growing. All these things are positive and I think we need to take those positives, articulate them from the start and see where that takes us rather than re-inventing the wheel, having the same argument, the same debates, and ending up in the same place, probably, but 20 years from now rather that in the next decade’

Recordings and most of the presentations are available in the University of Cambridge institutional repository, Apollo as well as the OSC YouTube channel. We would like to acknowledge that this symposium was supported by the Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. 

References

(1) Source: Eve, M.P. et al., (2017). Cost estimates of an open access mandate for monographs in the UK’s third Research Excellence Framework. Insights. https://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.392) 

Published 23 October 2019 

Written by Dr Lauren Cadwallader and Maria Angelaki 

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Searching Open Access: steps towards improving discovery of OA in a less than 100% OA world

At the heart of the University of Cambridge’s Open Access Policy is the commitment “to disseminating its research and scholarship as widely as possible to contribute to society”.

Behind this aim is the benefit to researchers worldwide, as the OA2020 vision has it, to “gain immediate, free and unrestricted access to all of the latest, peer-reviewed research”. It’s some irony indeed that the growth of the availability of research as open access does not automatically result, without further community investment, in a corresponding improvement in discoverability.

Key stakeholders met at the British Library to discuss the issue at the end of 2018 and produced an Open Access Discovery Roadmap , to identify areas of work in this space and encourage collaboration in the scholarly communications community.[1] A major theme included the dependence on reliable article licence metadata, but the main message was finding the open infrastructure/interoperability solutions for long-term sustainability “ensuring that the content remains accessible for future generations”.

New web pages on Open Access discovery

Recognizing where we are now, and responding to the present, (probably) partial awareness of the insufficiencies in the OA discovery landscape, Cambridge University Library has added pages to its e-resources website to highlight OA discovery tools and important websites indexing OA content. The motivations for highlighting the options for OA discovery on the new pages is described in this blog post. Our main aim is to bring to light search and discovery of OA as a live topic and prevent it “languishing in undiscoverable places rather than being in plain sight for everyone to find.”[2]

Recently, data from Unpaywall for July 2019 has been used to forecast for growth in availability of articles published as OA by 2025, predicting on the basis of current trends, but conservatively – without even taking full account of the impact of Plan S, for example. This forecast for 2025 predicts

  • 44% of all journal articles will be available as OA
  • 70% of article views will be to OA articles.[3]

Unpaywall’s estimate for availability OA right now is 31%. A third (growing soon to a half) is a significant proportion for anyone’s money, and wanting to signal the shift we have used that statistic as our headline on the page summarizing the most well-known and commonly-used Open Access browser plugins.

Screenshot containing the following text: 'Open Access Browser Plugins.A third to a half of articles have an OA version, but finding them can be a challenge. Save time with these easy-to-install OA discovery tools that search repositories, preprint servers, etc. for you'
Screenshot of Open Access browser plugins webpage

We want the Cambridge researcher to know about these plugins and to be using them, and aim to give minimal but salient information for a selection of one, or several, to be made. Our recommendation is for the Lean Library extension “Library Access” but we have been in touch with Kopernio and QxMD and ensured that members of the University registering to use these plugins will also pick up the connection to our proxy server for seamless off campus access to subscription content where it exists, before the plugin offers an alternative OA version.

Once installed in the user’s browser, the plugin will use the DOI and/or a combination of article metadata elements to search the plugin’s database and multiple other data sources. A discreet, clickable pop-up icon will become live (change colour), on finding an OA article and will deliver the link or the PDF direct to the user’s desktop. Most plugins are compatible with most browsers, Lean’s Library Access adding compatibility with Safari last month.

Each plugin has a different history of development and certain features that distinguish it from others, and we’ve attempted to bring these out on the page. For example noting Unpaywall’s trustworthiness in the library space thanks to its exclusion of ResearchGate and Academia.edu; its harvesting and showing of licence metadata; and its reach with integrating search of its data via library discovery systems. Features we think are relevant for potential users looking for a quick overview of what’s out there are also mentioned, such as Kopernio’s Dropbox file storage benefits and integration with Web of Science and QxMD’s special applications for medical researchers and professionals.

In an adjacent page, Search Open Access, there is coverage of search engines focused on discovering OA content (Google Scholar; 1findr; Dimensions; CORE), a range of sites indexing OA content in different disciplines, both publisher- and community-based, and a selection of repositories and preprint servers, including OpenDOAR.

A screenshot containing the following text: 'Search Open Access. Our selection of the leading and trusted sources to find OA content'
Screenshot of Search Open Access webpage

We hope the site design, based on the very cool Judge Business School Toolbox pages, gets across the basics about the OA plugins available and encourages their take-up. The plugins will definitely bring to the researcher OA alternative versions when subscription access puts the article behind a paywall and, regardless, will expose OA articles in search results that will otherwise be hard to find. The pages’ positioning top-left on the e-resources site is deliberately intended to grab attention, at least for reading left-to-right. It is interesting to see the approach other Universities have taken, using the LibGuide format for example at Queen’s University Belfast and at the University of Southampton.

