The author of this post, Demmy Verbeke (Head of KU Leuven Libraries Artes), also spoke with us about the KU Leuven Fair OA Fund at a ‘BoOkmArks: Open Conversations About OA Books’ event. A recording of our conversation is available here.
by Demmy Verbeke
If you want change, try something new.
This seems comically simple advice, but it is advice that universities, worldwide, seem unable or unwilling to follow when it comes to building and maintaining the infrastructure for scholarly communication. The first reason to want change is the cost of this infrastructure, which has been considered problematic since the beginning of the twentieth century, and which has only risen since, high above the rate of inflation.
Secondly, concerns have been raised over and over again about how research output (and particularly how an individual scholar or an institution making use of scholarly communication infrastructure) has become intertwined with research assessment, and that the methods used for this assessment do not align with scholarly values. One example: assessing an individual scholar by the press where he or she publishes, which, in essence, equals outsourcing judgment to an external party who is not focused on assessing the quality of the work but its commercial potential.
A third reason is the well-documented issue that the current ecosystem is far from inclusive and operable – not only when considering researchers in world regions like Africa, Latin America, Asia and Oceania, but also researchers active in disciplines less likely to attract major funding.
And yet, despite these compelling reasons for change and despite a growing attention to the need for Open Scholarship, universities continue to work with the same traditional suppliers who are held responsible for the problematic state of the ecosystem for scholarly communication in the first place. What is more: they continue to reward these suppliers by investing ever growing amounts of money, thus stimulating them to keep on following the for-profit path they chose. A case in point is the current dominance of read-and-publish agreements with so-called legacy publishers, which are more expensive than traditional contracts, come with a lot of hidden (staff) costs for university libraries, stimulate vendor lock-in, and lead to even less diversity. We all know the arguments against trying something new in the field of scholarly communication – the academic reward system, institutional rankings and the prestige fetish – but not trying anything new also implies no change.
If you want change, try something new.
That is the purpose of the KU Leuven Fund for Fair OA, set up by KU Leuven Libraries in 2018. The fund is exclusively devoted to the support of non-profit and community-owned initiatives in the field of Open Access and Open Scholarship in general. It is not a library-supported APC fund, which all too often results in channeling money to traditional suppliers without solving any of the three issues raised above. Instead, it is our way of making sure that at least part of the available library budget is safeguarded to support alternatives, fostering diversity of business models in the market of academic publishing and helping those who are willing to try something new.
The Fair Open Access Fund finances innovative publishing initiatives and infrastructures and covers membership costs for consortia and advocacy organizations focusing on a non-profit and academy-owned approach to scholarly communication (an overview of what is currenty supported is available at https://www.kuleuven.be/open-science/what-is-open-science/scholarly-publishing-and-open-access/open-access-kuleuven/fair-oa-initiatives). It also subsidizes Open Access monographs published by Leuven University Press (a list of books which have thus appeared, together with their readershap data, is available at https://www.kuleuven.be/open-science/what-is-open-science/scholarly-publishing-and-open-access/open-access-kuleuven/fairoabooks/fair-oa-books).
For the time being, the fund might only represent a small portion of how the library budget is spent – it is even less than the 2.5% advocated by David W. Lewis to support common infrastructure needed to create the open scholarly commons – but it puts the spotlight on partners who are willing to try out something new which is cheaper, better aligned with scholarly values, more inclusive and more operable; and who therefore, in our opinion, deserve the support of the library much more than suppliers whose primary aim is not to serve scholarship but to serve shareholders.
If you want change, try something new. It really is that simple.
If you have any questions for Demmy, please add them to the comments section below so they can be included in the conversation on 8th December at 10:00 EDT / 15:00 BST / 16:00 CEST. Join the conversation then via this Zoom link. All welcome!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.