Concordia University’s open access mandate

Congratulations to Concordia!!

Concordia University recently passed an open access mandate. As pointed out in the press released, this is great timing, as next month Concordia will host the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

[I will be at Congress this year – co-presenting with Brian Owen at the Canadian Association of Learned Journals AGM on the Open Access Journals Support in Canada research project, and at the Canadian Communication Association meeting, launching my book Scholarly Communication for Librarians and presenting on the Open Content Alliance and the Google Books Settlement].

This post is part of the Canadian Leadership in the Open Access movement series.

The direct and indirect benefits of open access for the public

With the Federal Research Public Access Act under discussion in the U.S., it may be timely to review the direct and indirect benefits of open access for the public. Following is an excerpt from an article that Andrew Waller & I wrote for the Library Association of Alberta newsletter in 2004.

Benefits of Open Access

So, what benefits does Open Access bring? For the academic world, as noted, it
could help libraries better cope with subscription costs and provide more stability to budgeting, give researchers more control over their works, and also allow for wider distribution of those works, something most academics desire. What about the “general public”? There are both direct and indirect benefits for the general public.

Direct benefits occur when the public reads the primary research literature. At first glance, it might not seem intuitive that the public would be interested in reading this material. Perhaps this is because there is a tendency to view “the general public” as if it were some homogenous, average group of people. In reality, “the general public” is all of us. Here in Western Canada, “the public” includes a significant percentage of the population with university degrees; graduate degrees are not uncommon. Even academic researchers are members of “the public” outside of their areas of specialty.

The most popular notion of the direct benefits to the general public, and an important one, is the ability of patients and families to directly read the literature relating to medical conditions. The need for this access is perhaps most poignantly felt when someone is diagnosed with a rare, genetic condition, one that doctors know little about, and which might well affect many members of a family.

Another example of a direct benefit is the ability of students outside the research universities to read the primary research literature. Students who begin their studies at smaller colleges or university colleges, and high school students, could have the same access to the literature as students at research universities. This, in turn, would make it easier for educators and librarians at these institutions to help these students develop information literacy skills.

There are also people who are serious hobbyists who are quite capable of following the scholarly literature, and, in some cases, these people are assisting in the advancement of scientific knowledge. One example is astronomy; apparently there are so many serious amateur astronomers in the world, that whenever a new event in the heavens occurs, it is more likely to be reported by an amateur first, rather than a professional.

Indirect benefits to the public could come through the mediation of others. In an OA world, journalists and freelance writers would have ready access to the latest in the research literature. As one example, it could be easier for a journalist to investigate an environmental problem, as well as possible solutions. It could be easier for journalists to translate the latest medical discoveries, to help “the public” understand issues like SARS and AIDS, what causes common diseases (and how they might be prevented), what kinds of treatments might someday be available when we, or our loved ones, need it, and so on.

Finally, the increased exposure to results of the research of our universities can only enhance the value of the universities themselves in the eyes of the public and politicians. Scholars giving away the fruits of their labours can only result in greater support (definitely moral and hopefully financial) for future endeavours.

From: Morrison, Heather and Waller, Andrew Open access : basics and benefits., 2004. Available through E-LIS.

ALPSP at London Book Fair 2011

Visit ALPSP at Stand (tbc) at the London Book Fair 2011 . ALPSP will again be holding a free seminar – watch this space for more information.
We plan to expand the ALPSP space and inroduce more booths, double and single size, in 2011. These will be available to all members on a first come first served basis, so look out for further announcements.

The global scope of the open access movement

This post includes a few small points of clarification in response to one point made in a recent letter by publishers to JISC, as follows:

“It is misleading not to explain to UK universities that the hypothesized “savings” require the rest of the world to support open access. The rest of the world accounts for 93.4% of published articles, only 1-2% of which are ‘gold’ and only 7% of which are ‘green’ today. Until the rest of the world follows UK universities, which would likely take decades based on the current pace of change, UK universities would pay significantly more with no extra benefit”. from: letter to M. Read, JISC, from G. Taylor (the Publishers Association), I. Russell (ALPSP) and M. Mabe (STM), March 15, 2010, downloadable from here.


