Open to all – but at what price?

Already in 2003, the research community took a stand for Open Access, which is open access to research results via the Internet. Yet it is still a tough nut to crack – politically, financially, ethically, and practically. Research magazine 1866 gathered the university’s specialists Helena Francke, Gustaf Nelhans, and Svante Kristensson to discuss the most important challenges.

People talk about digitalisation, globalisation, and transparency everywhere, but openness is hardly new to the research community?

Gustaf Nelhans: “Historically, the norms for how to conduct research are based on the purpose of spreading knowledge. Science is actually quite Communistic; no one owns anything, all parts are open, critical, and so on, especially in terms of publicly funded research. What make Open Access so tricky are the business models, the regulations, and the mandates.”

2003 The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Science and Humanities was signed by several Swedish parties, for example The Swedish Research Council, The Association of Swedish Higher Education, and the National Library of Sweden
2012 The European Commission recommends the member states to develop guidelines, implementation plans, measurable goals, and finance models for Open Access
2017 Appropriation directives give the Swedish Research Council and the National Library of Sweden the mission of continue working with national guidelines for Open Access

Helena Francke: “From the beginning, the focus was on access to publications. Now research data is discussed even more, which brings about new problems legally, ethically, and practically.”

Svante Kristensson: “The university libraries in Sweden work for a solution. Here at the University of Borås, we have invited our researchers Helena Francke, Daniel Ekwall, Laura Darcy, and Katarina Karlsson together with the Swedish National Data Service to a pilot project to look at how to manage research data and set up data management plans. The idea is to spread the experiences to other research groups.”

What is the basic view of Open Access publications?

Helena Francke: “Most researchers, universities, and libraries are generally very positive to Open Access publications. There are several advantages, both for the individual researcher and for science. The access to scientific knowledge increases, and it becomes available to more people outside the academy. But the major financially issues about publications remain unsolved, and they are very complex. The researchers pay a publication fee to publish Open Access, and the libraries and universities pay through their subscriptions for materials that are not Open Access.”

Gustaf Nelhans: “Today, old publishing traditions with subscriptions live on. At the same time, new business models arise and embargo times are getting longer. The publishers ‘double dip’ and make money both on the subscriptions and the individual researchers who are required to publish Open Access.”

Svante Kristensson: “Unfortunately, some people have the misconception that Open Access publications have lower quality and fewer readers.”

Benefits of Open Access
- Easier access to scientific information
- Increased cooperation and less double work
- Better quality assurance
- Higher research investment speed
- Faster innovation speed

So the costs are increasing?

Svante Kristensson: “A lot. It burdens the university libraries which budgets should cover subscriptions of journals and databases, among other things. And the costs increase every year. Developing Open Access is a pure necessity. The management of the libraries and universities cannot afford to pay for these information sources in the same way much longer.”

How do the universities and libraries react?

Svante Kristensson: “There is quite a revolutionary spirit going on in Europe right now. Since last spring, Dutch universities no longer have access to Oxford University Press journals because the negotiations stranded. In Germany, the Max Planck Institute boycotts the publisher Elsevier since they do not meet the researchers’ demands for Open Access.”

Gustaf Nelhans: “The market is a problem. Embargo times are set by the publishers and are adjusted so the researchers cannot have the articles at their own disposal. The Swedish Research Council requires parallel publishing within 6-12 months, depending on the research area. The publishers prefer two-three years, which does not really fit the research revenue time frame.”

Svante Kristensson: “There are certain hybrid models where the publication fee is included in the library’s annual fee and thus not taken from the research funds. Through our agreement with Springer publisher, our researchers’ articles are included in their journals by Open Access within the framework of the agreement. However, it still means 25 per cent in increased costs for a number of years ahead, and this is not sustainable in the long run.”

Gustaf Nelhans: “The problem is that when the publication fees are included in the library budgets, the researchers think it is free to publish when the costs, in fact, have increased.”

How much is the publication fee?

Svante Kristensson: “About 2,000 euro per article.”

What does Open Access mean to the management and availability of research data?

Helena Francke: “This is also a complex issue. Traditionally, data has not been publicly accessible in the way that publications are. There are legally and ethical restrictions. For example, you do not want to spread interviews, observations, questionnaires, or surveys where you can identify individuals. Or maybe you want to continue working on the material.”

Svante Kristensson: “The Macchiarini scandal has shown the importance of transparency when it comes to research data. But the road to open access is winding. The community is more careful; the data issue is more personal and it is also about secrecy and patent. Here at the University of Borås, we also have artistic research that does not even use the term research data but talks about ‘output’. How does a piece of garment become a publication? How does something tactile become research data? So first we need to describe what data actually is. We have a massive pedagogical challenge ahead to help our researchers describe their data, show what the data set looks like, and set up a data management plan.”

Helena Francke: “It is important that the requirements for data management plans in different phases of the research process are formulated so it does not only become an administrative exercise.”

At the University of Borås, Open Access is managed via the DiVA publication portal?

Svante Kristensson: “Employees at the University of Borås are required to register their publications in DIVA. The system also contains student essays and other digital collections. For the publications, you first leave a reference and after the embargo period a full text version is published. DIVA is adapted to a metadata protocol, which makes the content searchable through external search services. The system also delivers meta data to Swepub, which is the Swedish universities’ joint search service for all scientific publications.”

How user friendly is that system?

Helena Francke: “The interface is not complicated and you are guided through the system as you type in the data. Difficulties may occur if you have more odd publication types to describe.”     

What is the next step?

Helena Francke: “The Swedish School of Library and Information Science is working on educational content about research data management for those who work as contact persons with the issue at Swedish universities, and in extension to be included in our degree programmes.”

Svante Kristensson: “Here at the University of Borås, we are planning on setting up a Data Access Unit, in other words a support unit where researchers can get help from librarians, archivists, and jurists. We are planning on arranging workshops on how to write data management plans. This is a motivated part of research. Open Access is here and now – and the future. 

Helena Fracke

Helena Francke is docent and senior lecturer of library and information science. A former editor of Human IT, she worked practically with Open Access and later researched how journals and libraries work with the issue. Together with colleagues at the University of Borås and the Swedish National Data Service, she is now planning for a contract education on research data management. Helena Francke is invited by the National Library of Sweden on behalf of the government to participate in the investigation group for financing the conversion from a subscription based to an open access publication system.

Svante Kristensson

Svante Kristensson is Director of Library at the University of Borås with an administrative perspective and focus on support for researchers, purchase, and publishing issues. Together with Gustaf Nelhans and the university’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Jenny Johannisson, Svante participated in the Swedish Research Council’s hearing on Open Access in 2015.

Gustaf Nelhans

Gustaf Nelhans is a researcher and senior lecturer of library and information science. He did his doctorate in science theory and has a particular interest in how researchers should relate to Open Access as a steering instrument, reinforcement, and value meter for conducting research. He would like to see that Open Access is merited but believes it important to maintain the researcher’s critical view on whether we really go towards more openness. Gustaf Nelhans is invited by the National Library of Sweden on behalf of the government to participate in the investigation group for merit and allocating funds contra incentives to open access.

Text. Jessica Cederberg
Photo: Ulf Nilsson