Pondering Open Access

Ayris P. (2022). Pondering Open Access. Tietolinja, 2022(1). Persistent address: https://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi-fe2022061546935

Paul Ayris.

In his text, Dr Paul Ayris shares some views on few essential themes on Open Access. Questions motivating his thoughts were borrowed from BOAI’s query that was made in September 2021 as BOAI steering committee was working to update their recommendations for BOAI’s 20th anniversary (see BOAI20). Dr Ayris is a chair of LIBER Citizen Science Working Group. Photo: Paul Ayris Archives.

 1. What were your long-term hopes or goals for OA, beyond growing the quantity of OA research? In assessing the success or failure of the OA movement, now or in the future, what kinds of accomplishments would you consider?

As a University Librarian, one of the goals we all wished to accomplish through our support of Open Access was to break the spiral of the ever-increasing costs of journals. The ’serials crisis’ was a real driver for change at the start of the Open Access movement. The Budapest Open Access Initiative says:

…experiments show that the overall costs of providing open access to this literature are far lower than the costs of traditional forms of dissemination. With such an opportunity to save money and expand the scope of dissemination at the same time, there is today a strong incentive for professional associations, universities, libraries, foundations, and others to embrace open access as a means of advancing their missions.

Today, how many of us can say that this financial ambition has really been achieved in Europe? As Open Access has developed, it is clear that costs have not fallen. This is certainly the case for a research-intensive university like UCL (University College London). Costs for acquisition continue to rise. The scale of the increases has fallen and, arguably, universities get better value for money as a result. However, European plans like Plan S seem to have baked traditional journal publishers and pricing regimes into the European Open Access landscape.

One of the results of this has been to sharpen universities’ responses to Open Access deals which they deem to be financially unacceptable. The example of the University of California has emboldened others to take a strong line in negotiations. I would see this as a sign of success, in that libraries are able to assert their positions at a national and international level.

As the OA movement has expanded, further weight has been put on the objective to secure as much Open Access content as possible. This can only be a good thing and is a sign of continued success. The UK’s recent big deal negotiations have resulted in an outcome where 80% of UCL’s published research output will in future be available in OA. That’s a tremendous sign of success and is uniformly popular with all our academic Faculties and Schools. However, that was not the start of our journey, where we hoped for cost savings which could be re-invested elsewhere in the Library system. Open Access is a huge success, but the criteria by which we judge that success have changed and developed since the movement first began.

2. What are the most important actions institutions could take to advance OA?

This is a difficult question to answer, because there are *so many* actions that universities could take. Over the last 10 years, it has been my privilege to chair the LERU INFO Group from the League of European Research Universities. Here we tackle the many challenges which face libraries and universities when starting on their Open Access journey. I offer below 5 lessons which I would recommend to any institution wishing to develop a presence in the Open Access/Open Science landscape.

  1. Develop a Roadmap to guide your progress and which sets targets. The LERU INFO Group drew up a number of such Advice Papers for members, and these are freely available as OA outputs on the LERU website. A good overview of recommendations is given in Open Science and its role in universities: a roadmap for cultural change (2018). This paper lists 41 recommendations based around the 8 pillars of Open Science as defined by the European Commission and others An update paper, concentrating on actions for implementation, is Implementing Open Science (2021).
  1. It is important to remember, as the LERU papers themselves show, that a move to embrace Open Access/Open Science represents a profound cultural change for universities. Gone, for example, are Journal Impact Factors and journal hierarchies in the wake of the San Francisco Declaration. Good research is good research, no matter where it is published. Some, not all, subject areas are strongly geared to the use of JIFs. Moving to new ways of evaluation is a challenge.
  1. One of the most successful things we have done in UCL is to create UCL Press as the UK’s first fully OA University Press. This has been a tremendous success, particularly in the publication of research monographs in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. 235 published titles have been downloaded a staggering 5.9 million times in 246 countries and territories across the world. It is no exaggeration to say that this represents a revolution in monograph publishing and the model may well be saviour of the monograph as a viable, publishable output.
  1. Rewards and Incentives are key for introducing the culture change described above. In an Open Science world, research careers should embrace a wide variety of success criteria beyond simple published outputs. LERU has again made an offering in this space with the publication of A Pathway towards Multidimensional Academic Careers – A LERU Framework for the Assessment of Researchers (2022). Rewards and Incentives are perhaps the most challenging area of Open Science since they change so much of current research culture.
  1. As a means of coordinating Open Access/Open Science activity across UCL, we have launched the UCL Office for Open Science and Scholarship. The Office undertakes policy work to ensure that all areas of Open Science are correctly represented in institutional policies. It holds very successful webinars and annual Conferences and attracts significant sums of money for project work in the Open Science area and in related areas.

Implementing Open Access and Open Science at institutional level is a process, not a single event. The result, however, is a healthier and more modern research and educational culture which values all contributions which individuals make.


Dr Paul Ayris,
Pro-Vice-Provost (Library, Culture, Collections and Open Science), UCL;
Chair of LIBER Citizen Science Working Group


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