The most rewarding aspects of this year’s OA Oxford Week (4-8 March 2019) were that it generated much in-depth discussion by participants on a number of OA-related topics, and attracted larger audiences. Having previously spent a great deal of effort organizing a large number of events, this time we decided to hold fewer events and team up with researchers in co-planning. The result was a series of five events held over five days in the last week of the spring term, one of which was a full afternoon’s mini-conference, and two others with panels of Oxford academics. The choice of themes reflected a wish to address some hot topics, such as issues and concerns raised by researchers over Plan S and other major recent OA policy proposals/reviews such as open access for monographs in the post-2021 REF.
We built OA Week 2019 around the third in our series of subject-focused events, as we have found it helpful to fix the date around a main event organized with one of the academic divisions. This year’s was a Humanities collaboration (but not limited to humanities attendees), entitled ‘Open access and monographs: Publishers, policies, practicalities’. Prof Daniel Wakelin (Faculty of English), chaired the event and set the scene by describing the complexity within the term ‘long-form’ – monograph, editions, translations, bibliographies, creative writing, catalogues, etc. Policy decisions should be careful not to disadvantage those on the margins of academia such as researchers on career breaks, independent or retired scholars.
The first speaker was Prof Caroline Warman, Faculty of Modern Languages, who had achieved considerable success with her innovative OA long-form work prompted by the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. Prof Warman described her positive experience of OA publishing, working with student translators and with Open Book Publishers. The resulting book, Tolerance: beacon of the Enlightenment, is freely available online and has been downloaded over 37,000 times.
Two publishers, Andy Redman (Oxford University Press) and Meredith Carroll (Manchester University Press) described their respective OA publishing operations which differ somewhat in scale. Noteable points made were the diversity and complexity of the book publishing market compared to journals (inc. dual publication of OA books both online and in hard copy), and the challenges of the research policy landscape in moving towards sustainable business models for OA books.
Prof Roger Kain, Chair of UUK Open Access Monographs working group and Dr Helen Snaith, Research England (RE), spoke from the perspective of the academic community and policy making. Prof Kain stressed that the path of OA for books will not be ‘the same as for journals but just a bit slower’, and that OA book publishing offers opportunities for academics (access, public engagement, multimedia, benefit to niche disciplines, sales) as well as challenges (funding, academic reward, rights, licences etc). Dr Snaith acknowledged and addressed researcher concerns regarding REF policy, and signalled readiness to work up alternative business models with publishers, because book processing charges are not necessarily the right and only way forward.
The week’s opening event was The Convergence of Open: Open Access, Education, Data & Culture by Dr Martin Poulter, Oxford University’s Wikimedian in Residence, who presented Wikipedia as a tool for promoting & sharing research findings. The idea of ‘knowledge philanthropy’, sharing learning and knowledge freely for the benefit of humanity, underpinned the whole session. He pointed out the unsatisfactory situation where flawed material is available freely on the internet, but to obtain good quality material you have to be ‘part of the club’ to access it. Martin explained the WikiMedia suite of resources and the ground rules of writing for Wikipedia, with a hands-on opportunity for participants to learn and practice Wikipedia authoring and editing using the sandbox area.
The screening of ‘Paywall: the Business of Scholarship’ (https://paywallthemovie.com/) was co-organized with the Reproducible Research Oxford Group. The audience watched the documentary, with popcorn, then the event chair, Prof Tim Coulson, introduced a panel of Oxford academics, Dr Lisa Lodwick, Dr Verena Heise and Prof Jonathan Prag, who contributed thoughts and views and responded to audience comments. The panel agreed with the film’s message of global free access to research but felt that dialogue with publishers rather than ‘yelling’ about problems was a better way forward. There was lively discussion on issues in the film and other topics including publishing costs, impact factors, academic reward, career progression, and peer-review processes. What would change author behaviour to publish ‘openly,’? Innovative formats and the incorporation of data with the publication were felt to be important, also showing the benefits of openness – doing research better and faster, and improved discoverability. There was a desire for a local means to publish small open access journals low-cost or free, and for more openness in getting on editorial boards, such as open calls for new members.
Prof Coulson highlighted Peer Community In (PCI), an initiative where researchers peer-review and recommend unpublished preprints for free, to address the problem of multiple rounds of peer review, and with the aim of getting better, signed peer reviews.
Our second panel event was Learned societies and the transition to OA, chaired by Prof Matthew Freeman. The problems posed for small societies (ie those that publish only a handful of journals) were set out, then panel members discussed their own experiences within their respective scholarly societies’ practice in publishing. Prof Freeman gave an overview of the Company of Biologists which publishes its own journals. Prof Aditi Lahiri, President of the Philological Society, described their approach to publishing their journal, currently in a partnership with Wiley. Prof Kate Watkins explained that, in a timely development, the Society for the Neurobiology of Language was about to launch a new fully OA journal, Neurobiology of Language. Prof David Mills, Treasurer of European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA), said the society is exploring transition to OA for its journal Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, also currently published by Wiley. Finally, Deborah Dixon of Oxford University Press reported on the Press’s service for learned societies planning transition to OA. A majority of OUP’s 450 journals are hybrid titles owned by societies, so the issue of lack of support for hybrid by Plan S is a major one: for many societies their journal(s) form a major part of their revenue. Deborah discussed the Wellcome Trust’s current project with ALPSP (Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, on which she is a board member) to examine sustainable publishing/ business models for learned societies in a Plan S environment.
The open discussion was wide-ranging and covered topics including the European focus of Plan S versus the international nature of societies and research collaborations; OA Books and monographs for humanities; developing countries and Article Processing Charges (APCs); the effect of Plan S on the careers of young academics; the rise in importance of pre-print servers, and the Company of Biologists preLights initiative, which highlights selected preprints, with a digest and seal of approval. There were mixed views on whether it is better to plough journal subscription surplus into support for individual researchers (eg post-doc fellowships) or to reduce the price of APCs which helps everyone.
The final event was to play the ‘Publishing Trap’ board game. We were delighted to welcome Jane Secker and Chris Morrison of UK Copyright Literacy to direct the game which they had created. The four teams comprised a mixture of research students and staff, and library staff. Teamsters faced publishing/copyright decisions that would occur in real life to researchers at different stages of their career from early career researcher to seasoned eminent professor. Questions that researchers were faced with included whether or not to embargo their PhD thesis in their institutional repository, which licence to assign to their work, whether to modify a copyright transfer agreement, and whether to seek permission for 3rd party content in their book or rely on copyright exceptions. Tea and biscuits helped the game along nicely, and everyone felt they had learnt something by the end about author copyright and open access.
Many thanks to all involved. Fuller event reports on the OA Oxford Week March 2019 webpage. All in all, we felt this more focused and jointly organized form of activities held midway through the academic year had been noticeably more successful in achieving our aims of opening up discussions around open access. It gives us a good pointer for next year, so we can attract even more attendees.
Sally Rumsey, Bodleian Libraries, April 2019