Towards a community-driven, open access university publisher

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Alenka Prinčič (left) and Frédérique Belliard

Alenka Prinčič and Frédérique Belliard describe how they influenced the change from traditional academic publisher to innovative and community-driven university press at TU Delft, in the Netherlands

When speaking to researchers in Delft about open publishing we’d often get questions: ‘Open publishing? Is it open access, or open science?’

Open publishing has various definitions and interpretations in the academic world. We tell our academics in Delft that open publishing stretches beyond open access: ‘Open publishing entails not only free access to and reuse of scientific publications and research data, but also includes the infrastructures and the processes of creating content that are transparent to the authors and readers. Open publishing infrastructures use open source software wherever possible, thus reducing the intrinsic costs of the publishing process.’  The TU Delft Library believes that open publishing is the right thing to do. The library is committed to supporting transparency, access and diversity in science and engineering disciplines at TU Delft and beyond. This is our motivation for raising awareness on open publishing  principles in scholarly communications among all academics, from early career researchers to senior scientists, and embracing researchers and teachers alike. 

Our drive is also to help bring academic publishing back in the hands of academia, as opposed to commercial publishing. The TU library does this from the financial objective, which is extremely important; but more importantly we carry forth open publishing with somewhat idealistic, sometimes naïve aspirations, intrinsic to the academic environment, with opportunity and room for experimenting.  

Empower authors – visibility and impact

Setting up – in fact we should say rebirthing – the university publishing services has been on the agenda at TU Delft for several years. The publishing activity under the name Delft University Press was founded in 1972 and recognised as a scientific publisher of books, theses and scientific journals for many years. The publishing house was acquired by IOS Press in 2005. Several years later a new publishing initiative took place at the Faculty of Architecture. The open access publishing platform TU Delft Open was established in 2016. Journals, dissertations and monographs were published, and a limited number of open access journals were started with the Open Journal System (OJS) model. 

The new form of TU Delft Open Publishing  was launched in 2019 – a ‘diamond’ open access publisher of Delft University of Technology that publishes high-standard, peer-reviewed content authored or edited by academics of TU Delft. TU Delft Open Publishing initially focuses on three main streams: books, journals and textbooks. The platform operates at a minimal investment, and thus has no charges for authors. The current portfolio of TU Delft Open includes TU Delft Open Journals, Open Text Books,  BK Journals and BK Books covering open access journals and books in the field of architecture and the built environment;  BK Books also facilitates the digital distribution and open access for scholarly journals and books of selected publishers and organisations. 

As at many institutions worldwide, the new university publisher starts fully embedded in the structure of the university, including financial and technical support. The press is now in its early age, so it needs to become well-rooted in the solid base of the university. But in the rapidly-developing world of scholarly publishing, researchers’ needs are changing, and universities are continuously adapting to those changes by developing new skills and targeted support.  

To feed this thirst for innovation, the new platform seeks to expand and include other types of scholarly content and adopt transparent processes of creating and curating content. The innovation has been seeded already in 2018 with Open Text Books, complied and produced by TU Delft teachers to be used in bachelor and master courses, that are published and made freely accessible. 

The platform plans to expand to include turning PhD dissertations to monographs, and publishing research data papers of the 4TU.Researchdata Repository, conference proceedings, registered reports as opposed to pre-prints. These should be digitally innovative publications, with interactive content like research datasets, open source (development) software, videos, and links to databases, and so on that are nowadays offered on dedicated platforms (like Gitlab, Gitbooks, Pressbooks). 

No more journals – transparency

Priority now goes to publishing individual articles adopting transparent processes, rather than producing new journals. Although, journals are still the vehicle for building communities of scientific disciplines. One of the developments of TU Delft Open Publishing is what is now called ‘single-article publishing’ –  a platform and software for TU Delft authors to publish their articles without having to assign these to a specific journal. The model of ‘Welcome Open Research’ and other mega journals approaches have certainly been an inspiration.

