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The Open Access Network

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0.50 USD annually per student from every institute of higher education to support open access? Linking institutional ranking positions to support for OA? I am pleased to present a guest post by Lisa Norberg and Rebecca Kennison, introducing The Open Access Network, which aims to be the new, collaborative model for open access funding.

Fresh from the European Commission–sponsored Workshop in Alternative Open Access Publishing Models in October 2015, Open Science posted a summary entitled “Will we find a good research communication model or alien life first?”; A fair question, especially given the recent discovery of water on Mars. The race is on — and new models of scholarly publishing are trailing. The Open Access Network (OAN) was one of those new models introduced at the workshop, but was given short shrift in the original blog post. After some exchanges in the comments section about our model, we were graciously invited to describe more fully how our collective funding model would address the knotty challenge of moving to a more open and networked scholarly information environment.

What the OAN Is

The OAN is a transformative model of open access (OA) publishing and preservation that encourages partnerships among scholarly societies, university presses, research libraries, and other institutional partners (e.g., collaborative e-archives and repositories) who share a common mission to support the creation and distribution of research and scholarship and encourage affordable education.

The OAN includes a plan to convert traditional subscription publication formats, including society- or university press–published journals and books or monographs, to OA; however, our ultimate goal is to provide an approach to funding that is fair and open and fully sustains the infrastructure needed to support the full life-cycle for communication of the scholarly record, including new and evolving forms of research output. Simply put, we intend to Make Knowledge Public.

What the OAN Is Not

We should point out that unlike a number of the current OA publishing models, including most of those presented at the workshop, the OAN does not aspire to become a scholarly publisher or to develop a new preservation archive; rather, our intent is to provide the organizing principles, the funding mechanism, and the administrative structure needed to support the work of others — in other words, we look to provide support for the infrastructure for OA, rather than to build components of that infrastructure ourselves. Our approach both opens up existing forms of scholarship, such as highly regarded society journals and university press monographs, while simultaneously funding new and emerging modes of scholarly communication, such as collaboration platforms and data repositories.


Yes, Humanities Are Key

The original Open Science post anonymously quoted Rebecca in noting that “the models that work in the humanities will also work in the natural sciences but not necessarily the other way around.” We firmly believe this. This is why the OAN is starting by tackling publications and platforms in the humanities and social sciences (the so-called HSS disciplines). Not only are these disciplines most at risk in the current turbulent cost-per-unit-driven OA environment, but they also present some of the most complex challenges for scholarly publishers. Unlike most of the natural sciences — for which the scientific journal article remains core, a format that has remained stable in its format for decades — both the humanities and a growing number of social science disciplines demand publishing platforms that support long-form, multimodal, and dynamic forms of scholarship and communication. (Among the several recent studies to detail both the importance and the challenges of producing such long-form digital work are HEFCE’s 2015 report Monographs and Open Access and Ithaka S+R’s 2016 analysis Looking at the Cost of Publishing Monographs.) Some of the earliest examples of innovative publications that have pushed the bounds of traditional publishing have come from the humanities, such as the early “webtext” journal Kairos, which has just celebrated its 20th anniversary of continuous publication, and the 10-year-old multimodal journal Vectors, which spawned the Scalar platform. Some university presses and societies have also begun to think differently how to present longer works online, such as Fordham University Press’ collaboration with Columbia University to produce Dangerous Citizens and the Modern Language Association’s Literary Studies in the Digital Age: An Evolving Anthology project. Such publications that go “beyond text” are rapidly no longer novelties but the norm.

At the same time, many scholars in the HSS disciplines are resistant to the changes brought about by digital publishing because their administrators and their colleagues often fail to reward such work. The struggle for widespread acceptance of electronic publications that Sydney University Press’ Agata Mrva-Montoya’s described in her op-ed piece “Academic publishing must go digital to survive” is, unfortunately, not unique to her press. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, acknowledging the need to “legitimize born-digital scholarly publications,” last year gave millions of dollars to Brown University, Stanford University, University of North Carolina Press, and West Virginia University to work “aggressively” to shift academic HSS culture from prizing print to embracing the digital. When was the last time a scientific publisher received funding to convince scientists that publishing their work online was important and necessary?

Embracing these two often-competing realities — the increasing demand for innovative communication channels alongside the desire to maintain traditional mechanisms for achieving prestige — OAN-supported projects will include the entire range of scholarly output: high-impact society- and university press-published journals, university press- and society-published monographs and book series, open educational resources, discipline-specific repositories, and innovative digital projects and platforms. Bottom line: If we can put into place a scalable OA funding model across the breadth of HSS scholarly output, we can do so for the sciences as well.