Experiences with Lean Library’s Library Access plugin

Cambridge has had just over a year of experience implementing Lean Library’s Library Access plugin, and it’s been positive. The impetus for the institutional subscription to this product was as much to take action on the problem for the searcher of landing on publisher websites and struggling with Shibboleth federated sign-on. This problem is well documented (“spending hours of time to retrieve a minimal number of sources”) and most recently is being addressed by the RA21 project.[4] Equally though we wanted to promote OA content in the discovery process, and Lean Library’s latest development of its plugin to favour the delivery of the OA alternative before the default of the subscription version, is aligned with our values (considerations of versioning aside).

So we’re aiming to bring Lean to Cambridge researchers’ attention by recommending it as the plugin of choice for the period we’re in the transition to “immediate, free and unrestricted access” for all. It is only Lean that is providing the 24-hour updated and context-sensitive linking to our EZproxy server for off campus delivery of subscription content plus promoting OA alternative versions via the deployment of the Unpaywall database. The feedback from the Office of Scholarly Communication is favourable and the statistics support the positivity that we hear from our users (for the last year 66,731 for Google Scholar enhanced links; 49,556 article alternative views; a rough estimate against our EZproxy logs showing a probable 2/5 of off campus users are accessing the proxy via Lean).

One area of concern is the ownership of Lean by SAGE Publications, in contrast to the ownership say of Unpaywall as a project of the open-source ImpactStory, and what this means for users’ privacy. The concerns are shared by other libraries implementing Lean.[5] Our approach has been to make the extension’s privacy policy as prominent as possible on our page dedicated to promoting Lean, and to engage with Lean in depth over users’ concerns. We are satisfied with the answers to our questions from Lean and that our users’ data is adequately protected. Even in a rapidly changing arena for OA discovery tools the balance is not so fine when it comes to recommending installation of the Library Access plugin over a preference for the illegitimate and risk-prone SciHub.

Libraries’ discovery services are geared for subscription content

Allowing for influence of searchers’ discipline on choice of discovery service, it’s little surprise that the traditional library catalogue, even when upgraded to a web scale discovery service, prejudices inclusion of subscription over OA content. Of course it does, because this is the content the libraries pay for in the traditional subscription model and the discovery system is pretty much built around that. iDiscover is Cambridge’s discovery space for institutional subscriptions and print holdings of the University’s libraries and within iDiscover Open Access repository content has been enabled for search. Further, the pipe for the institutional repository content (Apollo) is established.

Nonetheless Cambridge will be looking to take advantage of the forthcoming link resolver service for Unpaywall. This is due for release in November 2019 and will surface a link to search Unpaywall from iDiscover when subscription content is unavailable. This link should kick in usually when the search in iDiscover is expanded beyond subscription content, and a form of which has been enabled already by at least one university by including the oadoi.org lookup in the Alma configuration.

English: The reefer ship Ivory Tirupati arriving in Brest with heavy list.
Français : Le navire frigorifique Ivory Tirupati arrivant à Brest, avec une gîte importante
A listing ship.  Picture by Hervé Cozanet, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The righting moment in the angle of list is that point a ship must find to keep it from capsizing, and Library discovery system providers’ integration with OA feels a bit like that – the OA indication was included in the May 2018 iDiscover release and suppliers have been working with CORE for inclusion of CORE content since 2017. That righting moment may be just over the horizon as integration with Unpaywall arrives, and the “competition” element dissipates, as the consultancy JISC used to review the OA discovery tools commented: “As the OA discovery landscape is crowded, OA discovery products compete for space and efficacy against established public infrastructure, library discovery services and commercial services”.[6]

A diffuse but developing landscape

Easy-to-install and effective to use, the OA discovery tools we are promoting are still widely thought of as at best providing a patch, a sticking-plaster, to the problem. A plethora of plugins is not necessarily what the researcher wants, or is attracted by, however necessary the plugin may be to saving time and exposing content in discovery. Possibly the really telling use case has yet to be tried wherein the plugin comes into its own in a big deal cancellation scenario.

Usage statistics for the Lean Library Access plugin are probably a reflection of the fact that the provision of most article content that is required by the University is available via IP access as subscription, and the need for the plugin is almost entirely limited to the off campus user. The Lean plugin’s relatively modest totals are though consistent with reports of plugin adoption by institutions that have cancelled big deals. The poll of the Bibsam Consortium members revealed 75% of researchers did not have any plug-in installed; the percentage for the University of Vienna in particular was 71%; the KTH Royal Institute of Technology authors “rarely used” a plugin.[7]

Another conjecture is that there is an antipathy to any plugin that could be collecting browsing history data and however “dumb” and programmatically-erased, the concern over privacy is such that the universal adoption libraries may hope for is unachievable. The likeliest explanation is possibly around the tipping-point from subscription to OA, and despite the Apollo repository’s usage being one of the highest in the country (1.1 million article downloads from July 2018 to July 2019), Cambridge’s reading of Gold OA is c. 13% of total subscription content, including journal archives. A comparison with the proportions of percentage views by OA types in Unpaywall’s recently published data (cited above) suggests this is on the low side in terms of worldwide trends, but it must be emphasized this is a subset of OA reading and excludes green, hybrid, and bronze. Just consider for instance the 1.5 billion downloads from arXiv globally to date.[8] Similarly, the stats from Unpaywall are overwhelmingly persuasive of the success of the plugin, as of February 2019 it delivered a million papers a day, 10 papers a second.

