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Towards a global knowledge commons

Report from the African LIBSENSE 3 Workshop

On April 24-26, 2019 the 3rd LIBSENSE workshop took place in Tunis, Tunisia. The workshop was organized by ASREN (Arabic States Research and Education Network), in conjunction with WACREN, COAR and EIFL.

The LIBSENSE initiative is a collaboration between the three African Regional Research and Education Networks (RRENs) and the AfricaConnect2 project. It aims to build a community of practice for repositories in Africa and define a collaborative agenda for libraries and RENs in Africa related open science, repositories and value-added services. COAR, EIFL, and OpenAIRE have also been providing support and expertise to the LIBSENSE project.

The workshop in Tunisia was attended by representatives from the National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) and library/university communities from several Arab countries: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia, with other participants from Nigeria and Senegal. As with the previous two workshops, the aim was to identify opportunities and activities to collaborate across the two communities to support open science in the region.

This highly interactive workshop provided an opportunity for participants to discuss their challenges related to open access and share solutions being applied locally. The ASREN countries are very diverse and there is no universal solution for all countries in the region, however, several valuable shared priorities surfaced during the workshop:

  1. A federated discovery system for the region: A significant amount of research and educational content is produced in the region, but the content is scattered across many systems and countries. A federated discovery system, similar to LA Referencia in Latin America, would bridge access across repositories and other content providers from the region enabling a one-stop search interface. While there are already several national portals and discovery systems, the region would benefit from federating across countries, given the common language and geographic location of the countries. To support this, content needs to be exposed in a common way, leading to greater alignment and harmonization of standards, technologies and policies at the local level, and ensuring best practices are applied to the organizations that wish to share their content through the portal.
  2. Increasing the value of Arabic content: Related to the issue above, participants discussed collective strategies to add value to the Arabic language content produced in the region. Improving the visibility and discoverability of Arabic language will require the adoption of standards and best practices by data providers including clear copyright statements, the proper use of DOIs, metadata in English to support discovery, quality control for digitized materials, and so on. ASREN could act as a mechanism for institutions in the region to work together to support the identification and sharing of best practices and even possibly a collective approach to shared curation of metadata and content.
  3. Shared content hosting platform: Not every institution has the resources and expertise to manage its own repository. At the national level NRENs, or other national institutions can offer repository hosting services to fill in the gaps and ensure that all valuable content produced in the region is made openly available and preserved for the long term. These types of hosting services could also be extended beyond literature repositories to include data repositories and journal platforms, and help advance innovation in scholarly communication by supporting, for example, launching overlay journals on top of the regional content. This would allow cost sharing across institutions, leading significantly lower costs for participating in open science activities.
  4. Advocacy, training, and communities of practice: A cluster of activities related to the social/cultural aspects of open access and open science can also be supported through collaborative activities. As with many regions, the traditional paradigms related to promotion and prestige of the researcher are strong in these countries, leading researchers to prefer publishing in traditional, established publishing venues. The narrative that incorrectly equates open access with low-quality journals acts as a strong disincentive for researchers to publish in open access and these misunderstandings need to be addressed through advocacy with researchers and administrators. In addition, regional collaboration provides an opportunity to support communities of practice, beyond just “one-off” training events for a variety of activities such as federated identity management for libraries, open source software management (DSpace and OJS), as well as sharing and adopting good practices and standards across a range of other services.

The workshop programme and presentations are available here, and the workshop photo gallery here

The next step for LIBSENSE project will be for countries and regions to develop more concrete plans for addressing and advancing the priorities areas identified through the workshops.

If you are interested in participating in these activities, please get in touch with the LIBSENSE program managers by email to

Report from the COAR Annual Meeting 2019

The 10th COAR Annual Meeting took place last week in Lyon, France. This was the most well-attended COAR meeting to date, with about 110 participants from over 40 countries. The meeting was an opportunity to take stock of progress related to several of COAR’s major strategic objectives including aligning repository networks, next generation repositories and interoperability between repositories and publishing services.

There were several pre-meeting workshops, including a technical meeting at which repository networks and aggregators shared techniques and technologies. While different aggregator services have different users and varying objectives and scopes (e.g. some are regional and national, while others are international), they tend to use common technologies and methods. The workshop enabled networks to share their challenges and solutions with each other. Because the quality of these services is built on metadata, the quality of metadata remains an issue. A workshop specifically focussing on metadata discussed how we can achieve the balance of interoperability related to metadata, while still supporting the needs of different communities, and yet another workshop explored strategies for increasing researcher engagement with local services.

Collaboration across networks is critical for building the global knowledge commons, and there was a session exploring the evolving relationships between regional networks (Africa, Europe, Japan, Korea and Latin America). It is clear that successful collaborations, which include technology transfer, sharing expertise and data exchange, require a certain level of trust, and that personalities are important for forging close ties across different languages and cultures.

