UC Davis gets grant to look at open access to scholarship

The University of California, Davis, University Library and the California Digital Library will lead a major new project, with an $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. 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” is a yearlong 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 United States and Canada.

“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,” said MacKenzie Smith, UC Davis university librarian and lead investigator of the project.

The project partnership includes three major research libraries (Harvard University, Ohio State University and the University of British Columbia) as well as the 10 University of California campuses. The project will create a detailed, flexible, and publicly available financial model to help university administrators and librarians develop open access policies and strategies.

“Research libraries are excited by the prospect of free open access to scholarly journals but worry that financing it via article processing charges may become even more expensive than the current journal subscription model, particularly for large research universities like the University of California and our partners,” Smith said. “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.”

The project brings together a group of scholarly communications experts, including Greg Tananbaum (ScholarNext), David Solomon, (Michigan State University), Bo-Christer Björk, (Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland), Mark McCabe, (University of Michigan and Boston University), and Carol Tenopir, (University of Tennessee, Knoxville).

The team will create both an in-depth qualitative analysis of authors’ attitudes toward open access publishing fees and a detailed financial model of these fees relative to current library journal budgets and additional funding sources. The team 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.

“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 website 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.

Media Resources

Karen Nikos-Rose, Research news (emphasis: arts, humanities and social sciences), 530-219-5472, kmnikos@ucdavis.edu

Sarah Colwell, 530-752-9842, sccolwell@ucdavis.edu

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