Open Access Working Group

Open Access in Practice – FinELib Speaks About Transparency and Publisher Negotiations

Posted: 15-05-2018 Topics: Open Access Strategy

One of the primary goals of LIBER’s Open Access Working Group is to help libraries to share their experiences with Open Access.

By exchanging information, we can better understand what works, what the challenges are, and find ways of speeding up the transition from subscription-based systems to Open Access (OA). This shift is an international matter that the sector is tackling in different ways.

The working group is diverse and is made up of librarians from 18 different countries, each representing an institution with a unique perspective and strategy for approaching the shift to open scholarly communication.

The variety of viewpoints has strengthened and invigorated us, resulting in the 5 Principles For Negotiations with Publishers. These broad guidelines are meant for anyone who aims to approach publishers with solutions for making the shift to OA, and they are the result of the working process in our group. As a next step, we agreed that it would be worthwhile to talk to member libraries about the practice of being involved such negotiations.

We are therefore pleased to present the first in a series of interviews in which working group members talk about their experiences of open access initiatives. In this interview, Anu Alaterä, License Manager at the Finnish National Library Consortium (FinElib) shares her thoughts (interview by Sofie Wennström, Stockholm University Library, Secretary of the Open Access Working Group).

What does transparency mean for you and your institution?

Transparency means to me that people have access to facts, figures and information which in turn gives them possibilities to study, analyze and make conclusions about the question at hand. In the context of licensing and open access agreements, important facts are the ones that we’ve agreed on with the publishers, including financial information but also data about articles published and information about processes related to publishing.

Why should the library community care about this kind of information? Why is it important?

Access to information gives tools for fact-based discussion and decision making. Having these kinds of tools is extremely important now that we are trying to change the way scholarly publishing world works and make open access the new standard. People interested in this change need to be able to access key information related to the agreements and publishing data so that they can form their own opinions. Availability of this data can also increase the interest in these questions across society and further advance the transition.

I see transparency also as a natural part of what we are now aiming at. Society invests money in research and disseminating research. We should be able to provide open access to the articles resulting from this investment but also tell about the terms, conditions and financial facts related to the process of publishing.

How transparent is open access at the moment, in your opinion?

Open access is in a transitional phase and there are currently a lot of variations in processes in different places. This makes it more challenging to gather and make available all the important and interesting facts, for example the APC fees paid by different actors in an organization. It is essential that we continue collaborating nationally and internationally to find the best practices of sharing the data needed for evaluating and decision making. It would be very important to publish the total costs of licensing and publishing. This is something the publishers won’t do so as customers we need to be active. Fortunately, there are a lot of great projects that have collected and published data and increased transparency. OpenAPC and SCOAP3 are two examples of this.

How are you working to be more transparent, and what further steps need to be taken?

The FinELib consortium aims at publishing all agreements including financial data within the limitations set by law. But we are still in the early phases and need to work on the practical questions and processes for doing this within the consortium.  For example, currently we don’t have a convenient place on our website for publishing all the contractual information. We hope to have one soon but for now it’s a bit fragmented.  We will also continue sharing information about the negotiation process and the different questions arising from the negotiations which may be of interest to the scholarly society. We started this a few years ago and it has been very rewarding as the Finnish scholarly society has been very actively following and discussing the process. Increasing transparency is a long journey and we must still take many steps. I hope in the future FinELib can proudly present all the essential information in an easily accessible format.

Despite the fact that FinELib wants to be transparent, your recent deal with Elsevier came under fire for not being transparent enough. Can you talk about that? What did you learn from that process?

We have limitations set by law to what we can and cannot publish. The Act on the Openness of Government Activities regulates what is public information and states also limitations to what can be published. We are committed to transparency but can of course not break the law. We have published the entire Elsevier agreement text except personal data (contact people at the libraries and ip-addresses) and annual fees per subscriber. Total fees per subscriber have been published for all those organizations that have given us permission to do that. The total fees per subscriber have been ruled by an administrative court not to be business secrets.

I think the main reason why we came under fire was that we were too slow. In hindsight, we should have been prepared to publish all the documents at once when the Freedom of Information request was received, which was right after the result of the negotiations and the instructions for the OA discount process were published. But our relatively small team was working on many negotiations and resources were extremely tight. This led to a situation where the active researchers wanted to see the actual text and prices and we could not publish them before making necessary preparations. Unfortunately, I also think that the message about the fact that we had published the agreement did not get as much publicity as the discussion before that.

We are working on our transparency process and I hope in the future this goes more smoothly. We are happy that we can work with the researchers in Finland and elsewhere who want open access and transparency, because we share the same goals.

Learn more about FinELib and LIBER’s Open Access Working Group.

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