In the Open Science framework, the transparency surrounding the research process and the publication of the research outcomes requires innovative solutions for a smooth but rigorous publishing experience for researchers. Together with Orvium (, a start-up from Cern that strives to accelerate scientific publishing by improving quality and efficiency, the TU Delft Open publishing is embarking on a project that combines incentivised peer-review and single-article publishing in one publishing environment. How will it work? A single article publishing channel will publish rapidly diverse research outputs - topics and formats - using open peer review without a specific journal. Also, authors and reviewers will get the freedom to publish new forms of content, along with traditional publications. Open peer review and a system to credit reviewers and editors will be managed by the community, thus rendering a transparent, community-driven environment, where reviewers own and control the review process. Orvium will integrate and coexist with the already existing publishing channels of TU Delft Open Publishing. The single-article publishing component ensures the dissemination of individual research outputs to different audiences – researchers, teachers, students, citizen scientists – and it can include niche subjects and interactive publications. With this initiative, we intend to encourage our scholar community to embrace complete openness when exchanging ideas, to prove being open from submission to publication contributes to a better, more transparent society.

Reaching out to society

Another development that TU Delft Open Publishing hopes to realise is enhanced publication, sometimes called interactive or dynamic publication. An enhanced publication has many definitions and interpretations. The components of an enhanced publication will therefore vary in time, transforming it into a dynamic object or ‘dynamic publication’.  Essentially, traditional publications are enriched with additional information. The enhancement relies on the linking possibilities of the web, and are generally constituted by a set of interconnected parts corresponding to research assets of several kinds (such as datasets, videos, images, stylesheets, services, workflows, databases, presentations) and to textual descriptions of the research (papers, chapters, sections, tables). They are often tailored to serve specific scientific domains. 

A university press is meant to bring scholarly communication close to the researcher, their institution and back to academia. But this may be half of the story. In the effort to support  publications for different audiences – from researchers to students, and from teachers to society – science needs to be communicated to society. For widespread dissemination, it will be vital to lower the barrier of comprehending scientific content (and researchers do not always have the skills or interest to market their research). That is why TU Delft Open Publishing will consider translating complex scientific articles into layman’s language. This activity is too ambitious for a university publisher that is just starting, but we are anticipating needs and solutions. We’ll thus consider collaborating with endeavors like Wikimedia and make use of the potential of the digital techniques, such as real-time communication (such as Twitter), DTM and AI to create texts in accessible language.

An equally important feature of the publishing initiative TU Delft Open are the publishing services. In this way, TU Delft Library supports its scholars throughout the publishing cycle. To name a few: support and consultancy in matters such as copyright, plagiarism check, ‘predatory journals check’,  choosing a journal, to offering workshops (such as ‘create a textbook in a day’) and tools, such as Academic Writing Assistant, from the pre-publishing stage; or article level metrics in the post-publishing stage. We are pleased to be able to offer research intelligence services; in this way we can help researchers map OA trends in their scientific discipline, analyse opportunities to publish in OA journals they may have not thought of, to help them define their publication and dissemination strategy. Some services are fully rolled out, others are in development.

Having experts in the New Media Center as part of the Library, we are now adding ‘creating visuals for your scholarly output’ as a new service for authors. In these ways, TU Delft Library and TU Delft Open Publishing transform into THE place for all publishing-related questions. 

Voice of the community

A community-driven initiative usually responds to demands from outside. But it is difficult to solicit the voice of the community when researchers need to focus on research and teaching activities, rather than on international or technical developments in scholarly communication solutions.

Do we have evidence that Delft researchers want this new academic press we are building? We have some. We know they do not what to be bothered with financial budgeting for dissemination, nor with copyright matters. They just want to write, and publish with maximum visibility and impact. We have evidence on growing adoption of OA publishing through the university’s Open Access Fund, as it shows a steady increase in spending on OA publications (the number of OA peer reviewed articles increased from 1,304 articles in 2016 to 2,539 articles last year). Dutch monitoring of OA publications at a national level, and reporting to the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science via the VSNU, Association of Universities in the Netherlands, provides further evidence of community need. The percentage of OA publications in the years 2016 to 2019 has grown from 42 per cent to 61 per cent. 

The need of researchers for support in publishing is not new, but the urgency for publishing and support has become much higher, and underlined with open science values and endeavours. 

Nevertheless, TU Delft Open Publishing is our unique initiative and take on scholarly publishing, in line with the values and technology of our times, one that will hopefully inspire our academics and give them trust in the route we walk. 

As a young academic publisher, we are keen to exchange with others to learn about the challenges we face, to share our experience in open publishing by embracing new ways and new definitions in scholarly publishing, thus making it future-proof, and of value for the authors and citizens searching for science globally.