Open Access Working Group

The Story Behind LIBER’s Five Principles For Open Access Negotiations With Publishers

Posted: 06-10-2017 Topics: Open Access

LIBER recently published Five Principles for libraries to use when conducting Open Access negotiations with publishers. These principles are meant to be understood as a minimum requirement when libraries or consortia have to negotiate new licensing deals, and the aim of the Principles is to create more opportunities to publish Open Access material.

The Principles were drawn up by the 20 pan-European members of LIBER’s Open Access Working Group, and when we released them we received many comments, compliments and questions about their exact meaning.


Matthijs van Otegem
Matthijs van Otegem

Matthijs van Otegem, co-chair of the Open Access Working Group and Director of Erasmus University Library Rotterdam, decided to therefore share some background and further context.

“One thing I have learnt in the last year is that Open Access in Europe has many faces. It is not just whether you have a Gold or Green policy. There is a huge variety in policy, budgets, organisations, preferences across disciplines and preferred paces of change. What we have in common, however, is that we are all trying to make the move towards Open Access and that we are engaged in negotiations with publishers to take new steps. That is why we came up with Five Principles: straightforward and practical, regardless of the part of Europe you live in.

We are happy to see that these principles are recognized for what they are: a clear stand and an invitation to cooperate, not only among librarians but also with publishers. We all have our role in the information chain and we feel that each should receive the recognition that corresponds to the value added.

We expected to receive comments about the second principle: ‘No Open Access, No Price Increase’, combined with the clarification that there is enough money in the system. We strongly believe that there is enough money in the system but the caveat to our statement could be that it does not follow automatically that this money is evenly distributed. If the model shifts from paying for reading to paying for publishing, inevitably the costs will shift as well. Some will pay more, some will pay less. As a result, some price increases will happen, depending on the individual library or consortium and publisher. Most important for us is that we create a platform for negotiations where price increases ‘for old times’ sake’ — without any innovation for the benefit of researchers and libraries — are not acceptable. Some publishers will sit tight with their old business model and hope it will blow over. Trust me, it won’t.

Most important for us is that we create a platform for negotiations where price increases ‘for old times’ sake’ — without any innovation for the benefit of researchers and libraries — are not acceptable.

The fifth principle — ‘Usage Reports Should Include Open Access’ — inspired many comments about metadata. Librarians love metadata and justifiably so. It is the blood in the system of discovery and usage. However, this principle is about usage statistics. It is not about the metadata that describes the scientific content.

We strongly believe that every license should include the delivery of proper usage statistics. We get reports about downloads but hardly any proper information about Open Access. How many authors from our institution submitted an article? How many opted for Open Access? In my library, some researchers publish the traditional way even though we paid the APC for them. The publisher knows who these researchers are but won’t tell us. This must change.

I have some final remarks about the many things not mentioned in our Five Principles.

The Five Principles focus on offsetting deals, which are mostly about e-journals. Open Access for books and datasets has its own dynamic. Furthermore, Open Access is also about doing what you want with content. We tend to think of a specific kind of use of e-journals: reading articles one by one. Text and data mining is a new theme that is hardly possible within current licensing agreements. Even if this were accomplished, we don’t see ‘the ideal offsetting deal’ as the final goal. By allocating most of our institutional budgets to a small number of publishers we discourage innovation by small new publishers who struggle to find their place in the current market. The few that are successful are acquired by the big companies to strengthen their role within the Open Access marketplace. Do these acquisitions happen so that the bigger companies can learn, or to slow down the trend towards Open Access? Sometimes I don’t know.

We cannot change the world in one day but we can take it step by step. I hope that the principles we created help to inspire this change.”