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Paul Ayris: “Open Access is the model for the twenty-first century university”

“Open access means that your ability to pay as a reader or as a library does not longer determine your level of access to research literature.”

“Open access means that your ability to pay as a reader or as a library does not longer determine your level of access to research literature.”


Paul Ayris, a historian who has a PhD in Ecclesiastical History and publishes on English Reformation Studies, is the Director of Library Services at University College London (UCL) and its Copyright Officer. He is also the President of LIBER (Ligue de Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche) and Chair of the LERU (League of European Research Universities) Scholarly Communications Group.

Dr. Ayris is a co-chair of the LERU working group on open access and was the main author of the LERU Roadmap towards Open Access. This document, published in June 2011, is an advice paper for all European Universities aimed to promote open dissemination of the research conducted with public funding.

Dr. Ayris was one of the keynote speakers on the Third LERU Doctoral Summer School, which was held last July at the Palau de Les Heures, on the Mundet Campus of the UB. This year´s Summer School, organized by the UB, focused on Open Access.

How does the editorial process differ between the conventional publishing and the Open Access routes?
In a conventional publishing module a researcher would prepare the text for an article or a book and send it to a publisher. The publisher, if it is a journal article, will send it to a board of referees, get it refereed and then make the decision of whether publish it or not. The same happens to a monograph; a monograph publisher will send it to a referee or two, ask for an opinion and make a decision based on their judgement. Then, the publisher for both books and journal articles will probably ask the author to assign copyright to the publisher as a condition for being published. The article or book will be published and libraries will buy a copy either through a subscription to the journal or through the purchase of the monograph.
Open Access is different; it places the responsibility for payment on a different party of the publication process. It also has something to say about how an author manages his or her copyright. In an Open Access system, an author will submit a journal article or a monograph to an open access publisher and peer-review would still act as it does now. Then it depends on the route you take for Open Access. If you go down the Green Route, the publisher will publish the article in the normal way and, later, you will be able to deposit your article in a repository of your university or in a subject repository, either immediately or after an embargo period. Payment in this module works in the same way as it works in the commercial environment; in order words, the publisher gets paid by the library. In the Gold Route, on the other hand, a research funder would pay for an author publication charge, what means that the publisher receives the block of money at the moment of the publication. As a result, the article is free or open access. In an open access journal the whole journal is open access, but if it is a hybrid journal, the article for which you have paid the author processing fee is publicly available in open access. The library does not pay in any of these situations; the author pays from research grants. In both open access routes, we would advise authors not to sign their copyrights away as they do now, but to grant a non-exclusive right to the publisher in order to publish and retain their rights as the authors.

Why does LERU advocate for Open Access?
LERU believes that in a digital age is possible to think of faster and more efficient ways of disseminating research findings. LERU universities —and I think that many universities around the world— increasingly believe that Open Access is the model for the 21st century university because it can profoundly change the number of people who can access research literature. In developing countries that cannot afford all the journal subscriptions they might want to provide to their researchers, open access is the answer, because it means that your ability to pay as a reader or as a library does not longer determine your level of access to research literature. This also affects in a positive manner the way universities interact with society because society can have access to the university published research. This is a crucial point, because at the end of the day is the society who actually pays for university research.

Some people claim that open access will lower the quality of research papers by affecting the peer-reviewed system, what do you think about that?
That is a common misunderstanding. In an open access world peer-review can take place in exactly the same way as in the commercial system. In the Green Route Open Access it comes at the end of the publication process, once the journal has accepted the article for publication, it has been peer-reviewed in the normal way. In the Gold Route there are a number of ways of looking at the peer-reviewed. One example is the peer-review system used by the Public Library of Science (PLoS) journals. PLoS articles have two levels of peer-review. The first one occurs when the article is submitted and the editorial board judge whether the methodology is sound and the conclusions are based on evidence. This first level is called “blind peer-reviewed”. In addition, once the article is published the “open peer-review” comes. In this second level of peer-review authors and readers can comment on each other´s work. Comments are submitted to a blog that is run as part of the on-line journal, so a dialogue between author and reader is build up imitating the kinds of discussions that you would have with your colleagues in a conference. Therefore, it is possible to argue that an open access journal is more heavily peer-reviewed than a commercial one because it has two lines of peer-review.

What is the scientists’ view about Open Access?
It depends on the subject area that you are talking about. In some areas, like high energy physics, engineering or computer sciences, Open Access was taken for granted. In economics, for example, they rely on a very large extend of working papers or pre-prints which do not go anywhere near the conventional publishing system but they circulate in repositories like “Economists on line”. On arts and humanities Open Access has made less impact than on physical or biological sciences. The reason is probably that in those fields the unit of publication is the monograph, and it has been more of a challenge for the small presses, which traditionally produce arts and humanities monographs, to develop an open access business model. Therefore, to address this question in arts and humanities, what LERU recommends is to look for EU funding to develop pan-European gold publishing infrastructure for monographs, something like a “European Universities Press”, where we would develop a shared infrastructure across European universities to allow us to publish open access monographs.

Do you think that the open access model will eventually displace the current one?
Yes, and I think that quite quickly. Indeed if you look at it from a purely financial point of view, it is simply another business model. So, if you are a commercial publisher, you just need to adapt to the new business model. I know that publishers are worried about Open Access and I don´t understand why. They just need to stop charging libraries and start charging authors. The same amount of money could in theory come through, even though I hope competition will cut the prices, but that doesn´t mean that publishers will go out of business.


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