Open access impact on librarians

The impact of open access on librarians

Filed under: Open Access

Insights from librarian interviews

Open access (OA) is possibly one of the greatest (in a size sense) topics being discussed in academic publishing right now, and with just cause. It has a real chance to fundamentally change the research landscape and dissemination of its results, potentially facilitating greater productivity, collaboration and transparency in the research method.

The most vocal bodies or individuals to talk about this issue have generally been from either the researcher or the publisher side, which are the two groups it most affects. But what position should the library take in these discussions, and how will an increase in the volume of open access material (and a potentially exponential one) change the type and volume of work for the librarian?

We wanted a bit more information on some of the big issues that directly face the library and its staff of information professionals, so back in August 2012 we talked to a couple of librarians from North America and Europe in the first instance to see how they are planning and preparing for high levels of OA content in the future. We posed 4 questions about how open access will affect the role of the librarian to June Hedges (University College London, UK (UCL)) and Chuck Hamaker (University of North Carolina, Charlotte, USA (UNC)).

Open access content sourcesQ1: Open access allows anyone to read content – how will the librarian be involved in channeling this increasing amount of information from multiple sources to their end users?

In many ways librarians will continue to do what they have always done – ensure that end users are able to discover and evaluate resources relevant to them. The methods for doing this have changed; increasingly libraries are investing and implementing tools that enable federated and/or cross searching of the multitude of resources to make sure that end users are able to navigate the huge amount of material available to them.

We are also already working to make sure the OA materials that we are already curating are discoverable and that our end users know how to find content in our own and other academic repositories. GoogleScholar is obviously important for this, but there are other important initiatives that we can target OA content at if we hold them (whether Gold or Green), such as
DART Europe or Economists Online.

Information about OA provided through normal channels such as the library’s online catalog can mean pure OA journal titles are fully cataloged and integrated into A to Z lists.  Specialty databases such as OAISTER can be included in resource lists, and calling attention to successful titles in specific subject areas when librarians provide Bibliographic Instruction so our users are aware of them can be helpful.

Answering questions by researches about OA and the variety of things OA articles can be used for is another way librarians can help “channel” this information. Knowing a researcher is heavily involved in a particular area served by a major OA journal lets the librarian point out what might be an alternative to traditional publication. For local organizations, the librarian can be involved in setting up a repository to facilitate “green” OA, which is when the researcher deposits the final version of the article to a public repository. This helps local users find information published by their own community of scholars.

Open access workflowQ2: What impact will an increase in open access content have on the librarian workflow and workload?

We’ve already begun to see what the impact of this will be to some extent. Some funders are already mandating their researchers to publish via the Gold route, others require papers to be deposited via the Green route in an OA repository, and some HEIs (UCL included) have mandates in place requiring their researchers to deposit their papers in the institutional repository (subject to publisher terms). As a result, libraries have already developed services that can respond to an increase in open access publishing.

An obvious area where they might be a change/increase in workload would come from the administration of open access publishing fees for Gold OA. UCL Library already administers funds for provided by the Wellcome for their researchers, so there is a precedent for libraries taking on this role and if the volume of Gold OA publishing is to increase it may well fall to libraries to provide this service.

The area that has been most heavily invested in already though, is the institutional repository. UCL Discovery ( was set up and is now run and supported by a team that are part of the Library and the same is true in many HE institutions.

So we are already providing information, training and support for OA; an escalation in the volume of OA publishing would require us to extend these services, dedicating more staff time and resources to providing much more detailed advice and support for academics navigating their way through OA publishing, in particular on issues relating to Intellectual Publishing Rights, publisher agreements, etc.

In terms of expansion and development, at UCL we are already venturing into overlay journal publishing: i.e. using our repository to store papers and OJS software to create a front end for small, campus-based journals. And it isn’t just journals that we’re interested in. As a multi-disciplinary institution the scholarly monograph is of great concern for both us and we’re keen to see the agenda for OA monograph publishing develop.

It can be significant. Does the library need to add a Scholarly Information Librarian to help faculty negotiate licenses that include re-use rights for example? What does the librarian need to do to get titles from the Directory of Open Access Journals into the local information environment. What about supporting for the institution, local open access journal publications? Is support needed for providing access to some of the free open access journal platforms that can be used to publish OA journals?

Since this is still a new and developing area, keeping current on what is happening both locally and internationally is something someone in the library should be doing on a regular basis.  How do we link directly to OA articles in toll access, traditional subscription based publications, is an example of an important question that has yet to be answered. The Finch report recommendations make the task of article level identification of OA articles in traditional journals an even more pressing issue, and it’s going to take librarians and publishers and maybe some other parties to solve the problem.

Open access research Q3: In light of recent developments in the UK regarding open access (i.e. Finch report and related recommendations for UK publically-funded research), what is the greatest challenge faced by librarians, using the UK as a guide for other countries who may take a similar approach?

