Open Access “The goal is complete transformation.”

Make published scientific and scholarly articles freely accessible
Make published scientific and scholarly articles freely accessible | Photo (detail): © Sergey Nivens - Fotolia.com

Publication fees are climbing and the changeover of scientific and scholarly articles to Open Access is still proceeding slowly. Angela Holzer of the German Research Foundation (DFG) explains why Open Access is nevertheless worth the effort. 

Dr Holzer, in 2003 the so-called Berlin Declaration was adopted with the aim of promoting Open Access so to make published scientific and scholarly articles freely accessible. 2017, fourteen years later, only about twenty per cent of such works are published under Open Access. Why hasn’t the changeover worked so far?

I think this is a process that by its nature takes longer. The transformation from manuscript to printed books or from printed book to electronic document also didn’t happen from one day to the next. There’s a period of overlapping till a technology or mode of publication gains prevalence.

Danger of new monopolies

One argument for Open Access is the sometimes very high price rises for the purchase of scientific and scholarly journals. According to a study published by Najko Jahn und Marco Tullney, even these freely accessible publications became 14.5 per cent more expensive in Germany between 2011 und 2015. Is Open Access really the less expensive alternative?

It needn’t necessarily be the less expensive way, but you have to put costs and benefits in relation. The advantages offered by electronic publications have been limited by the previous subscription model. Subsequent use is here limited by technical, legal and financial hurdles. Thus, for very slight use, a great deal of money is already being paid for access to electronic journals. This money would suffice to convert the entire system, so that the publication is paid for in advance and use is then open to everyone.

Publishers of academic books have long recognized Open Access as a business model. The ten largest publishing houses now share amongst themselves ninety-two per cent of the market.

Yes, such tendencies are discernible. Concentrations are taking place at some suppliers. If the offers and services are good and you then make appropriate payment for them, there’s nothing really to object to in this. It becomes difficult when new monopolistic structures arise that lead to unreasonable cost increases for the public sector.

The responsibility of libraries

What role do academic libraries play in the transition to Open Access?

Libraries play a very central role. They have been traditionally responsible for the funding of publications and can channel the budget management of their institution towards Open Access. And they play a decisive role in the reallocation of resources already present in the system away from subscriptions as a means of financing journals to financing by means of article fees. There is of course also the possibility of publishing without paying article fees. Here too libraries are strongly engaged. They themselves set up journals or provide platforms where articles can be published and archived.

How is the collaboration between libraries and science changing?

Scientists and scholars have a strong wish that libraries also take on advisory tasks, such as on the question of which licence is appropriate for an article – for instance, a CC license, which stipulates subsequent use under Open Access. But there’s also a considerable awareness amongst libraries that they have a new role as service providers, and they are now embracing it.

Changeover of established journals

Where do you see the biggest problems with the transition?

A point which we are always hearing about from scientists concerns reputation: the upgrading of their career prospects is strongly linked to publication in established journals. And of these, only some are available to Open Access. The Open Access Initiative 2020 therefore seeks to transform these established journals as well.

Do you consider a complete changeover to Open Access to be realistic, or will the two systems continue to co-exist in future?

The goal is complete transformation. This also benefits science and scholarship. It’s much more sensible if you have the same conditions for access to different sources of information and re-use is allowed. The phase in which both system exist side by side should be a relatively short one.

When will the complete transformation be achieved?

The Open Access 2020 Initiative already has the envisaged goal in its title. Perhaps it won’t go quite so fast. Much will depend on how negotiations with publishers develop. It’s to the benefit of science and scholarship that the process proceeds rapidly.

Dr. Angela Holzer Photo (detail): © Private Dr Angela Holzer is a programme officer at the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft / DFG). Among other tasks, she is responsible for the funding programme “Open Access Publishing” and “Supra-Regional Licensing”. She is also co-spokeswoman of the Open Access Working Group in the “Digital Information” priority initiative of the German Alliance of Scientific Organizations.