Free access to knowledge
Free access to knowledge
Dr. Bernhard Mittermaier heads the Jülich Central Library.
Everyone should be at liberty to read scientific results – and free of charge. Science and publishers have been negotiating this “open access” for years. The crux of the matter: publishers need to change their business model. A new online tool from Jülich supports the negotiations by providing decisive facts for the first time.
Articles in journals are the researchers’ medium to write results down and share knowledge. Not only science benefits from this: doctors or teachers can use the articles to update their knowledge; journalists and politicians can obtain first-hand information about new findings. This comes at a price, however: access to a single article can cost as much as € 50, the annual subscription to a journal up to € 20,000. Not everyone can or wants to afford this.
Image above: Dr. Bernhard Mittermaier heads the Jülich Central Library.
Libraries of research institutions and universities have started to cancel subscriptions to journals for cost reasons. As a result, researchers and students, especially at financially weaker institutions, have only limited access to the world of knowledge. What is more, many research results are made possible by tax money. German science organisations find it objectionable that the public has to pay a second time for access to these findings. Since the “Berlin Declaration” in 2003, they have been calling for the publication system to change over to open access, but this has been not been fully implemented to date.
Open access means redistributing costs: in this model, it is not the readers who pay for a publication, but the publishing scientists or their employers. In this way, they finance the costs of Internet platforms that have to be set up and maintained, as well as the quality control of the articles, for example with the help of reviewers. Subscription fees are superfluous.
A new online tool developed by Jülich’s Central Library is analysing the effects of this change – for example, what costs are incurred where. Such figures do not yet exist and they are expected to help accelerate the transition to open access.
The Open Access Monitor
In the future, a freely accessible, web-based computer program is intended to register the entire publication system of German academic institutions. This Open Access Monitor links information from various existing databases, for example about an institution’s stock of journal or about which articles can only be read for a fee. The Open Access Monitor can be used to answer questions such as:1
per cent of all publications by German researchers can be accessed free of charge.
Source: Open Access Monitor, as of September 2019
- In which journals have a scientific institution’s researchers published and what was proportion of open access publications?
- How much have research institutions paid for open access publications?
- What magazines does an institution subscribe to and how much does it pay for them?
- How often were the journals accessed?
The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany are funding the development of the monitor at least until mid-2020. Until then, a first official version will be released. A test version is already online.
Text and interview: Frank Frick
Three questions for Dr. Bernhard Mittermaier
Head of the Jülich Central Library
Why has the changeover to open access already taken about 15 years?
First of all, science publishers are stonewalling: the large publishers assume that they earn less with open access. Small publishers even fear that they will not survive the changeover in accounting and technology. For the most part, publishers have not yet converted to open access for those journals that are particularly highly regarded and frequently cited in specialist circles. These are precisely the scientists’ preferred journals for publication – also serving to collect brownie points in reviews, on which the funding of their research depends. Indirectly, the scientists thus support the subscription model. Research funders, in turn, are reluctant to make their funding dependent on scientists publishing in open access journals. The most important reason: they do not want to curtail the freedom of science.
To what extent can the Open Access Monitor support the changeover?
The scientific institutions and the major publishing houses are currently negotiating the full changeover to open access. There are already agreements to this end with the publishing houses Wiley and Springer Nature. For the first time, our Open Access Monitor now offers the possibility to query in a simple way how many publications an institution has with a publisher and what the costs for subscribed issues and open access publications have been so far. This data forms the basis for contract negotiations and can facilitate the decision to join the contracts currently being negotiated. So far, hardly any research institution has such data.
It is very costly to collect them. There are thousands of journals involved. One of the biggest difficulties is that the names of publishers and magazines are not standardised: for example, one single publisher has often innumerable designations in the various databases.
Photo: Forschungszentrum Jülich/Ralf-Uwe Limbach