Open Access: What is the role of research libraries?

The main topic in discussions related to scholarly publishing is now Open Access. New open access journals and repositories emerge, existing journals publish open access articles (hybrid journals) or are transformed into open access publications. What does the growing number of open access publications mean for research libraries? How does open access change the way research libraries provide access to scientific information?

With mandates from research funders, governments and institutions, open access publishing is quickly expanding. Publishers need to consider how to implement open access in their publishing strategies; institutions need to consider what types of actions they need to take to increase the amount of open access publishing.

The discussion is no longer about WHETHER open access should be promoted, but rather HOW it should be implemented.

The role is shifting 

Libraries need to consider how to provide access to scholarly discussion beyond traditional subscription journals and books. Researchers still need access to publications, but with OA publishing the focus will be more on the beginning of the publishing cycle.

The role of libraries in OA publishing is shifting from purchasing content to helping researchers in the publication process. At the moment, libraries are involved in open access processes in different ways and it remains to be seen which models prove successful and will prevail after trial periods.

Facilitate for researchers

Libraries are now helping researchers to identify high-quality publishing channels. They collect and organise information on funding mandates and publishers’ OA policies, run open access funds on behalf of their universities to facilitate the processes for researchers and assist in making research more visible.

Libraries should also have a role in discussing viable business models for open access publishing. Libraries purchase access to subscription journals and the subscription costs should be taken into account when considering the total cost of publishing.

During the transition period, we may have to accept some overlapping costs, but the goal should be to avoid a situation where the total is higher than in the current subscription model.

Define role in new environment 

Open access publishing transforms the roles in the publishing process. Libraries need to define their role in the process. They also need to discuss on the institutional, national and international levels what should be done collectively and how. The expertise of each player (libraries, publishers, researchers, research administrators, etc.) should be taken into account.

In Finland, one of the forums for this discussion is the Open Science and Research Initiative established by the Ministry of Education and Culture.

One should also remember that when something new is being created there is always uncertainty involved and changes in plans are necessary. We also need to accept a gradual approach to openness.

Head of Services FinELib, National Library of Finland