Can we move more quickly toward an open access publishing world in which all scholarly literature is free to read? While this may seem like a daunting objective, 125 representatives of libraries, consortia, and author communities throughout North America came together this week for a two-day working forum to develop action plans for how they might reach this goal.
The Choosing Pathways to Open Access, or CP2OA, working forum, sponsored by University of California’s Council of University Librarians, convened Oct. 16-17 on the UC Berkeley campus. Participants arrived from more than 80 institutions, nearly 30 states, and four Canadian provinces. The goal was for everyone to engage in action-focused deliberations about a range of open access, or OA, funding strategies, and leave with their own customized plans for how they will repurpose subscription and other funds within their home organization or community — and more broadly, through collective efforts, move the OA needle forward.
Did it work? Decidedly so.
Forum participant Lauren Collister, the director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing, said she plans to join a task force established at the forum to help scholarly societies transition to open access publishing. Collister is the chair of the Committee on Scholarly Communication for the Linguistics Society of America and will return home with plans to push the society to issue a statement about publishing open access.
Eric Baković, professor and chair of UC San Diego’s Linguistics Department who led a forum discussion on faculty engagement, said his “next step after this forum will be to visit departments one by one, informing faculty of how their departments are already engaging with open access and countering misconceptions about open publishing models.”
Those meetings could be arranged, he suggested, through a panel of people from across the university who serve as representatives for their fields or departments, and come together in focus groups on the topic. Another concrete move will be encouraging senior faculty to set examples for junior faculty by publishing their work openly and building in OA publishing as a consideration contributing to promotions of tenure for more junior faculty.
And, of course, Twitter was abuzz with affirmations of progress toward openness.
Why this forum, and why now?
In the past decades, the scholarly community around the world has been working to make the publishing system more open. CP2OA built on these efforts to explore how they might extend into libraries' decision-making about repurposing subscription spending. With only 15 percent of peer-reviewed journal articles published in fully open access journals, “realizing a full OA scholarly universe could take decades,” said Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, UC Berkeley’s university librarian. “If we within the research community are going to hasten progress toward free readership for all, we must make critical choices about how we spend our money in supporting open access.”
Institutions, consortia, and author communities are wrestling with their own localized questions and visions about avenues to advance open access. North America has a particularly crucial role to play in the worldwide transition effort, given the size of its publishing output and amount of subscription revenue that it contributes. The CP2OA forum was not advocating for any single actionable open access strategy, as none would suit all North American institutions, let alone all author communities. Instead, the UC’s Council of University Librarians hoped to leverage its recent analysis of funding options — published in its Pathways to OA toolkit — to assist authors, research libraries, and organizations in making their own choices based on their respective communities’ needs.
“While represented institutions and communities in attendance might settle on different investment strategies, the reflection and decision-making process are both crucial and timely,” MacKie-Mason explained.
As Claire Stewart, University of Minnesota’s associate university librarian for research and learning, put it: “One value of this forum was simply having the dedicated time and space to work through these issues and next steps.”
How it worked
CP2OA was structured around a design thinking model to cultivate discourse and a solutions-based approach. Fourteen facilitators from Europe and the United States — all of whom were expert open access publishers, advocates, and funders — each represented a distinct open access funding “strategy” from within the Pathways toolkit.
Günter Waibel, California Digital Library’s associate vice provost and executive director — who served as the forum’s overall moderator — explained that the design thinking model allowed for “facilitators to help participants identify one or more pathways from the Pathways to OA toolkit that they wished to pursue, then develop institutional and personal action items to move forward on those pathways — and in the process, build connections with potential collaborators.” Progress through the design thinking stages would make that possible as forum sessions moved from emphasizing understanding to focusing on action.
The forum sessions naturally highlighted opportunities for participants’ alignment or partnership with similarly interested institutions or communities. They began with fishbowl storytelling rounds, in which facilitators and participants shared their experiences with various open access funding problems and strategies — enabling everyone in attendance to get a more personalized understanding of these funding options.
Participants then circulated through fourteen “strategy stations,” in which they worked with facilitators to delve more deeply into each strategy’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (that is, risks inherent to a strategy that could undermine its implementation).
After an evening exercise to generate bold ideas about next steps, participants were ready to begin day two by establishing implementation plans at an institutional, consortial, or community level. Participants then formulated their own personal next steps and shared both institutional and personal plans with attendees during a closing celebration.
Commitments to action were decisive and ambitious. Just a few include:
- Formation of a working group to invest collections budgets in open source infrastructure to reduce open access publishing barriers.
- Working toward “big deal” (subscription journal) cancellations.
- Setting aside 5 percent of the library’s budget to support open access publishing (including open access book publishing by the university press, so-called offsetting deals in which open access publishing charges are counted toward the library’s overall subscription payment, and investment in open infrastructure).
- Investment in library-led open access publishing programs.
- A task force to work with scholarly societies to provide funding or guidance to support a “flip” from subscriptions to open access publishing.
- Leveraging metadata within campus research information management (or “profiling”) systems to identify faculty journal editors with whom to collaborate.
And so much more.
What comes next?
The forum strategically positioned the final stage of design thinking — implementing and testing — as the participants’ “to-do list” for when they return to their home institutions or organizations.
“Part of how we all continue is through accountability for what participants shared with each other,” Waibel said of the work that remains to be done after the forum. “Their peers and colleagues now know what they have expressed intentions to do. This also means that other participants know with whom to collaborate on joint efforts or endeavors.”
Maria Gould, the UC Berkeley Library’s scholarly communication and copyright librarian and one of the co-chairs of the forum’s multi-UC campus planning committee, explained that the UC libraries will be following up with participants to check in on their progress toward putting customized plans into place.
“We expect that some efforts require intensive organization and more time for implementation, but we’re eager to see steps being taken and to support participants in their journeys in any way we can,” added Rachael Samberg, the UC Berkeley Library’s scholarly communication officer and the forum’s other co-chair.
Samberg and Gould also hope that iterations of the forum might take place in other regions in the coming months or year, to accommodate more participants and extend some of the work begun at the Berkeley-hosted event. “Ultimately,” Samberg said, “these conversations about repurposing funds can prove even more effective at scale, and we would be thrilled if the forum helped inspire a network of similar action-focused meetings elsewhere. We’d like to help make that happen.”