Inge Werner has worked as Publishing Consultant for Utrecht University Library for the last five years and currently is a policy officer in the Library. In this guest post, she highlights why the library developed a new strategy for Open Access journal publishing. She discusses the expertise needed to successfully implement the service and run it. She also spoke on this topic in an earlier stage at LIBER 2014. The presentation was among the most highly rated parallel sessions at the conference.
Utrecht University Library has developed a new strategy to support Open Access (OA) journal publishing — one which shifts our focus from simply publishing OA journals to the development of high-quality, peer-reviewed journals within six years.
The new strategy came about because of our experience running the Library’s OA unit, Igitur Publishing. Over the past decade, this unit has been involved in starting up and publishing over 23 OA journals.
This growing portfolio had, however, become hard to maintain without scaling up the publishing team. We were increasingly a host and technical service provider rather than a partner in publishing which was up-to-speed with the ever-developing world of OA publishing and technology. This meant that we needed to search for more effective ways to continue the Library’s mission to support OA journal publishing.
Our search was based on two considerations:
- We needed to enable ourselves to assist new editorial boards with publishing in OA.
- We wanted to make optimal use of our long-term experience in academic publishing instead of being a mere host for our existing journals.
The Incubator Model
Eventually we arrived at what we call an incubator model. It represents a shift away from simply publishing OA journals to a process of development that would help our journals on the path to independence.
Our goal is to facilitate this transition to a high-quality, peer-reviewed journal within six years. This in-house period is heavily subsidised by the Library. When the six years are up, we expect the journals to have developed a sustainable financial model and to have maximised the impact in their subject area. We also expect that they will be ready for self-publishing or for transfer to the (commercial) OA market.
Making The Model Work
We took several steps to make the incubator work.
First, we examined our portfolio to select journals with the required potential. This resulted in a reduction of in-house journals from 23 to 17. Our Utrecht-based, so-called ‘news-journal’, for instance, became an official newsletter for the Utrecht Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Other journals were already fit for the transition. One was transferred to Routledge, two were bought by Brill and one (unfortunately) became a subscription-based journal at Cambridge University Press. In this last case, we lost 10 years of investment in OA. This was an important lesson for us. It showed the need to contractually guarantee an OA transition with the new journal boards we sign. Apart from such requirements, this stage gave us insight in technical, strategic and ethical aspects of transferring journals between publishers in a digital context.
For the remaining journals, the next step is to create a publishing roadmap. This acts as the framework for the period of development within the library. The library’s Publishing Consultant and Editorial Board also draw up financial plans which are in line with the foreseen growth of the journal (for instance by gradually introducing APCs) and sketch a possible transfer scenario. Collaboratively, they outline goals in terms of usage, reach and impact that would make such a transfer possible. The library’s publishing team collaborates with the boards of each journal in many ways, in order to ensure that these goals are reached.
The Editorial Coordinator, for example, works on the quality of procedures and policies, and on services for authors, reviewers and readers in order to manage and increase transparency on the quality of the journal. This helps build the journal’s reputation in an OA environment. The Online Marketer makes sure the journal is indexed in relevant databases and uses Google Analytics and Article Level Metrics to increase readership and findability. She can also advise on content strategies and community building. In this way, the incubator model allows and encourages each journal to take small steps and to gradually develop (online) strategies towards becoming a sustainable OA journal.
An Example of Success
The University Library has always been an intermediate between publishers and the academic community. With our new publishing model, we seek to continue this role in the new world of digital publishing. While acting as an advocate for, and adviser on Open Access, we try to keep the interests of both worlds in view, and make them overlap.The results we are hoping to achieve can be seen in one of the first journals Igitur started, the International Journal of Integrated Care (IJIC). It was launched in 2000, is our flagship journal and exemplary for the incubator model in many senses.
Over the years, this journal has developed from an unknown and vulnerable publishing experiment to a leading journal in the social-medical area of Integrated Care. The journal has an ever increasing and steady copy flow, over 2,100 registered readers, almost 80,000 visits to the IJIC website per year, and an impressive average of over 18,000 retrievals in PubMed Central per month. In 2013, IJIC obtained its first impact factor of 1,299.
At this moment the journal is run by the flourishing International Foundation for Integrated Care seated in London. The journal charges APCs and is able to hire salaried members for the editorial board. There is hardly anything we can do to improve this journal, so, together with the board, we are currently looking for a suitable transfer.
IJIC’s track record is what we would wish for all our journals. Each should, within its own range of possibilities, travel a path towards optimal outreach and financial sustainability. IJIC has taught us starting criteria for the journals we take up to increase the chances of success. These criteria provide us with tools to assess the journal, the board and their plans before signing a contract, but they also allow the journal to start out with a thorough publishing plan and with well-defined and realistic ambitions.
The increased focus on developing journals in the incubator model has had some implications for the library. It has been necessary, for example, to outsource some of our activities. In order to meet international technical standards for online publishing, we sought collaboration with the Ubiquity Partner Network in London. UPN allows independent University Presses and Library Publishers to share infrastructure and services, and, by sharing, to run cost efficiently. Because they use a custom built version of Open Journal Systems, UPN offers state-of-the-art websites for our journals. Their amazing Comics Grid site shows how far they have progressed from the traditional-looking OJS journal. Moreover, UPN provides tools that are vital to actually make the incubator model work, such as Altmetrics, OAKey, and DOI’s. In the course of this Spring, our journals will migrate to the UPN platform.
The University Library has always been an intermediate between publishers and the academic community. With our new publishing model, we seek to continue this role in the new world of digital publishing. While acting as an advocate for, and adviser on Open Access, we try to keep the interests of both worlds in view, and make them overlap. We have experienced that the transition to Open Access needs mediation and negotiation. Our model aspires to do just that: to help researchers find their way in and to Open Access.
To underline our new role, we replaced the brand ‘Igitur Publishing’. From now on, our new and improved publishing services will be known as ‘Uopen Journals’.
To learn more about how this model works for journals in Humanities and Social Sciences, see Inge’s talk at the Munin Conference in Tromsø in 2013.