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Harvard Library Collaborates on Investigation of Institutional Costs of Gold Open Access

Partners include the California Digital Library, the University of California system, Ohio State University and the University of British Columbia.


March 24, 2015—The Harvard Library is joining with the California Digital Library, the University of California system, Ohio State University and the University of British Columbia in a study funded by the Mellon Foundation to help define the future of open access to scholarship. Pay It Forward: Investigating a Sustainable Model of Open Access Article Processing Charges for Large North American Research Institutions (PDF, 30 pages) is a year-long effort to study the implications of new funding models for scholarly communications, particularly the use of article processing charges, and determine their sustainability for research universities in the US and Canada. The project will create a detailed, flexible, and publicly available financial model to help university administrators and librarians develop open access policies and strategies. Harvard Library participation will be led by Peter Suber, Scott Wicks, and Elke Piontek.

“Research libraries are excited by the prospect of free open access to scholarly journals, but worry that financing it via article processing charges (APCs) may become even more expensive than the current journal subscription model, particularly for large research universities like the University of California and our partners,” said MacKenzie Smith, UC Davis’s university librarian and lead investigator. “Our mission as libraries is to ensure access to research, and open access is a promising means to that end. But we must be proactive in working with the publishing community to achieve that goal in a sustainable manner. Providing access to published research is increasingly unaffordable, even for the wealthiest institutions, and the information that this project will develop is critical to help the research community continue to provide access to research results in an open access future.”

The project brings together a group of scholarly communications experts, including Greg Tananbaum (ScholarNext), Dr. David Solomon (Michigan State University), Dr. Bo-Christer Björk (Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland), Dr. Mark McCabe (University of Michigan and Boston University), and Dr. Carol Tenopir (University of Tennessee, Knoxville). The team will create both an in-depth qualitative analysis of authors’ attitudes towards open access publishing fees and a detailed financial model of these fees relative to current library journal budgets and additional funding sources. The project will also collaborate with information providers Elsevier (Scopus) and Thomson Reuters (Web of Science) as well as the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, whose membership includes several hundred scholarly and professional publishers. The team will build a series of models depicting the social and financial impact of a largely APC-funded publishing landscape on the institutions participating in the study under a variety of assumptions and across different academic disciplines.

“Our hope is that we can develop a model that can aid the community in developing a balanced view of publication costs and how they can be shared in a reasonable way among libraries, funders, publishers and authors,” said Laine Farley, Executive Director of the California Digital Library. “Because our institutions represent the full spectrum of disciplines, we also want to identify approaches that can take into account differences in publication patterns and funding options among them.”

The project came out of a 2013 planning effort that looked at the institutional costs of converting scholarly communications, particularly scholarly journals, to an entirely Article Processing Charge business model, often referred to as “Gold Open Access.” In that funding model, researchers—generally with support from their institutions or funders—pay in advance to publish, enabling readers to access published articles for free from the publisher’s web site or another scholarly repository. Researchers at the University of California author a large proportion of the scholarly literature and are strong supporters of open access, as evidenced by the UC faculty Senate’s recent open access policy, but the implications of converting the cost of scholarly communications to an “author pays” model are significant for large research institutions that generate a disproportionate amount of the scholarly literature. While APCs are not the only means to achieve open access, the model is becoming increasingly prevalent in other parts of the world, making it important to understand its potential implications for North American universities. Finding the right financial model to pay for scholarly communication while making it more accessible requires significantly more evaluation before any model can be universally accepted.

More information is available at the project’s web page