The Houghton report does not assume that the whole world needs to move to open access; the cost savings quoted are based on a scenario of a unilateral move to OA by the UK. While this makes sense for a UK-based economic analysis (the UK Higher Education system cannot require changes elsewhere), the open access movement is actually global in scope. One way to view the UK in the global picture is to look at the Directory of Open Access Journals’ statistics by country. Here we see that 406 OA journals are published in the UK, just under 10% of the total number of OA journals listed in DOAJ. The long list of countries publishing OA journals illustrates the global diversity of the movement.

Similarly, the global diversity of the open access repository (green) movement can be easily seen by a search of OpenDOAR “by country”. Open access repositories are spread throughout Africa, Australia, North, South, and Central America, as well as Europe.

A global analysis of cost savings from a full switch to open access is likely to show far greater savings for the UK (and every other country) than a unilateral shift. My own macro-level estimate of library savings from a full shift to open access at top-quality PLoS rates is about 2.5 billion USD, or about 56% of current expenditures, as reported in my presentation, Freedom for Scholarship in the Internet Age. This is a conservative estimate in many respects.

This letter understates the current extent of open access. Bjork et al., based on 2006 data, reported that 4.6% of the world’s scholarly peer-reviewed journal articles were published open access, with more made freely available by publishers after a delay period, resulting in over 8% of articles made freely available by publishers within a year of publication. Factoring in green self-archiving, the total of freely available fulltext after 2 years was close to 20%. Since 2006, open access has continued to grow dramatically, as I report regularly in my series, The Dramatic Growth of Open Access.

Please note that my focus on this one bullet point does not imply my agreement with the remainder of the letter; rather I thought it important to highlight this particular issue.

International Communication Association on Open Access

Update April 24: I just realized that the ICA’s Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication is open access (on the Wiley site).

Quotable from Wolfgang Donsbach, Finance Committee Report, International Communication Association 2007 Annual Report (downloadable from the ICA website):

“Publications…yield a surplus of between $500,000 – $600,000 because expenses for the editors’ offices stay far below the income.” (The ICA journals are published by Wiley Blackwell). Note that this is just the surplus returned to ICA; the profits retained by Wiley Blackwell are another matter.

According to Donsbach, “ICA’s budget requires a close look at developments in the business of academic publications.” The remainder of the paragraph talks about open access and federal funding agency policies.

Comment: ICA should definitely have a close look at its budget. According to my rough calculations, if the 541 articles published in ICA’s 5 journals in 2009 had all been published as OA using the average PLoS article processing fee of $1,600, the total expenditure would have been about $132,000. In other words, ICA’s entire publication program could be open access at top quality for less than a quarter of the present surplus.

Members of the International Communication Association should demand change. If we are wondering why our libraries cannot afford all of the books and journals that we would like to have in our libraries – this is why.

The ICA Mission, from the ICA website, is:

The International Communication Association aims to advance the scholarly study of human communication by encouraging and facilitating excellence in academic research worldwide. The purposes of the Association are (1) to provide an international forum to enable the development, conduct, and critical evaluation of communication research; (2) to sustain a program of high quality scholarly publication and knowledge exchange; (3) to facilitate inclusiveness and debate among scholars from diverse national and cultural backgrounds and from multi-disciplinary perspectives on communication-related issues; and (4) to promote a wider public interest in, and visibility of, the theories, methods, findings and applications generated by research in communication and allied fields.

There is nothing in this mission statement about profiteering from publication – or about purchasing real estate in Washington, DC, another prominent feature in the Financial Report. Every single element of the ICA mission would be advanced by open access.

Methodological note: to calculate the PLoS average article processing fee, I counted all the articles in each of the PLoS journals for several months, multiplied by the APF for each journal, then divided by the total number of articles, earlier this year. Since the lowest-cost PLoS One is the fastest-growing of the PLoS journals, I would anticipate that the average APF will decrease over time.