September 1, 2020Sonya Betz
Editor’s note: This is a guest post in our Library Publishing Pain Points series, featuring reflections from our Library Publishing Workflows partners on the challenges they face in implementing, running, and sustaining their library publishing workflows.
Operating a non-commercial, scholar-led open access publishing program through our library is intensely rewarding work. On a daily basis we connect with motivated and resourceful editors and scholars, who are deeply committed to open scholarship and to enriching the commons. Each new issue published on our platform feels like a small victory for our team, and we know what we’re doing is meaningful, not just to our small community, but also to all the invisible readers who come across our content and engage with it in some way. However, this work also comes with its own set of complex challenges and thorny issues.
Our program is provided at no cost to eligible Canadian open access scholarly journals and we wholly fund the staffing and infrastructure of the program through our library’s operating budget. Our institution has elected to do this, rather than charge service fees, as an effort to reduce one of the many barriers to publishing that small scholarly associations face. We’ve also chosen to take a strong stance against charging APCs or submission fees at the University of Alberta, and one condition of participating in our program is that our journals do not charge fees to authors. While we believe this model benefits both journals and their communities, this lack of externally generated revenue comes with predictable challenges around resource constraints.
While we provide a fairly robust suite of services to journals – including technical infrastructure and hosting, training and consultation in publishing tools and practices, digital preservation, content dissemination, and client support, we only provide minimal support for content production. Many (but not all) large commercial publishers provide copyediting, layout and design, and journal management services as part of their service offerings, funded through revenue collected by the publisher through subscriptions or APCs. Within our no-fee model, we simply cannot offer these services to the 70 journals that we publish and instead, we grudgingly off-load the problem to our editorial teams, who must immediately face this issue when they join our program. Finding revenue to fund some of the operational elements of their journal production, without resorting to subscriptions or APCs, is a constant pain point for all of us.
Journal editors have been incredibly resourceful in addressing this challenge. Some, like Evidence Based Library & Information Practice, have fostered a community of dedicated journal volunteers who carry out this labour. Many of our journals belong to scholarly societies, and are able to direct revenues from membership fees into paid positions for copy editors or technical managers. Some of our journals have been successful in securing grants, such as the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Aid to Scholarly Journals grant, which provides three years of funding to cover costs associated with the journal. Some journals are supported by their home institution or department, and some editors use their own research funds to pay salaries for graduate students to carry out this work. Occasionally, journals have been able to negotiate royalty payments from commercial aggregators to supplement their operations. We have even worked with journals who solicit donations from their community, and very rarely, those who bring in advertising revenues.
Despite this demonstrated variety and creativity in approaches, most of these measures don’t provide stable and consistent support to journals to help cover some of the real costs of publishing. We need a better model!
In my ideal world, libraries, post-secondary institutions, and research granting agencies would redirect their budgets away from paying commercial for-profit publishers indirectly for this work (through APCs, pay-for-open fee options, and subscriptions that prop up for-profit models), to invest instead in directly supporting community-based not-for-profit publishing infrastructure and labour. Here in Canada, we are making small strides forward. For example, Coalition Publica and the Partnership for Open Access directs funds from a consortium of Canadian research libraries into real financial support for open access journals. This is not a radical or new idea – scholarly journal publishing in Latin America has successfully operated under this model for decades. However, a recent exchange between Eduardo Aguado López and Arianna Becerril García from Redalyc, and Johan Rooryck from cOAlition S, on the London School of Economics blog illuminated for me how divergent some opinions are around what a new scholarly communications ecosystem might look like.
Of course, solving a deeply broken and inequitable global publishing system is (perhaps!) out of scope for the Library Publishing Workflows project. However, I am hopeful that the work undertaken to describe and document our own local processes will help to highlight just how much of the work of publishing library programs like ours are already successfully carrying out. Perhaps it’s not such a stretch to imagine a future where we can more confidently occupy this space and present better alternatives to the status quo.