The Role of the Librarian in an Open Access World: Your questions answered

By, Dave Ross, Executive Publisher, Open Access and Laura Dale, Publishing Editor, SAGE Open

OA WebinarLast month, we were delighted to organize a webinar on the librarian’s role in an open access world featuring University Librarian and Dean of Library Services Charles Eckman of Simon Fraser University, Researcher Michael Mott of the University of Mississippi Advanced Education Center, and Executive Publisher of Open Access David Ross of SAGE. Several of the viewers came to the webinar with important questions about OA, publishing, and SAGE, many of which were directed at our own David Ross. Because we were unable to address all of the questions in the 1-hour webinar, we asked Dave along with our Publishing Editor of the journal SAGE Open Laura Dale, to answer some of these questions here on SAGE Connection. Here’s what they had to say:

1.       Beyond making research articles openly available, are you doing anything else to translate research findings into formats more readily accessible for a non academic audience? What is your role in that? 

SAGE is dedicated to making the research we publish both available and accessible to a wide audience (including non-academic consumers). We frequently provide access to articles in our subscription journals free of charge for a limited time on our Twitter and Facebook channels. We also put the spotlight research published in our 700+ journals on our SAGE Insight blog, which provides a fresh perspective on major issues facing the public and policy makers, and we periodically highlight select research to the media through press releases. We have partnerships with several journalists to publicize research findings through their news outlets as well.

In addition to these efforts, SAGE communicates the importance of our research and the importance of research funding in the U.S. on Capitol Hill. Our Government Relations Consultant makes frequent visits to Members of Congress in which he highlights research that is vital to the well-being of U.S. Citizens.

 2.       How does peer review work for OA journals?

SAGE is committed to ensuring that only high-quality research is published in all of our journals, whether traditional subscription-based or open access. While the peer review and acceptance processes differ from journal to journal, we strive to make them robust so that each study is methodologically sound and pursued with integrity. For SAGE Open for example, every article is peer reviewed by external scholars and vetted for research quality through blind review.

We hold our journals to very high standards of robustness, and when we encounter cracks in the review processes that we have in place, we take swift and thorough action to correct the situation and to improve the processes for the future.

3.       How does OA work in a discovery layer environment?

OA content is discoverable in all of the traditional channels of discovery (open web, social media, library, and academic search) and like our subscription-based journals, SAGE actively encourages broad discovery of our OA journal content. For library discovery layers, we distribute metadata to web-scale search technology vendors. We are aware that some discovery providers apply different indexing rules to OA content than they would for traditional journals, so the result is somewhat uneven coverage. However, SAGE will continue to promote broad discovery of our OA journals through all channels used by our readers in an evolving research environment.

4.       Reference/instruction librarians are concerned to coach patrons to evaluate search results and distinguish ‘junk science’ from legitimate research. Peer review is only one part of that filter. Since 2000, we have seen a startling expansion of junk science spewed out by what many are coming to term “predatory” journals. How does SAGE work with libraries to keep these borders sharp?

First of all, it is important to note that the issue of quality research is not limited to open access journals. Though OA has added a new layer of issues that faculty and students must address, publishing quality research should be the top priority for any scholarly publication. While we cannot stop other journals from publishing low-quality work, we can work to distinguish the valuable research published in our journals from others.

For example, in addition to establishing robust peer review processes, reputable editors, and experienced editorial boards, we work to ensure that our journals are hosted on advanced, easily-navigated online platforms and that our research is discoverable and sufficiently archived for the lasting future. We hope that holding our journals to such high standards will not only ensure smooth research practices, but will also help librarians and their patrons to delineate the borders between quality and substandard research.

5.       How is SAGE reaching out to researchers to explain the availability of OA and the variety of licenses?

SAGE seeks to educate researchers about OA through sessions at conferences, including the recent Open Futures in the Humanities and Social Sciences event, webinars (such as this one), speaking engagements on university campuses for faculty, students and librarians such as the University of North Texas’ OA Symposium, and through our electronic and print marketing materials. In fact, in addition to this webinar which took place on October 23 during Open Access Week, we held another one on the same day aimed at Engineering researchers to explain the benefits of publishing Open Access in that field.

