Conference Season Continued: OA advocacy with my researcher hat on

I don’t try to hide it – I believe that we’re in a transitional period to fully open access (OA)* scholarly journal publishing, at least in the sciences. And while I could see this playing out in different ways that have varying impact on equity, concentration of wealth, quality of scientific publishing, etc., by and large I do believe this transition is a step forward for equity and knowledge, through increasing access to information (one of the core values of librarianship).

I’ve been involved with various OA interest group/committee/task forces, as well as policy development and empirical research projects related to advancing the state of OA. I’ve given educational talks, webinars, oral & poster conference presentations, and published articles on various aspects of OA.

Yet, I have come to recognize that some very important “advocacy” work on the OA file may not be writing letters to politicians or giving formal talks, but the informal talks I have with editors in venues such as non-LIS conferences. In other words, sometimes I think that my potential for advancing OA as a member of the research-author community is just as great as that in my role as a librarian, OA advocate and researcher.

I was reminded of this during a recent conference session, when I had the opportunity to talk with a couple of editor-types (journal editors or journal editorial/advisory board members) as they stopped to encourage me to consider submitting work to their journal. Research conferences are natural opportunities for editor-types to publicize their journals and recruit authors/articles of interest. Poster sessions are a natural ground for not-yet-published research that may soon be looking for a home in manuscript form. Therefore, as a poster presenter at a large research conference, one can expect to talk with editors.

In OA advocacy, I think we tend to focus a lot on the author-publisher dynamic in terms of negotiating copyright and advocating for journal policy change. This makes sense on the individual-article level, and to some extent with the advocating for policy-change level. But editors may be quite important for effecting journal level change to OA, and communicating to publishers through another route. Journal editors are often in a crossover position, both researchers in their own right and in a close working relationship with the publishing company managing their journal.** In scholarly communities, editors are often one of “us” – researchers – rather than one of “them” – publishing industry folk. As a researcher’s career advances, it’s often expected that s/he will take on academic community service such as journal editing. And as researchers, they’re still going to conferences in their given field, so journal editor duties, such as scouting out potential articles, dovetail well with their own scholarly interests.

So, when I’m there by my poster and an editor hands me her/his card*** and suggests I consider a particular journal for publishing, I ask if it’s open access. If they say no (generally meaning not Gold OA), I ask if authors are allowed to archive a copy in a repository such as PubMed Central. Most (but not all) say Yes to that now. I let them know about the many funder mandates under which my research group is obligated, and also that it’s important to me ethically and career-wise as an early-career researcher to make my work accessible to the widest audience possible. If I’ve already published the research I’m presenting, I make a point of clearly mentioning that it’s available open access online, so anyone can read it without a subscription. And then we talk about their journal’s new policy matters column, or the scope of their journal, or a question they have about my poster, or whatever else. I don’t sit on the OA point forever, but I do ask it, and generally first thing, when an editor suggests their journal. I think this makes a difference.

Does this make a difference? It’s possible that I’m deluding myself and seeing impact where I want to. I can’t quantify a difference this type of questioning makes, but I have had one or two instances where editors have come back to me in another year or emailed with me much later to let me know that they have moved to OA or checked and will comply with Canadian funder policies (which are generally shorter embargo period than US/UK funder policies).  So I think it helps. And I sincerely encourage other research folk who are also concerned with OA to adopt this strategy when talking with editors.

I’ve talked with publishers at LIS conferences, and it’s not the same thing at all. By now, they expect some OA flak from us pesky librarians. These days, staff from the major publishers are either prepped with the official OA line or else have to defer to the higher powers in decisions about things like OA – their job at the conference  is mainly to “build relationships” with potential customers and ultimately to sell product/subscriptions.

