Conference brings OA community together

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Caroline Sutton reports back from the First Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing held recently in Sweden

In September, 2009 the First Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing (COASP) was held in Lund, Sweden. This event was co-hosted by the Lund University Library Main Office (home to the Directory of Open Access Journals) and the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA).

The conference marked the first major event to be organised by OASPA and, in many ways, marks a new era in scholarly communications. A critical mass of open-access (OA) publishers now exists and there is an opportunity to begin addressing the issues of greatest importance for these publishers. As OA champion Peter Suber remarked, ‘The launch of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) is a mark of movement maturity and a promise of mutual support, wisdom-sharing, and self-regulation for OA journals and OA publishers.’

Nearly 130 delegates attended the conference – from professional publishing organisations (both OA publishers and mixed-model publishers), university presses, libraries offering hosting and publishing support, scholar publishers, librarians, university administrators, and research funders. The delegates represented 29 countries, including participants from as far away as Canada, the USA, Colombia, South Africa, Nigeria, Malaysia, and South Korea.

The conference attracted a notable line-up of speakers who discussed the current OA landscape, emerging tools and services for OA publishers, innovative projects that show how OA content is being leveraged, and finally the funding of OA publications. Break-out sessions for different publisher and stakeholder groups provided an opportunity for sub-groups to discuss best practices and identify common issues that need to be addressed in order to move OA publishing forward.

The conference chair, Paul Peters from Hindawi Publishing, opened the talks in Lund by sharing some data that strongly suggest that OA publishing is no longer on the fringes of scholarly communications, but has become a mainstream element of the publishing landscape. Peters noted: ‘Five OA journals are the top-ranking journals in their subject categories according to Thomson’s most recent Journal Citation Report. In addition, there are 1,200 fully-OA journals included in the Scopus Database. They collectively published more than 90,000 articles in 2008, representing more than five per cent of the total number of articles covered in Scopus.’

And it looks as though the growth of OA is continuing. Peters further pointed out that ‘since 2004, these 1,200 OA journals have grown at an annual rate of more than 15 per cent, three times faster than the five per cent overall annual growth rate of articles covered in Scopus.’

Challenges for OA publishers

Despite these positive trends, OA publishers do face challenges. Peter Suber, whom many regard as the spokesperson of the OA movement, identified 10 challenges for OA journals in his keynote address. As Suber himself noted, many of these challenges are known to OA publishers (such as the need to “measure up” to subscription journals when many are new and do not yet have Impact Factors).

However, some challenges have not yet been recognised by all OA journals. Among these is the need to ‘open up’, by adopting a Creative Commons (CC) licence, or a similar licence, that provides not only free access but also liberal re-use rights. Equally important, it also states explicitly what rights users have. According to Suber, only five per cent of OA journals have adopted CC licences, and a great majority of publications fail to state copyright policies at all, leaving users uncertain as to their rights.

Also addressed in Suber’s presentation were ‘doubts about honesty’ and the questions that are sometimes raised of whether ‘fee-based’ OA journals are a scam because of the suspicious practices of a few publishers. Suber strongly supported the code of conduct adopted by OASPA, which offers standards for ethical practice. He also encouraged honest OA publishers to speak out about the dishonest practices of others.

The OA landscape

The OA landscape was also discussed in order to gain a better understanding of where OA publishing currently stands. Bo-Christer Björk, whose model of the scholarly publishing system was adopted by Houghton et al. in a report released by the UK’s JISC earlier this year, discussed preliminary results from another project aimed at understanding the extent to which scholarly literature is made available in one or more OA formats. The data that was presented was collected by searching the contents of a large number of databases and the web in order to determine the extent to which OA is achieved through OA publishing versus OA archiving.

The project is also trying to get a more nuanced view of the OA landscape, for example by looking at the differences between various disciplines and countries, as well as between gold OA, where publishers make articles free at the point of access, and green OA, where authors deposit articles into institutional or subject repositories.

Branwen Hide of the UK’s Research Information Network (RIN) built upon Björk’s talk by looking at the economics of OA publishing. Hide presented information on the costs associated with publishing journals based on reports from the RIN and JISC. As one might expect, it was shown that the cost of conducting research far exceeds the other costs of scholarly communication. Costs also differ substantially by field of study and reflect differences in the structure and practices of how scholarship is disseminated in different fields. According to the reports, moving from a subscription model to a publication-fee-based model appears to result in overall cost savings, but the impact on individual institutions and countries would differ a great deal depending on their particular circumstances. Hide was also careful in pointing out that there are costs associated with the transition from a subscription-based publishing system to a system based on publication fees – even if this transition will result in net savings in the long run.

