The team behind the ISSN identifiers is developing a new resource to help people make more informed choices about which open-access resources to publish with. Sian Harris reports
Ever since the concept of open-access journals began gathering steam, the question of journal quality has been an issue for sceptics and advocates alike. It has become a normal part of our daily lives to delete emails inviting submissions to a new open-access journal with obscure origins and questionable relevance to the email recipient.
US librarian Jeffrey Beall does a thorough job of investigating and questioning such so-called predatory open-access journals and their publishers in his Scholarly Open Access blog. But what if you are not just looking for which journals to avoid but actively seeking insight into which open-access titles to publish in or read?
This is a question that the international ISSN network has increasingly found itself posed with. The network is made up of one international centre, created by UNESCO and the French government, and 88 national centres. Its role is to allocate unique ISO identifiers to serials to help people ensure that they are talking about the same publication. However, beyond rejecting some applications for ISSNs on very obvious factual grounds, it is not within the agency’s remit to assess journal quality.
As François-Xavier Pelegrin, head of the Bibliographic Data Section at the ISSN International Centre, told a meeting at the UKSG conference, ‘like the other ISO identifiers, the purpose of the ISSN is to identify resources in an unambiguous way, not to evaluate their quality or their validity. We get questions from students saying “A journal has an ISSN so can l assume it's high quality?” but that's not our role.’
And it’s not just ISSN that people are confused about; people often wrongly see inclusion in national library catalogues or abstracting and indexing services as an indicator of quality. The confusion is increased by the emergence of questionable scholarly metrics, which is another issue that Jeffery Beall is tracking in his blog.
On the other hand, as the University of Tennessee's Carol Tenopir’s presentation to the UKSG conference on trust in scholarly communication revealed, some people mistakenly assume that OA means that something has not been peer reviewed.
Getting a clear picture of open-access resources and their quality is important as many national and international policies and initiatives increasingly favour open access. In addition, many tools are being developed that help journals and repositories to be produced more easily. Today there are over 3,600 institutional repositories registered in ROAR (Registry of Open Access Repositories) and 9,700 listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), although this number is currently decreasing because of a more selective inclusion policy.
UNESCO also requires better information about open access. The organisation promotes and supports open access to knowledge via various programmes and actions. It wanted to provide a global view of open access and also needed to gather statistics about OA resources worldwide.
Meanwhile, there are many resources that provide different pieces of information that provide useful insight to guide these enquiries. The ISSN team, with funding from UNESCO, saw an opportunity to help join up the dots.
The result, which launched in beta in December 2013 as a subset of the ISSN Register, is ROAD – the Directory of Open Access Scholarly Resources.
ROAD includes a range of OA resources, including journals, conferences proceedings, monographs, and institutional repositories. Content is chosen for inclusion in the directory based on the criteria that there is open access to the whole content of the resource (free registration is accepted); no moving wall; the resource comprises mainly research papers; and the audience is mostly researchers and scholars.
Currently hybrid journals are not part of the project. Pelegrin said that this decision was made to limit the scope during the pilot phase of the project. However, he said that this is something that might be considered in the future if it is valuable to users.
Similarly, he said that identifying predatory journals is not part of scope of the project, although sometimes ISSNs are not assigned for such titles. 'Beall's list is very good at this role but based on negative criteria. ROAD is based on positive criteria,' he explained.
The way that ROAD works is that ISSN records that describe OA resources are marked with a devoted code so that they can be published in ROAD. These ROAD codes are added by the ISSN National Centres when creating the records, or retrospectively by the ISSN International Centre. The ISSN records are then enriched with data taken from external sources such as journal indicators, indexing-abstracting services and registries.
As of April 2014, the external sources used to enhance records in ROAD are: the DOAJ; Econlit; Catalogo (Latindex); Psych’INFO; Linguistic Abstracts; Scopus; SJR; SNIP; and The Keepers. The team also has an agreement in principle with the University of Washington's Eigen factor.
Currently, according to Pelegrin, ROAD can be searched by country, subject, indexing-abstracting service, registries, journal indicators. It also enables presentation of the external sources (method/selection criteria) and records are downloadable and reusable. 'You can do faceted search and visualise results on a map to aee how many resources in a country are covered in different databases,' he said.
The target audience of the free service, according to Pelegrin, are students and researchers, public bodies in charge of the funding and evaluation of the research, journalists, librarians and information scientists, and well-informed amateurs.
They can use ROAD to find out how many OA journals are indexed or ranked in their country or what OA scholarly resources are available in their discipline in, for example, Spanish. Another application might be to find out, say, which institutions have established an academic repository in South Africa or which mathematical OA journals are currently published in Brazil. Authors could also use ROAD to find out where their own papers or conference presentations are available.
ROAD is currently in beta phase and the team has plenty of improvements planned before a full release at the end of 2014. These plans include: technical improvements (map, responsive design); retrospective identification of OA resources in the ISSN Register; identification of institutional repositories (semi-automatic assignment method); and enrichment of ROAD records (for example, whether an APC was paid, the type of licence, the type and content of the repositories, and the type of peer reviewing).
The team also plans to develop the classification (access by subject) to make it more granular and RDF outputs using the PRESSo model developped by the ISSN IC and the Bibliothèque nationale de France (currently studied by IFLA bodies for formal international approval).
In addition, ROAD is looking to form additional partnerships and considering a committee for validating the partnerships. Pelegrin said that ROAD will continue to be funded by UNESCO. 'The idea is to continue growing and provide a valuable resource,' he said.