Overcoming Obstacles to Open-Access Publishing

To mark Open Access Week, here's a look at how some associations are embracing the movement and pushing it forward, while some are a little more hesitant about the shift toward open content.

The open-access movement is getting some special attention this week during International Open Access Week.

To help highlight the importance of opening scholarly research to the public, the Electrochemical Society announced it was making its entire digital library, which contains more than 120,000 articles, open to the public Oct. 19-25.

“We have been increasing the number of articles we publish as open access at no cost to the author for almost two years now,” Mary Yess, deputy executive director and publisher of ECS, said in a statement. “But we wanted to take the opportunity of Open Access Week to show the world our vision: all of our content freely available to anyone who wants to read it.”

To get to that point, the association is working on a two-phase, long-term plan. Phase one began in February 2014 and allows authors to choose if they would like their manuscripts that are submitted for publication in ECS journals to be accessed openly. With this option, authors can pick from a variety of copyright licenses, with varying levels of permissions. For example, they can choose a “Creative Commons By” license, which allows anyone to redistribute the material as long as the original author is credited.

Eventually, once ECS reaches phase two of its plan, all articles in its digital library will be freely accessible to everyone “without any author paying what’s called an article processing charge, without any reader paying any kind of pay-per-view or other kind of charge, and without any library paying for a subscription,” Yess told Associations Now.

Interest in open access began to pick up within ECS’s community about two years ago, following a mandate from the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy requiring federal agencies with more than $100 million in research and development expenditures to make the results accessible to the public online within a year of publication.

It’s a movement that has made waves within the scholarly community, including associations, with some groups supporting the change to open publishing and others voicing some hesitations.

To help solve multidisciplinary engineering challenges and to bring technology innovations to the market faster, IEEE, a major technology association with more than 430,000 members, launched an open-access “mega journal” two years ago. It was the latest in a lineup of several open-access publications the association offers.

Yet, around the same time, the American Historical Association took issue with open access and strongly encouraged graduate programs to allow Ph.D. students to embargo digital editions of their dissertations to allow for greater publishing opportunities. AHA argued that many university presses were less likely to offer publishing contracts to new Ph.D.’s whose dissertations had been widely available online and thus less appealing for purchase in book form.

Critics who took issue with AHA’s stance made the point that the value of research, in this case historical scholarship, is a public one.

It’s a similar stance that’s behind the move late last year of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which publishes thousands of articles every year, to require researchers that it supports to publish their work in open and accessible spaces online. The initiative marked the first time a funder explicitly set a policy to secure free, immediate access, and full reuse rights, for all articles detailing results of its funded research, Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, told Inside Higher Ed.

That’s not to say open access is without any obstacles. In addition to AHA’s concerns about the possibilities of reduced publishing opportunities for researchers, implementation costs can be prohibitive. “Somebody has to pay for publishing content, and it is not inexpensive,” said ECS’s Yess.

Not only is there the cost of creating the content, but there are costs around adding metadata to ensure material is easily discoverable online, as well as additional costs around maintaining content in a robust digital library. For its part, ECS is planning to launch a fundraising campaign soon to help defray those expenses.

Yess also encouraged associations to caution members about the types of publications that they are choosing to have their work published in. “There are predatory publishers out there—those that have just come into being or are creating journals really for the sake of charging [article processing charges], and some are using them to replace subscription fees,” Yess said. “Educate authors and members about open access and the good it can do.”

Despite any obstacles, ECS, which represents those doing work to solve sustainability issues, such as access to clean water and sanitation, believes that making its content openly accessible is valuable, Yess said.

“It’s extraordinarily important to us to get that content out there, not only to people who [already] have access but to people who need that access—people in developing countries who need the content to develop their own solutions to sustainability issues.”

Does your association offer open-access content? Please share in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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