Libraries and Diamond Open Access

The following is the redacted text of a statement given by Demmy Verbeke at the “The Diamond Open Access Model: what impact on research?” webinar organized by Academia Europaea Cardiff, KU Leuven Libraries and the Young Academy of Europe on March 28, 2022. 

Academic libraries have a responsibility in the context of Diamond Open Access on at least two levels.

For more than a decade now, librarians worldwide have played a role in promoting OA, explaining the various options to make academic work freely available to all, highlighting the pros and cons of the various routes towards OA, etc. This advocacy work is lately more and more interwoven with talking about funder compliance or talking about things like block grants, OA funds and read-and-publish deals. However, we need to be very careful that the latter does not turn librarians into salesmen for the publishers with whom their universities have this kind of agreement. The thing that we always need to remember is that academic librarians do not work for publishers; they work for their institutions and serve the scholarly community, so they need to talk about the diversity of OA possibilities. They owe it to their profession to provide an analysis which is as objective as possible of the pros and cons of various OA approaches so that authors can make up their own mind about whom they want to entrust with the dissemination of their research results.In that context, it is important that librarians also talk about Diamond OA and give the full picture. For instance by not only talking about the main thing that scholars associate with Diamond OA, namely that this is an approach to scholarly publishing which does not charge fees to either authors or readers, but also to stress the second element of the characterization used in the recent Action Plan for Diamond Open Access, namely that these are community-driven, academic-led and academic-owned publishing initiatives. This is important, because this makes an essential difference in the financial model behind initiatives of this sort and is the reason why scholars, funders and institutions alike should not only foster Diamond OA but should even prioritize it over other approaches.

The second responsibility is to not only talk and inform about Diamond OA but also to financially support it. Personally, I have very little patience for the argument “we do not have the budget to support Diamond OA programs”. Most university libraries in the Western world have multi-million budgets, whether they receive additional block grants for OA or not. I find it hard to believe that it would be impossible to find a few grand in that budget for Diamond OA. I do, however, understand and sympathize completely with the realization that we need to rethink our budgets in order to make room for Diamond OA. Both acquisition and cataloguing processes of libraries are still completely geared towards either the traditional model of publishing behind a paywall or towards publishers who have found a way to shape their OA offer in such a way that it almost appears as business as usual, for instance through read-and-publish deals. As a result, there is a big risk that library budgets are completely hoovered up by a combination of buying paywalled content and spending money on the privately-owned, for-profit approach to OA. This means that, if libraries want to financially support Diamond OA, they need to either prioritize it in the sense that they first spend available budget on Diamond OA, then on paywalled content, then on for-profit OA; or that they need to make much clearer distinctions in their budgets and need to separate a percentage for Diamond OA, a percentage for paywalled content and a percentage for for-profit OA. The added task is that they also need to stick to that division. If the price tag of either of those three categories increases – and, by the way, I guarantee that the price tag for for-profit OA will increase – then they cannot move around money from one category to the other without first having a thorough discussion that this implies a policy change.

I consider both responsibilities for academic librarians in the context of Diamond OA as an obvious continuation of the role they have been playing in the field of scholarly communication for generations. Librarians are not in the business of telling researchers what to do and how to distribute the results of their work. But that does not cancel out the fact that researchers turn to librarians for guidance in this, either by making explicit appeals to the expertise within libraries to provide support and advice, or implicitly by observing which choices libraries make in their collection building and adapting their own publishing practices to this. Similarly, research libraries have a long tradition of funding the market for academic publishing. Library budgets pay for the acquisition of monographs, for standing orders for series and for subscriptions to journals and databases. So it is natural that these same libraries are now called upon to act as funders for publishing in OA. And just like librarians were entrusted to make wise budget choices in a traditional system of acquisition of content behind a paywall, they should now be entrusted to make wise budget choices in how to support OA publishing. I, for one, am convinced that librarians will ensure much better value for money, and thus do a much better job for their institutions and the scholarly community which they serve, if they favor academic-led approaches towards OA without author fees over for-profit approaches towards OA based on publication-level payments.

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