Additionally, SAGE regularly communicates about developments in OA both inside and outside of the company through our corporate blog SAGE Connection and to the HSS community through the online social network Social Science Space.

6.       I am surprised to hear that you still consider libraries your main partner. I would have expected a publisher to say that a new aspect is now that they deal directly with the end user of articles. Is this not the case?

SAGE sees great value in the role of the librarian and believes firmly that libraries will be a key partner for the long-term future as they are in the best position to take a broad view of what their patrons want. Over the past ten years, our relationship with librarians has deepened significantly and continues to grow. In fact, we employ a growing number of librarians on our own staff here at SAGE because of the invaluable perspective that they can offer.

While the development of open access funded by author charges has driven us to develop systems and processes to interact more directly with the authors, the collective view of academic behavior offered uniquely by librarians is crucial. For example, in institutions that have set up some form of intuition funds to pay for OA, the vast majority are being administered through the library. This is especially important in HSS disciplines as direct research grants do not exist to the same degree as they do in the life sciences. Additionally, while open access research is widely accessible, it is not always easily discovered and we find that partnering with librarians is key to developing a highly-discoverable OA portfolio.

7.       How negotiable is the copyright transfer agreement to make a publication open or “more” open (specifically referring to the non-OA journals of SAGE)?

Many of SAGE’s non-OA journals participate in our hybrid OA model called “SAGE Choice.” With SAGE Choice, authors can choose to make an individual paper open access from within a subscription-based journal with a new license agreement for their article. Working under a CC BY-NC license, SAGE Choice authors retain copyright of their articles which allows others to re-use their work without permission as long as the work is properly references and the use is non-commercial. Additionally, authors required to publish under a CC BY licensing funder mandate have the option to publish under a CC BY, which allows use of their work for commercial purposes. SAGE also allows authors to deposit the accepted version of their manuscript on their personal website or in their institutional repository with no embargo.

8.       Librarians need to be able to select title by title not in big packages…what is SAGE doing to enable this?

SAGE is aware that the needs of every library are different and offers a range of different purchasing models to cater to these needs. SAGE’s flexibility in purchasing models range from subscribing to individual titles to subject collections to broad bundles to bigger packages.

Additionally, we work to clearly communicate to librarians why a bigger package may or may not be the best fit for them. For example, instead of offering purchasing packages at one price for all of the journals that we publish (known by many as the classic “big deal’), SAGE breaks down fees by the journal titles held by an institution before it decides to purchase a package so that the institution can easily compare prices to determine whether the additional fee of a package is worth its cost. Furthermore, SAGE allows institutions the freedom to cancel packages upon renewal and to revert to original subscription holdings before they joined one of our journal package licenses.

As far as our books and reference material is concerned, SAGE has recently rolled out two programs that will provide greater flexibility in title selection for librarians. The first program is an evidence-based Demand Driven Access model for eBooks and eReference titles that will allow librarians to purchase titles based on usage.  The second is a Pick and Mix model that will allow for individual title purchase of eBook and eReference content.

If you have any questions or concerns about any of these packages, we encourage you to contact your sales rep.

9.       Will SAGE continue to allow “green” OA for authors publishing in your journals?

SAGE has updated our policy to adhere to the RoMEO “green” self-archiving definition in the UK to allow archiving of pre-print and post-print or publisher’s version/PDF.  Unlike many other publishers, we allow authors to deposit the accepted version of their manuscript on their personal website or in their institutional repository with no embargo.

10.   What additional costs are incurred by the publisher to enable open access, given that the article will be produced in e-format to service subscription-based clients anyway? What production realities justify this additional cost?

Our open access journals receive the same quality peer review, professional copy editing, typesetting, and electronic delivery as all of our subscription-based journals. While we work to keep them down, APC fees cover part of the costs associated with each of the stages of the publication process and with hosting the articles on dedicated servers.

We also work to ensure that subscribers are never charged for open access content in hybrid journals when the author has paid an APC. Our SAGE journals hybrid option SAGE Choice was setup for this purpose. It is an important option for researchers whose work is driven by funder requirements.