Graph is showing a steady growth in the total number of open access items from less than 475,000 in January 2016 to nearly 1,700,000. Likewise, the number of institutional repositories increased from 96 to 180 during the same period.
IRUS-UK growth of open access items since January 2016 (The red bars indicate total items, orange bars number of articles and green bars number of articles with DOIs. The blue line indicates the number of institutional repositories)

The inspirational statistician and “data artist” Edward Tufte wrote:

We thrive in information-thick worlds because of our marvellous and everyday capacities to select, edit, single out, structure, highlight, group, pair, merge, harmonize, synthesize, focus, organize, condense, reduce, boil down, choose, categorise, catalog, classify, list, abstract, scan, look into, idealize, isolate, discriminate, distinguish, screen, pigeonhole, pick over, sort, integrate, blend, inspect, filter, lump, skip, smooth, chunk, average, approximate, cluster, aggregate, outline, summarize, itemize, review, dip into, flip through, browse, glance into, leaf through, skim, refine, enumerate, glean, synopsize, winnow the wheat from the chaff, and separate the sheep from the goats.[9]

There’s thriving and there’s too much effort already. Any self-respecting OA plugin user will want to winnow, and make their own decisions on the plugin(s). In a less than 100% OA world, that combination of subscription and OA connection separated from physical location (on/off campus) is a critical advantage of the Lean Library offering, combined as it is with the Unpaywall database. Libraries will find much to critique in the institutional dashboards or analytics tools now built on top of some plugins (e.g. distinction of the physical location when accessing the alternative access version in the Kopernio usage for instance).

From the OA plugin user’s perspective, the emerging cutting edge is currently with the CORE Discovery plugin, as reported at the Open Repositories 2019 conference, in the “first large scale quantitative comparison” of Unpaywall, OA Button, CORE OA Discovery and Kopernio. This report reveals important truths for OA plugin critical adopters, for instance showing less than expected overlap in comparison of the plugins’ returned results from the test sample of DOIs, and the assertion “we can improve hit rate by combining the outputs from multiple discovery tools”.[10]

It’s become popular for our present day Johnson to quote his namesake, so in that vogue we should expect the take-up of Lean Library and CORE Discovery to bring closer that “resistless Day” when researchers the world over get “immediate, free and unrestricted access to all of the latest, peer-reviewed research” and the “misty Doubt” over the OA discovery landscape will be lifted.[11]


[1] Flanagan, D. (2018). Open Access Discovery Workshop at the British Library, Living Knowledge blog 18 December 2018. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.22020/v652-2876

[2] Fahmy, S. (2019). Perspectives on the open access discovery landscape, JISC scholarly communications blog. https://scholarlycommunications.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2019/04/24/perspectives-on-the-open-access-discovery-landscape/

[3] Piwowar, H., Priem, J. & Orr, R. (2019). The future of OA: a large-scale analysis projecting Open Access publication and readership. DOI: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/795310v1

[4] Hinchliffe, L. Janicke. (2018). What will you do when they come for your proxy server?, Scholarly Kitchen blog. https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/01/16/what-will-you-do-when-they-come-for-your-proxy-server-ra21/

[5] Ferguson, C. (2019). Leaning into browser extensions, Serials Review, v. 45, issue 1-2, p. 48-53.

[6] Fahamy, S. (2019). Perspectives on the open access discovery landscape. JISC Scholarly Communications blog. https://scholarlycommunications.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2019/04/24/perspectives-on-the-open-access-discovery-landscape/

[7] See the presentations from the LIBER 2019 conference on zenodo here https://zenodo.org/record/3259809#.XaA0Qr57lhF and here https://zenodo.org/record/3260301#.XaAz6757lhF

[8] arXiv monthly download rates, https://arxiv.org/stats/monthly_downloads

[9] Tufte, E. Envisioning information, Cheshire, Connecticut, Graphics Press, p. 50.

[10] Knoth, P. (2019). Analysing the performance of open access discovery tools, OR 2019, Hamburg, Germany. https://www.slideshare.net/petrknoth/analysing-the-performance-of-open-access-papers-discovery-tools

[11] Johnson, S., In Eliot, T. S., Etchells, F., Macdonald, H., Johnson, S., & Chiswick Press,. (1930). London: a poem: And The vanity of human wishes. London: Frederick Etchells & Hugh Macdonald. l. 146.


Published Monday 21 October 2019

Written by James Caudwell (Deputy Head of Periodicals & Electronic Subscriptions Manager, Cambridge University Library)