That is difficult to answer, but will depend on what an institution decides to do in terms of the Finch recommendations being carried forward. The debate in the UK seems to be polarized on the benefits of Green or Gold, but the two are not mutually exclusive. The Finch report sets out a future that is Gold, but this can’t happen overnight so Green is a viable option on the way to  Gold.

So in many respects though the greatest challenge facing libraries isn’t about what colour OA publishing we’re supporting, it the perennial challenge that libraries seem to face: making sure that our skills and expertise are sufficiently developed, recognised and exploited by our local community.

As I’ve said above, we’re already well-placed to help academics and researchers navigate their way through the increasingly complex landscape, now we need to make sure they come to us for support.

The Finch Report downplays the importance of Green OA, but if the Finch recommendations are followed, we as a scholarly communications community have the problem of identifying the status of individual articles.

It actually gets more complicated to provide access to “Gold” articles in traditional publishing outlets. Promoting OA is a community good, finding it and using it remains a goal.  Librarians worldwide could advocate for help identifying gold OA for special identification in abstracting and indexing sources that would identify single articles published in traditional journals that are open access.

Open access publishingQ4: How do you currently support your researchers and faculty to publish open access content?

UCL Library Services has a long history of support and promotion of OA. Our current Director of Library Services and President of
LIBER is a strong advocate of open access both in the UK and internationally and UCL Library Services has been involved in OA related projects for a number of years. Locally, we have been supporting OA for some time via the institutional repository and administering OA funds, but this is about more than just providing an infrastructure. We have been involved in advocacy around OA – raising awareness and encouraging academics and researchers to deposit their papers. This is something we’re looking to reinvigorate this in the coming year. We are also responding to a growing number of queries relating to publishing, rights and OA, evidence that academics and researchers are becoming more aware of the OA agenda.

We have worked to provide OJS to the campus and have started an open access journal on faculty request. We discuss and promote OA issues in an annual forum for faculty and graduate students hosted by the library. We have a major advocate who is a faculty member who also edits OA journals, so knows intimately the process and results and joins us in. Keep current on topics such as predatory open access publishers to be able to recommend what best publishing practices for OA articles.

Putting it into context: Two recent reports
Where do these answers fit into the wider picture? Citing the results of an InTech-commissioned report published in June 2012, of the 156 librarians who completed their online survey, 78% were in favor of Open Access and 26% believe that it will be the main model for scholarly publishing. The report also mentions that the respondents to the survey were on the whole not worried about open access resources impacting on the perceived value of libraries or librarians.

Within the same report, the current role of the librarian was deemed to support 4 key areas related to open access:

  1. Institutional repositories and their development and maintenance
  2. Ensuring they are up to date with the latest developments
  3. Providing information to their communities on issues related to OA

It continues to outline the ways in which the role of the librarian will change as open access increases based on agreements with certain set statements, with the broad areas of:

  • Better discovery and access, as well as validation of trusted sources
  • Improved collaboration with their research communities

The second report that was also published recently (August 2012), is the result of a roundtable discussion commissioned by Sage with the British Library, and written by Siân Harris of Research Information. This report states from the outset in its key discussion points that:

  • “Discoverability of open access content will be key to its usefulness”
  • With regards to uncertainty and lack of trust, “communication with researchers and institutions about open access will be an important function for libraries”.

These two themes are echoed from the InTech report, and seem to form the basis of much discussion about the role of the library and librarians; discoverability of resources, and education about OA, including licensing. The Sage report continues to delve into much detail about the specifics of many aspects of open access publishing, which outline ways in which the librarian role will change, and some important conclusions can be taken out from the report:

  1. Librarians will have to move away from the traditional purchasing of subscription journal content, and will be evaluated as a value to the institution on the quality of the way they deliver content, whether it is open access or subscription.
  2. Communication is essential across multiple departments – the relationship building that librarians are accustomed to must be accelerated to ensure that they are embedded into the process of OA publishing.
  3. While certain skills may not be used to the same degree in the future, others will be of utmost importance, such as managing metadata, particularly in a semantic web context.

The two reports discussed above are some of the first to be published about the specific roles of librarians in a changed OA environment, and some interesting ideas can be extracted from both of them.

What it boils down to
So, to paraphrase this and run the risk of repeating in another short list what is said above a few times, the future of open access for libraries will involve:

  1. More advanced discovery services
  2. Communication, training and networking with own institutional community
  3. Repository building and curation

And to further summarise the above, they all point at developing a strong(er) service culture to look at end-users’ needs directly, rather than focusing on pure collection building. Not by coincidence, these themes are echoed in a paper presented in May 2012 by Lorcan Dempsey (Vice President and Chief Strategist at OCLC), which are nicely summarized on the OCLC’s website. It is easy to apply each of these points to the current and future OA landscape:

  • “Education, local government, and publishing are being reshaped by economic and networking pressures. Changes here will increasingly drive library changes and libraries need to understand those environments.
  • Libraries continue to shift from a collection-based view to a service-based view, with deeper engagement with the research, learning and information behaviors of their users.
  • Community engagement drives the need for new skills, more responsive organizational structures, and a readiness to reallocate resources to important areas.”