Collective Funding for Collective Impact

Funding traditional as well as new forms of open scholarly communication infrastructures calls for a substantive departure from the dominant business models based on cost-per-unit pricing (e.g., an article-processing charge [APC] or a book publication charge [BPC]). The centerpiece of the OAN funding model is a recommended minimum annual or multi-year payment made by every institution of higher education based on a simple formula (e.g., US$0.50 per student per year of study and US$5.00 per full-time faculty). While at large universities with tens of thousands of students, the dollar amount may seem daunting to an academic library, it is modest for an institutional-level budget. And given the direct educational benefits of an institution’s contribution, particularly in supporting lifelong learning and the potential social benefits and economic growth that result from access to research and scholarship, we find it difficult to imagine any institution or its library that would not think it worthwhile to invest at most $50 per student over the entire course of his or her college education to ensure permanent free access to scholarly content.

Moreover, because the ultimate goal of the OAN is to make a collective impact, the funding formula factors in an option for an institution to reduce its annual payment by the (self-reported) amount that institution already spends on other HSS OA initiatives. Among numerous examples of such initiatives might include payment of APCs for HSS articles in fully OA journals; monies given to the Open Library of the Humanities, Knowledge Unlatched, Luminos, and Lever; resources devoted to host campus-published journals and digital humanities projects, to develop open textbooks, and to support discipline-specific repositories for HSS content; and so on. Acknowledgement of these local OA priorities underscores the importance of institutional support of OA infrastructure whether regional, national, or global.

We should also emphasize that we are looking for participation in this collective OA funding from the entire higher education community — from small community colleges to large research universities, eventually at global scale. As all students and faculty will benefit from a world in which all research output is freely available, all institutions should contribute in some way to making such access the reality. We are cognizant of regional differences in how research outputs are currently funded, as well as how teaching and learning priorities can differ between educational institutions, and we acknowledge that the form that participation will take will need to accommodate those differences, but the principle of full participation is at the heart of the OAN model.

Within our model, we also provide a roadmap to address the inevitable concerns about “free riders,” including encouraging efforts to tie institutional rankings to support for OA and a stepwise but nevertheless assertive plan to persuade all tertiary academic institutions to participate financially. While we assume institutions of higher education will constitute the bulk of the funding, the OAN (as a registered nonprofit charitable organization) will also seek funding from foundations, organizations, and corporations, as well as from the general public — in short, from anyone who benefits from the advancement of knowledge and learning and the communication of the products of those efforts to the entire world.

Finally, to ensure sustainability of both the OAN and the projects it supports, a portion of the total cost of each project will be put aside in an endowed fund dedicated to administrative and infrastructure support. Fiduciary responsibility for this fund will be managed by a separate board-governed organization drawn from the stakeholder community.


Collaboration Not Competition

Another principal characteristic of the OAN model is the promotion of collaboration among scholarly societies, research libraries, university presses, scholarly publishers, and other institutional partners (e.g., collaborative digital archives) that share a common mission to support the creation, distribution, and long-term preservation of research and scholarship. Too often OA publishers and projects, like their traditional publishing counterparts, are in competition with one another. Our approach encourages participants in the scholarly communication ecosystem to forge partnerships that will spur innovation and that will foster agreement on best practices for metadata, long-term preservation, and efficient business processes. Collaboration by its nature forces stakeholders to consider all of the elements of the research process — from creation through distribution, preservation, and discovery — and ensures that each partner recognizes the true costs of scholarly communication and works toward more efficient and effective methods and mechanisms.

The OAN model is ambitious, yes, yet we believe that deep fundamental changes to the current scholarly communication system are needed not only to respond to the numerous funding crises in higher education and to encourage emerging and new forms and formats of scholarship, but also to foster and deepen the connections between the academy and the wider public. We assert that only an approach to scholarly communication that both builds collaborative alliances across a wide variety of institutions and that engages the entire range of stakeholders in collective funding can support a scalable and sustainable scholarly communication ecosystem. While such a plan will take time to implement, it is our hope that when alien life is discovered at last, every interested student, researcher, and citizen will be able to read about it in a high-quality open access publication.

We welcome your questions and comments.

Images: [1] Fiber optic lamp shot by Groman123, CC-BY. [2] Fiber optic by Gonzalo Pineda Zuniga, CC-BY-SA. [3] Fiber optical lamp globe by Groman123 CC-BY.

Lisa Norberg — Lisa is a Principal at K|N Consultants, providing strategic and operational guidance via a range of consultation services to academic and research libraries, scholarly societies, and other organizations. She has over 20 years of experience in academic librarianship, having held positions at Barnard College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Penn State Harrisburg, and George Mason University. She is an adjunct faculty member at Pratt Institute’s School of Information and Library Science, where she teaches a course on strategic leadership. She is interested in organizational transformation in academic libraries, the evolving role of librarians in teaching and learning, and the libraries’ role in an open-access scholarly information ecosystem.

Rebecca Kennison — The K of K|N, Rebecca is one of the two Principals at K|N Consultants. Prior to working full time at K|N, she was the founding director of Columbia University’s Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, where for nearly 8 years she was responsible for developing programs to facilitate scholarly research and the communication of that research through technology solutions. Rebecca has worked primarily in the scholarly publishing industry, including production leadership roles at Cell Press, Blackwell Publishing (now Wiley-Blackwell), and the open-access publisher Public Library of Science (PLOS).

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