Tools and Services

A number of tools and services for OA journals were presented during the afternoon of the first day of the conference. Of particular interest during this session was an update on the expansion of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) presented by Lars Bjørnshauge of Lund University Libraries, and an overview of new initiatives at CrossRef, given by Geoff Bilder. Bilder’s talk was of interest for all – but perhaps in particular for scholarly publishers, many of whom are looking to add professional publishing services to their journals and were looking for information on how to do this. In the coming months, OASPA will be offering its member publishers the opportunity to register DOIs through the organisation. Bilder also spoke about CrossRef’s other initiatives. One of these is Cited-by Linking, a service that allows authors to discover how their publications are being cited and to incorporate that information into their online publication platforms. He also spoke about Cross Check, an initiative started to help CrossRef members tackle scholarly and professional plagiarism, as well as some new initiatives in the area of developing digital identifiers for researchers.

Scholar publishers’ breakout session, led by David Solomon of Michigan State University (right standing) and John Willinsky of Public Knowledge Project

Also of interest to scholar publishers was a presentation by John Willinsky from the Public Knowledge Project, which developed the electronic publishing platform Open Journals System (OJS). Today OJS is used by more than 4,000 journals worldwide, many of which are scholar publishers and university presses. Willinsky spoke about a recent survey of the journals using OJS. Surprisingly, of roughly 1,000 respondents, only a minority were listed in the DOAJ – indicating that the overall volume of OA publishing is even greater than what the DOAJ would suggest.

Leveraging OA content

As part of its mission, OASPA looks to encourage innovation within scholarly journal publishing. A two-hour session at the conference contributed to this by presenting innovations within e-science that leveraged OA content in new ways. Jan Velterop from the Concept Web Alliance introduced the idea of “nano-publication,” which could result in the discovery of smaller pieces of published works than the traditional journal article that could be searched and mined in new ways. He also spoke about the possibility of annotating documents using a large group of researchers across the globe.

Other speakers from this session made it clear that it is not only what we can do with content that is in transformation, but also that scholarly journals themselves are being transformed in many interesting ways. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) recently introduced article-level metrics that offer new opportunities for measuring and tracking the impact of individual articles. This is based on an understanding that just as much – if not more – review of an article takes place post-publication in the form of citations, blog references, comments, etc.

Mark Patterson of PLoS also introduced an exciting development. PLoS Currents is a new project that was introduced to provide a venue for the rapid publication of breaking research in areas of particularly urgent importance, such as research on swine flu and other pandemic diseases. PLoS Currents accepts short papers that in some cases contain only snippets of emerging results, and can review and publish papers within a matter of hours, with the support of a board of recognised experts in the field.

More than STM

OA publishing, as noted by Bo-Christer Björk and others, varies by discipline. Although many professional publishing organisations today focus on scientific, technical and medical (STM) publishing, a growing number of university presses and scholar publishers are engaging in OA publishing in the social sciences and humanities. A related topic that came up repeatedly throughout the conference was the need for OASPA to expand its scope to include publishers of OA books, since OA book publishing is becoming an increasingly important movement, particularly within the social sciences and humanities.

A topic often discussed with open access is open data. At the conference, Kaitlin Thaney from Creative Commons reviewed current efforts by the organisation to develop a legal platform to support open data sharing. Thaney’s presentation made it clear that, in contrast to the publishing of articles in an open system, open data is much more complex and must be examined from a greater number of angles.

Active participation

One element that contributed to the success of the conference was the active participation of all the delegates. Participation was stimulated by the conference speakers, but also through break-out sessions for different stakeholder groups on the second day. These break-out sessions had no agenda; participants freely discussed the future of OA publishing. These naturally led to the identification of concrete suggestions for what each group felt would be useful and necessary as OA publishing moves forward.

The input derived from these groups has been noted and the OASPA board will now work to identify priorities and means of implementing the many good suggestions that were voiced during these break-out sessions. Among other things, OASPA will work to create and support sub-groups within the organisation to enable an ongoing discussion with various stakeholder groups. Already the establishment of sub-groups for scholar publishers as well as for mixed-model publishers has been identified as important priorities for the association.

A sub-committee on financing of OA will also probably be created in response to the break-out session on this topic for librarians and university administrators. Librarians and administrators called upon publishers to aggregate their pre-payment and membership programmes, and to possibly work through library consortia to negotiate centralised OA funding sources. Professional publishing organisations arrived at a similar suggestion during their break-out session, and this common view of the situation by these two stakeholder groups lends hope to the possibility of creating sustainable funding sources to centrally support OA publishing at an institutional, consortial, or possibly even national level.

Following the conference, the OASPA board has received a great deal of feedback from the conference participants. The most common word used to describe the conference has been “energising,” and certainly for the OAPSA board the conference has provided a great opportunity to identify the most important priorities for the organisation to undertake during the upcoming year. Many delegates also asked when the next COASP would be held, and the OASPA board is looking into the arrangements for holding the conference again next year.

In the spirit of OA, all the conference presentations were video-recorded and are freely available, together with accompanying slides. The video presentations can be viewed at Some presentations are also being discussed through the LinkedIn Group for OASPA, which is open for anyone to join.

Caroline Sutton is president of OASPA and publisher of Co-Action Publishing