Posted by: bluesyemre | May 15, 2019

Evaluating #OpenAccess in a Consortial Context

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Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Gwen Evans. Gwen has been the Executive Director of OhioLINK, the Ohio Library and Information Network, since October of 2012. She was previously Associate Professor and Coordinator of Library Information and Emerging Technology at Bowling Green State University. Evans has 18 years of experience working in libraries, including the John Crerar Science Library at the University of Chicago, Mt. Holyoke College Library, and Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor. She received her MS in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, and has a Masters in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago, during which time she did two years of ethnographic research on the island of Flores, Indonesia.

As several recent announcements and initiatives have shown, Open Access (OA) negotiations between libraries and publishers are complex, in a constant state of flux, and provide little predictability — and OA models and negotiations within library consortia contain complexities all their own. One of the key questions library consortia have to ask themselves is, Are you a Publish or a Read library consortium, or somewhere in between? As Lisa Hinchliffe’s recent primer on transformative agreements notes, the implications of Publish and Read versus Read and Publish are different for different consortia.

The Read or Publish Composition Continuum

Library consortia can be characterized as “Read” consortia (not much publishing activity from institutionally affiliated researchers), “Publish” consortia (substantial publishing from institutional researchers) or somewhere on a continuum — and where a consortium or institution falls on the Read/Publish continuum will influence the kinds of deals that publishers are willing to offer them. As a practical matter, few institutions fall at the extremes of the spectrum. Institutions with high research and publishing activity also consume, or read, scholarly publications at the highest rate; and even at primarily “teaching” institutions, some members of the faculty are occasionally or actively publishing.

The main revenue to any publisher from a “Read” consortium (or institution) will always derive from subscriptions – any Article Processing Charges (APCs) will only provide minimal revenue in this scenario. Germany’s Projekt Deal and the California Digital Library (CDL) are “Publish” consortia – their institutional researchers publish at a rate far greater than some other nations or consortia. Such institutions have a different investment in what kind of transformative deal they seek, and are offered, than a mostly “Read” consortium. Many library consortia are a blend – there may be a few “Publish” institutions balanced by a long tail of mostly “Read” institutions – and that composition within the consortium may be very different per publisher.

In addition, staff and workflows for identifying and paying for APCs will influence the sustainability of any transformative model involving publishing at the consortial level. Adding or customizing an OA workflow based on APCs for a mostly “Read” consortium may not be cost effective for any particular publisher. OA workflows for a “Publish” consortium might require a substantial investment in staff at the consortial level and the development of workflow tools and infrastructure across multiple institutions, or a coordinated effort by volunteers from member institutions.

What Open Access Means for Library Consortia

Different models are being tested and proposed in Europe, in the United States and in other parts of the world. Consortial deals, in particular, vary widely depending on the institutional composition of the consortium, the heterogeneity or homogeneity of research activity, direct access to grants or other funds to pay for making an article OA, and the aggregate publishing activity with any particular publisher. These factors can be relevant at the individual institutional level as well, but get multiplied when consortia are involved. Just as there are different implications of various OA models for society publishers, disciplinary authors, and global regions, the same holds true for library consortia.

As library consortia in different contexts evaluate their own content deals and subscriptions in the face of OA opportunity, knowing where your organization fits in will be a crucial factor in negotiations.

Sui Generis Scenario

Library consortia that fall somewhere in between “Read” and “Publish” may be faced with differential investment and commitment from “Publish” institutions versus “Read” institutions as well as having to create different models and workflows for different publishers.

From the point of view of a library consortium, when assessing the agreements finalized by other consortia, and working through what works for yours, it is important to anticipate sameness as a rarity. It’s highly unlikely that OA deals struck with one kind of consortium will be available or workable for another type. (There is some evidence that this is true on the institutional level, too.) Efforts to develop OA models that work for library consortia will take time, as many of our sister consortia have already recognized. While patience, research, and the sharing of information will all be crucial at a consortial level, the ability to identify your position on the Read or Publish Continuum will hold significant weight during negotiations with publishers.

The Example of OhioLINK

OhioLINK has 188 member libraries from 89 higher education institutions plus the State Library of Ohio: 16 public universities, 51 independent university and college libraries, 23 two-year college libraries, 16 regional campus libraries, 8 law school libraries, and 5 medical school libraries. Membership includes three R1 institutions, five ARL libraries, and the Cleveland Clinic. Given the makeup of the institutional membership, sometimes OhioLINK can serve as a microcosm of the U.S. higher educational library market as a whole. (For an OhioLINK-specific analysis of institutional type and library alignment within the context of the University Futures, Library Futures OCLC Research/Ithaka S+R research report, see Constance Malpas’ presentation “University Futures, Library Futures: institutional and library directions in OhioLINK.”)

These are OhioLINK publishing and usage figures for one major STEM publisher in 2018. OhioLINK institutions published approximately 1,000 articles in the 900+ titles for which OhioLINK had a subscription. “Publish” activity from OhioLINK researchers accounted for about 0.4% of the total articles for which members had subscription access. “Read” activity was 1,900,000+ full text downloads. One institution accounted for 34% of all published articles in these titles; another group of three institutions accounted for a further 36% for a total of 70% output from the top four publishing institutions; 22 institutions made up the rest of the publishing activity out of a consortium of 90 institutions. The top four publishing institutions published between 10% and 12% of their articles in any kind of OA form (not by consortial agreement or subsidy, but acting individually either at the institutional or author level.) In total, OhioLINK-affiliated authors paid APCs for approximately 100 OA articles: 80% fully OA journals, 20% OA in hybrid journals.


Authoring Activity across 90 OhioLINK institutions in journals with a major STEM Publisher, 2018

With respect to this publisher, OhioLINK is clearly mostly a “Read” consortium in terms of scholarly production despite a few institutions with heavier publishing activity. With respect to the major STEM publishers, there is no reason to expect that this pattern would not repeat with the same OhioLINK institutions in more or less the same groups. For smaller, more specialty publishers, the institutions might move positions if there was a strong program or professional school like engineering at a particular campus, but we would expect more or less the same distribution given the nature of the OhioLINK membership.


We would expect any Read and Publish deals from publishers to conform to our particular publishing profile, rather than to a California Digital Library profile or a Projekt Deal profile. For some consortia, such as those composed of mostly private colleges, there is even less publishing activity. There is no standard deal that will fit all consortia; some consortia may not be offered certain OA deals at all, or the OA deals on offer will not be financially viable without significant outside sources of funding. Our collective question is: Given that much of the revenue coming from our members is, and always will be, from “Read” = subscription funding, what are the implications for the future financial burden of “Publish” consortia as more institutions become free riders? How will “Read” institutions/consortia participate in OA funding initiatives?

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