Transitioning to open access: Reflections from three US organizations

By: Nicole Jackson, Tue Oct 31 2023
Nicole Jackson

Author: Nicole Jackson

The landscape of academic publishing is undergoing a transformation, driven by a commitment to open access (OA) within the global research community. There are also an increasing number of OA mandates, one of the latest being Plan S in Europe. The US has now followed suit on a national level with the 2022 memorandum released by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) which calls for federally funded publications and their supporting data to be publicly accessible without embargo from December 31, 2025.

So, how can US institutions and research libraries adapt? You can now read key findings and discussion in the new case study: A commitment to the global research community: Three US organizations reflect on their transition to OA, where three leading US organizations spoke to us about how their agreements with Springer Nature have helped them to transition to OA.

The role of transformative agreements in advancing open access publishing

Working with the research community to accelerate the transition to OA, many publishers are implementing OA agreements on national, institutional, and consortium-wide levels. Since 2015, Springer Nature has pioneered one approach to this — the transformative agreement (TA). TAs combine reading and publishing fees in one license, helping to simplify the transition. Data from TAs across Europe shows they are vital to powering OA growth and a key part of enabling OA equity.

Some American organizations are already seeing the impact of TAs. For librarians who are yet to embark on a TA, the process can seem daunting. What is it like to implement an agreement? And does a focus on publishing, rather than providing access, change the fundamental mission of the library?

To gain insight from those who have been through the process, three organizations that have agreements with Springer Nature were interviewed. The aim of the project was to facilitate understanding of the benefits and challenges librarians and negotiators face when transitioning to OA. For librarians in smaller institutions, it can be difficult to anticipate the impact of this kind of change. And unlike in Northern Europe, where OA has been advocated for at government level with country-wide agreements, librarians in the US must assess the opportunity and impact for their own institution.

Insights from three high-profile US organizations

The organizations we spoke to all had different OA journeys and needs and offered different perspectives on how to prepare for a successful transition to OA. All have recently moved from a “Big Deal” journals package to an agreement covering both access and publishing charges in some respect.

As a high-profile university and early adopter of OA in the US, Carnegie Mellon has signed many OA agreements with publishers. They have now moved from a traditional Springer journals subscription, or “Big Deal”, to an institutional level TA covering the Springer portfolio.

California Digital Library facilitates digital library provision to the ten campuses of the University of California system and is well known for its advocacy of OA in the US.

The Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium, SCELC, represents small to mid-sized academic libraries. More than 60 institutions participate in their TA.

Implementing new agreements, sharing advice & experiences

Each contributor reflected on how OA fits with the core mission of their library. They discussed how it had changed their working practices and what practical advice they could offer institutions who are considering their next steps to OA.

Interestingly, despite the differences in the size and configuration of the organizations they represent, the contributors agreed on many aspects of the transition and discussed the following four aspects when it comes to the journey towards OA:

  • How to choose a pilot agreement
  • The importance of data
  • Changing workflows
  • Gaining a more complete picture of an institution’s publishing output. 

The conversations touched on both the ideological and the practical. Advocating for more openness in the research process was a key element of the OA transition for the contributors. The decision to move to a TA was seen as part of a long-term fundamental shift towards open research which would lead to benefits for the scholarly community and wider society. 

The negotiation process and how to prepare for it was also discussed, as were the activities librarians use to gain support from university stakeholders, and how to promote the opportunity to publish OA to both management and researchers.

When discussing the impact of OA, they felt that the benefits are more widely understood now than even a few years ago. Many objections to OA were no longer an issue, due to wider understanding of the positive outcomes of this model. Wider readership among audiences outside academia, increased citations, a higher profile for research, and greater chances of collaboration are all driving enthusiastic adoption of OA publishing. One contributor noted:

“The more eyes that are on your work, the greater your chance of collaborators, funders, and graduate students all coming your way.”

This meant that faculty and researchers were more receptive to, even enthusiastic about, change, with many advocating for agreements to be signed with the most important journals in their field.

For more insight into the benefits and impact of OA, and practical advice for moving to an OA agreement, download the full case study: A commitment to the global research community: Three US, organizations reflect on their transition to open access.

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Nicole Jackson

Author: Nicole Jackson

Nicole Jackson, Senior Marketing Manager in London, supports global organisations in navigating OA publishing trends. She channels her passion for her dog into her work, infusing creativity and empathy. Nicole equips researchers with practical tools for their OA journey. Don't miss her blog post, "Transitioning to Open Access: Reflections from Three US Organizations", for invaluable insights.