From ‘Readers’ to ‘Authors’ – changing the conversation

By Dr Danny Kingsley – Associate Librarian, Content and Digital Library Strategy

This is the first of an occasional series of blog posts considering questions around the changing nature of scholarly communication

When I first started working at Cambridge University Libraries, one of the things (of many) that struck me was that we called the people who frequented the Libraries: ‘readers’.

There’s a fair amount of discussion in academic library-land about what we call people who use library services – are they ‘users’, ‘patrons’ or ‘customers’? One argument is that the term you use frames the interaction we have with them, another argument is that ‘patron’ implies a library supporter rather than specifically someone who uses the libraries services. This is a far from resolved argument.

But the issue I had with the term ‘readers’ was it did not reflect the services my team was providing the Cambridge community. I held a new position for the Libraries – the Head of the Office of Scholarly Communication. This had a focus on open access policies, funder compliance, negotiation with publishers and attendant university processes.

My team was working with people in their capacity as ‘authors’.

Indeed, my role at Cambridge initially reported equally into the Librarian and the Head of the Research Office. The work straddled both areas – libraries understand artefacts, research offices understand policies. The reciprocal is not necessarily the case. The dynamics are slightly different in Australia. As articulated in this recent Nature Index story about the Blurred line of responsibility between libraries and research offices, the “voice of research offices is weaker in Australia than in countries such as the UK”.

The introduction of Read & Publish agreements (R&P) here in Australia are starting to raise some interesting challenges for our libraries and their staff. These deals have evolved from Offset Agreements that were introduced in the UK in 2016. Offset Agreements were an attempt to manage, at an institutional level, accusations of ‘double dipping’ from Article Processing Charges (APCs) for hybrid journals. (If you need it, here is a backgrounder on hybrid.) The new R&P agreements are a local version of the (so called) ‘transformative agreements’ in Europe from the work of Plan S.

Libraries have traditionally connected people to information, through collecting, curating, preserving and managing information. This is working with people as *consumers* of information.

But the world of scholarly communication is opening up a different angle – engaging with the *production* of information.

As a library practitioner who managed Offset Agreements at scale I can attest to their complexity. Each deal is different. And it is the same for R&P agreements. This makes the R&P messages really complicated. Some of the agreements cover the cost of publication in both the publishers’ hybrid journals and their open access journals. Others only cover the hybrid journals. And, just to clarify, publishing open access under these agreements is not ‘free’ (despite the rhetoric).

My work in the UK included managing literally millions of pounds from funders for open access costs. Despite the eye watering amounts, these funds started reaching their limits before the end of the financial year. To meet this challenge, we considered the fact that an author publishing in a fully OA journal needed to pay an APC to be published, where payment for an APC in a hybrid journal was optional. Those authors could always just publish as a subscription article and make their paper open access in the institutional repository.

I devised the 80% rule. The rationale was that 80% of our spend was on hybrid journals, so to preserve funds to support authors in fully open access journals, we would stop paying for hybrid when we had exhausted 80% of the funds. That decision required a significant amount of discussion, multiple issue papers and presentations to senior committees and boards to obtain university agreement.

The kicker in R&P deals is that the ‘publish’ part of some of the deals do not entirely cover the publication output for each calendar year. There will be a point when the money will run out. Indeed, when this happened in the UK the comments on a discussion list of people managing these deals ranged from: “I agree with you that this deal is causing so much trouble!” to “This deal is the bane of my existence”.

The problem of the money running out is exacerbated by the demonstrated fact that these deals change publishing behaviour. This has been the experience in Germany, with one analysis observing an increase in publication with the publisher in the deal,  noting: “While these DEAL agreements appear attractive at first sight, there can be severe unintended side effects for market competition in the long term”.

This blog is not opening the can of worms of the broader implications of R&P deals – that’s a discussion for a different time.

The issue being explored here is how these deals will fundamentally alter the core business of academic libraries – and whether the higher education sector is ready for it.

These new R&P deals being introduced in Australia will be the first time many of our academic libraries will need to manage the publishing side of the scholarly record. Some Australian institutions have a dedicated area focused on scholarly communication, like QUT and the University of Melbourne. But a study I have recently conducted with my colleagues Dr Mary Anne Kennan and Dr Joanna Richardson found that most people working in scholarly communication in Australasian research libraries are juggling this work with many other responsibilities.

How many of our current professional staff will be comfortable answering questions about different aspects of publishing, such as the level of use of PrePrints, or about page and colour charges? How cognisant are our academic colleagues of the current publishing landscape? We need to decide what level of knowledge different roles in our Universities require. How do we ensure our staff have those skills? What workflows are we going to put into place? What internal systems will we need to look at this holistically across our institutions?

This is the beginning of a very long road.

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Open Access