11.   When did SAGE become open access, and what percentage of your articles is open access?

SAGE publishes a mix of open access and traditional journals based on the changing scholarly communication needs of the global research community. SAGE began experimenting with Open Access in 2007 when it formed a partnership with Hindawi – now one of the largest OA Publishers.  We launched SAGE Open in 2010, the first broad-spectrum OA journal aimed specifically at HSS authors and we now publish 15 Gold OA titles total.  This is set to expand rapidly in 2014.

The proportion of OA articles we currently publish remains very low – less than ¼ of a percent – but we see this growing substantially in the coming years.

 12.   What business model or thinking was SAGE engaged in when it set up SAGE Open, i.e. what does SAGE get out of this?

With SAGE Open, we saw an opportunity to continue our involvement in developing scholarly communication processes and to support the social sciences and humanities. A “gold” OA journal, SAGE Open provides a dedicated OA vehicle for the humanities and social sciences (HSS) that enables authors to comply with various funder mandates, including the RCUK mandate.

When setting up the business model for SAGE Open, we spent a lot of time debating how the gold OA model would work in the social sciences knowing that there isn’t a lot of money out there to fund Author Processing Charges (APCs), especially in HSS.  For this reason and in an effort to publish a more accessible option for researchers in HSS, since January of this year, we are discounting the APC to $99. Ultimately, our goal for SAGE Open is to meet the needs of a growing OA community while also serving as a viable option for those researchers who don’t receive the kinds of funding that the biomedical researchers do.

13.   What is the role of open access in developing countries?

While publishing OA is a way to ensure that publicly-funded research can always be accessed for free by the public, it has many additional advantages, and this is especially true in developing countries.  The wide availability of an article that’s been published OA gives scholars from developing nations much more exposure globally.  It allows scholars from across the globe greater freedom to share and distribute and even make research connections they may not otherwise have made.  For librarians and researchers, developing countries that might not have the means to purchase subscriptions benefit from OA articles that are free for them to read and cite. “Gold” OA, in which the author pays an APC to have their article published open access, does present problems for researchers in developing countries where funding for research is more difficult to acquire. Nevertheless, we still see interest in SAGE Open from researchers in developing countries.

At SAGE, we see great value in developing the publishing and research programs in developing countries. We are proud publishing partner of HINARI, an organization sponsored by the World Health Organization which offers access to the research in our journals for free or at very low cost to local, not-for-profit institutions in developing countries.

14.   Do you see academic libraries, and especially smaller libraries, as capable of being successful publishers of open access journals? Is the task too complex for the smaller library, in your opinion? 

We don’t believe the task is too complex but there are many aspects to publishing that would need to be considered. In addition to time and resources needed to maintain and organize quality peer review, professional copy editing, typesetting, electronic delivery on dedicated servers, and lasting archiving, publishing also involves constant development to make research discoverable, marketing, reference checking, and more.

While some of the items on the list apply to subscription-based journals publishing alone, this article from The Scholarly Kitchen provides a good picture of all that publishing entails.

15.   What is the place of humanities journals in OA?

We tend to see a lot more biomedical research in the OA spotlight due to government funding and recent mandates in those areas; however, every discipline has a place in open access publishing and as the publisher of the social sciences, SAGE is committed to the development of OA in HSS.  SAGE Open, for example, publishes papers in the social sciences and humanities and has received well over 2,000 submissions since launching in 2011; the desire for OA publishing in HSS fields is evident. SAGE seeks to educate researchers in all areas about OA through sessions at conferences including the recent Open Futures in the Humanities and Social Sciences event directed at humanities and social science researchers.

A larger question for the publishing and research community is how we continue to make OA for HSS a viable publishing option if those areas continue to receive less federal funding. SAGE is committed to pledging resources to support HSS research funding in an effort to defeat any future attacks on HSS research-funding from Members of Congress in the U.S.

Another development worth mentioning is the growing open access monograph model.  Monographs remain the gold standard in humanities publishing and as traditional venues for these diminish, we will see the OA model gain speed. Though there are a few initiatives emerging – such as Knowledge Unlatched – and this is an area that we are looking into with great interest.

Have any more questions? Feel free to leave them in the comment box below or to email

If you missed the webinar, you may view it here. The webinar slides can be viewed here.

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