Open access and the mission of the academic library

By: Jovial Toh, Tue Jan 23 2024
Jovial Toh

Author: Jovial Toh

Academic institutions are mission-driven organizations, dedicated to advancing scholarship, knowledge, and research. Libraries have always played a key role in this mission, providing access to the best research for their community and preserving that knowledge for future generations. Open access (OA) agreements help to fund researchers publishing fees, reduce administration and simplify workflows for librarians. With these agreements comes new responsibilities such as approving payments and monitoring publishing output.

Like many academic publishers, Springer Nature is supporting libraries to make the transition to OA with the introduction of new business models such as OA agreements. These agreements cover publishing fees for authors from participating institutions and aim to accelerate the transition to OA. One type of OA agreement is a transformative agreement (TA) which combines reading and OA publication fees in hybrid journals into one single license.

As part of this change, Springer Nature is committed to collecting and disseminating knowledge about how the transition is working for librarians in different regions, from different institutions, and in different subject areas. In 2023, Springer Nature commissioned the case study A commitment to the global research community: Three US organizations reflect on their transition to open access, to explore the experiences of the following three organizations as they were actively participating in TAs and moving towards OA; Carnegie Mellon University, California Digital Library, and the SCELC Library Consortium.

As part of a wide-ranging discussion that covered practical advice and the impact of TAs, we discussed how OA publishing interacts with the traditional mission of the academic library.

Did the contributors feel that the mission of the library is fundamentally changing?

The impact on the global community

Contributors to the case study were proud to be active members of a global research community. They felt that OA, and broader forms of openness such as open data, were impacting how research is done. In particular this had a positive impact on global equity; making the results of research available to everyone. They recognized that organizations in the US have a role to play in leading the way to OA, since the country has such a substantial research sector. Overall, they felt that OA can expand the mission of the library, offering access to the best research to everyone who is interested in reading it.

New audiences for research

One issue that libraries have always faced is that while librarians worked hard to facilitate access to research; readers had to be a member of a library in order to access journals and books. OA provides research to a much wider pool of readers, from patients with chronic conditions interested in the latest breakthroughs that may affect them, to policy makers outside central government who may want to gather evidence to influence local decisions. For the contributors to the case study this was a welcome extension to the mission of the library.

Meeting the needs of researchers

The mission of the academic library has always been to meet the needs of patrons. And while those needs may be changing, the determination to facilitate access to research is more continuation than revolution. Our contributors identified themselves as OA advocates, who could clearly see the wider benefits of the model, but they were also working closely with researchers at their institutions. They were actively establishing committees and internal structures to facilitate an OA future, supporting faculty to communicate with early career researchers, and responding to individual requests for guidance. The topics of conversation may have shifted, but the determination with which librarians support their communities has not. 

The evolution of the library

The case study contributors were keen to emphasize that they saw current changes as an evolution of the role that libraries have always played in conserving and maintaining access to academic knowledge. Libraries have shifted from being places where books and journals were kept. They became organizations and departments capable of managing the complex access requirements of multiple publishing platforms. They are now taking on the responsibility of facilitating access to publishing budgets and helping researchers navigate what can be a confusing process, especially when publishing for the first time.

Accelerating change

Ultimately, the librarians we interviewed were interested in navigating the transition. Their TAs were exactly that; a step on the way to something new. The contributors to this case study were interested in where this journey was taking the scholarly community; librarians and researchers alike. They felt that OA fits closely with the principles of their mission–driven organizations and that while they were heavily involved in making changes to the infrastructure and processes that underpin academic communication, the mission; to provide access to the best research, remained largely untouched.

The changing role of open access in libraries

The shift to OA is more than a change in publishing mechanics; it's a progressive journey aligning with the enduring mission of academic libraries. The case study featuring Carnegie Mellon University, California Digital Library, and the SCELC Library Consortium illustrates the profound impact that OA has had on global equity and audience reach. Librarians, as OA advocates, adapt to evolving researcher needs, expanding access beyond traditional boundaries. This evolution, from custodians to dynamic facilitators, signifies a natural progression. Amid infrastructure changes, the core mission of providing access to the best research remains unwavering. OA is not a revolution but a continuation, embracing the future while preserving the essence of academic knowledge dissemination.

For deeper insights, 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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Jovial Toh

Author: Jovial Toh

OA publishing

Jovial Toh, Senior Marketing Manager in Singapore, supports global organisations in navigating OA publishing trends. With a passion for baking, she infuses creativity into her work, offering researchers practical tools for their OA journey. Don't miss her blog post, "Transitioning to Open Access: Reflections from Three US Organizations", for invaluable insights.

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