This is the third in our series of OA Week 2021 blog posts. Today we’ll be talking a bit more about our efforts to create a more sustainable scholarly publishing ecosystem.
First a very brief overview of scholarly publishing and how we got here. We’ll be talking primarily about journal publication systems today, but hope to tackle book publishing at a later date. Scholars submit articles to journals and those journals perform editorial, peer review, and other publishing services. Articles are either rejected before or after peer review or they are accepted and published in the journal. The scholars receive no payment from the journal for submitting their work, and may instead have to pay fees associated with publication (this is more common in STEM fields). It’s possible the work the scholars are writing about was funded by public grants from agencies like NSF or NEH. It’s an expected responsibility for faculty who are on the tenure track and highly valued for other scholars to publish in this way. The “payment” that faculty and scholars receive is the prestige of having publishing in that journal. The peer reviewers who read and comment on the article also perform their work for free. Some journal editors may be paid, but many volunteer their services. The publishers then sell these journals to libraries, museums, businesses, and individuals. A subscription to one journal cannot substitute for a subscription to another, so many institutions try to buy as much as they can so their affiliated staff can have access to the research they need.
Because of the high demand for research and lack of substitution options, the price of scholarly journals has outpaced inflation for decades. It’s becoming increasing difficult for libraries to purchase all the content needed by their patrons. For libraries at small institutions or in lower income countries, it can be almost impossible to procure all the information needed by their researchers. This creates a situation in which well-funded institutions have much more access to information than less-funded institutions. The situation is inequitable, and considering all the free labor that goes into these journals, completely unnecessary.
UT Libraries is trying to work towards a more financial sustainable and equitable scholarly publishing system. We do that through negotiating better terms with publishers and through supporting initiatives that aim to create a more open system where anyone can access the information they need. Fortunately, there are many open access publishing options available, and UTL is currently supporting over 25 different initiatives. You can find a list of these initiatives on our Open Memberships LibGuide. The initiatives we support range from open access monograph publication to critical infrastructure for OA like digital object identifiers (DOIs). A group of nine librarians review each new option and consider who will benefit, whether the initiative supports journals or books, whether we have a good distribution of disciplines represented, and how financially sustainable that particular option is. Each initiative is also reviewed yearly to make sure it’s an investment we want to continue.
We know that not all scholars have open access publishing options available to them. OA publishing initiatives are more prevalent in some fields than others, and some fields are dominated by an Article Processing Charge (APC) business model that limits choices for authors without grant funding. We hope that changes over time, and that’s part of our goal with supporting open initiatives. In the meantime, we are approaching a more open scholarly publishing system in other ways. You can read Lexie Thompson-Young’s excellent post about licensing and negotiation for information about other efforts to increase open access. You can also find out more about our repositories which offer UT Austin researchers options for openly sharing their research and the data that support that research.
Tomorrow we’ll share a bit more information about one specific open initiative that we starting supporting last year.