Now, different people have access to different advocacy and policy-making opportunities, and some people I know are senior enough in their fields to, say, be at the table when a major research funder is developing their research policies. This type of access is a major opportunity – and having funder policies in place gives me a much stronger position from which to ask journals to go OA. That said, it’s not my opportunity at this point in my life. And the people at those tables probably don’t need my tips on OA advocacy anyway. But to all those of us who are more junior or just not in those circles, we can influence policy in our own way. Some of it is “loud” and public – professional or scholarly association letters to research funders in favour of OA policies, for example. But I’ve come to think that a significant portion of that is kind of quiet, too. So next time you’re presenting research at a conference, I encourage you to mention OA as a priority (not THE priority – we all know there are many) in your publishing decisions. It matters to editors. They want your submissions.


*Open Access here fairly broadly applied to mean scholarly publications that are free to read online.

**While I recognize that several scholarly journals are published independently, by a scholarly society, or through a “publisher” such as a library that hosts OJS, in my health publishing experience the dominant model in this field is increasingly to be independently edited but managed by a larger publishing company, although the scale of the publishers does vary widely.

***Of course, not all editors self-identify as such when they’re cruising conference posters. I don’t emphasize it as much to everyone, but I do try to mention it when possible, in order to influence fellow researchers and undercover editors – for example I might say, “The first manuscript from this project was published in Journal XYZ and it’s freely available online so you can Google it. The second is currently under review at Journal ABC, an open access journal, so watch for it in the future.”



Filed under OA, publishing, research

2 responses to “Conference Season Continued: OA advocacy with my researcher hat on

  1. willimen

    One of the main issues that I found with OA journals, for our peers in academia, is the ‘status’ issue associated with publishing within certain journals. Over the past ten years, do you think that OA journals have gained more credibility within the academic community, as a legitimate place to publish?

    Also, some OA journals used to front end the cost of access… So instead of charging the end user to access the information, some OA journals used to charge money for faculty to publish in the journal. If this is still the case, the argument could be made that only faculty with research grants and the financial capacity can publish in some OA journals….

    It has been a while since I have thought about OA, so thanks for this posting. I always found it ironic that publicly subsidized research is turned over to publishers to be placed in journals which are locked down so the public can’t access it. Why isn’t research, and research results (beyond abstracts) freely available for the public good (beyond university faculty and students)?

    ~ Ken

  2. greyson

    Hi Ken,
    Thanks for asking, because I think a lot of people have these questions.

    First off, yes, I believe OA journals have gained a LOT more credibility and are now part of the norm in scholarly publishing. Many major traditional publishers now have a subset of OA journals in their portfolios, and some new OA publishers have become major players in their fields. This varies a bit by discipline, but in medicine, for example, some of the most highly-ranked journals are now published OA (and thanks to research funder mandates in health, nearly all will allow OA archiving of article copies). Certainly there are scammy, or just low-quality, OA journals out there. But there are scammy and low-quality subscription-only journals too. No publishing or access model absolves us of the need to be media literate.

    In terms of business models, this also varies widely and by discipline. There’s no one particular way that an OA journal must make money. Many in the bio-sciences do charge author fees (which can be written into research grants as a “KT” expense), but the reputable ones waive the fees on an individual basis for unfunded research/authors (such as grad students – as makes sense – if you’re a good researcher in this field, eventually you’ll have funding, and the journals want you to remember them fondly when looking to publish in the future). I have not yet heard of anyone having an accepted article go unpublished because they didn’t have research funds to pay an author-side fee. In the journals in which I publish, author-side fees are the norm, but this is certainly not true across the board (in fact, I have heard that in sheer numbers the majority of OA journals out there don’t charge author-side fees), and there are many other revenue streams for journals, including advertising and, for association journals, membership fees. While professional e-journal layout and copyediting is not free, the costs of hosting an online journal may be much lower than the cost of printing & mailing a paper journal to subscribers, so some journals (especially small association journals) may end up better-off free & online than they were in print for subscribers-only.

    And yes, I absolutely agree with you about the ethical imperative to make publicly-funded research accessible to the public. It’s amazing to me that that can even be argued against, truly. It’s basic government accountability.

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