There was a session addressing how to bridge domain and institutional communities. Domain repositories talk of a major challenge related to funding their services, while institutional repositories speak to the challenge of researcher engagement. Can we forge models that bring together the strengths of each community to address these issues and develop sustainable services that are well used by the research community?

There was also a session focusing on the use case of layering peer review on top of repositories. This use case is extremely important from COAR’s perspective, as it has the potential to significantly change the role of repositories and disrupt the current traditional publishing paradigm. Several demonstration projects were presented, including an overlay journal at Queens University, the Episciences initiative in France, and a new project being launched at the University of Amsterdam, called University Journals. The PubFAIR conceptual model, which grew out of the COAR next generation repository work, offering various dissemination channels (think spotify) on top of participating repositories was also described.

The General Assembly provided an overview of COAR’s work in the previous year, and some new strategic opportunities for 2019-2020. COAR members were also invited at the meeting to contribute their opinions to several draft logos developed by a design company. This input was very valuable as COAR is refreshing its website and branding in the summer of 2019.

There was an interactive session about research data management and the FAIR principles. The aim was to discuss the relevance of these principles for repositories. Given the strong promotional efforts related to FAIR, it was not surprising that most audience members had heard of the FAIR principles. Indeed, for our community, FAIR is just a new term for something many repositories have already been working on for years: improving the quality and comprehensiveness of metadata. The session also explored the relationship between NGR, which focuses on technologies and FAIR, which focuses on metadata. COAR will provide more information about this to members soon.

There were presentations illustrating several projects in different regions that have adopted the COAR next generation repository protocols and technologies and it was good to see that there are real cases we can point to that have implemented the COAR recommendations. Additionally, the preliminary results of an international survey on open access services undertaken by OCLC were presented, along with work to support repositories in adopting ORCID IDs.

The conference was book-ended by two inspiring speakers: John Willinsky, from the Public Knowledge Project, who talked about what we really mean by open infrastructure? He presented 5 principles of open infrastructure, which align very well with COAR’s approach to building the knowledge commons: open, interoperable, community-based, sustainable, and smart. The closing keynote, delivered by Marin Dacos, Frances Open Science Advisor, ended the meeting on an optimistic note, by pointing out the need for “bibliodiversity” and underscopring that there is no “one size fits all” solution for open access. Repositories should and will continue to play an important role in the ecosystem.

To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we had a special cake at the gala dinner along with some nice words from Paolo Budroni from University of Vienna characterizing COAR as a global “family”. COAR was launched in 2009 with a membership of 28 organizations and has come a long way since then, growing by 500% and consolidating its place as an important strategic organization.

Big thanks again to our sponsors, University of Alberta Libraries and SPARC, the local hosts from CCSD and Carla Marques and Ilkay Holt from COAR who made sure everything ran smoothly.

And last but not least, it was announced that the next COAR Annual Meeting will take place on April 22-24, 2020 in Lima, Peru. I really hope to see you there.

Africa Libsense workshop – building library/NREN collaborations for open science

On March 11-12, 2019, COAR also participated in the second Libsense workshop organized by WACREN (West and Central African Research and Education Network). The program was developed by WACREN, EIFL and COAR, with support from OpenAIRE and the National Institutes for Informatics (NII) in Japan.

The LIBSENSE initiative aims to nurture and develop collaborations between Libraries and Research and Education Networks (RENs) in Africa to support open science activities. The idea is that the sustainability and effectiveness of open science services in African countries, such as repositories, can be improved if stakeholders can adopt a shared approach.

This second workshop focused on finalizing and endorsing a template Terms of Reference (ToRs) for collaborative activities between library or library associations with national or regional RENs, which outlines four areas: social change, infrastructure, capacity building, and value added services. Participants in the workshop, who mainly came from west and central african countries, broke out into national groups and discussed how the terms of reference could be implemented in each of their countries, and identified their local priorities.

One concrete outcome that has already resulted from this initiative is the intention of WACREN to develop a shared hosting service for repositories in that region. This service is modeled on the approach of NII in Japan that is currently hosting over 700 university repositories. Other shared activities that were prioritized by the participants were: capacity building and training, policy templates and development, and repository harvesting and discovery, and amplifying success stories. In addition, adoption of a harvester to provide a discovery service for African research outputs, a shared publication platform, and looking at the models for next generation repositories that might be appropriate in the African context.

Thanks to Omo Oaiya and Dr Boubakar Barry from WACREN, Iryna Kuchma from EIFL, and our local Ghanaian hosts, especially Peter Kaba Adaliwe. The next workshop will take place in April in Tunis, Tunisia in conjunction with the ASREN Conference (Arab States Education and Research Network).

Asia OA 2019 Meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh

On March 6-7, 2019, we had the COAR Asia 2019 meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The meeting was hosted by Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) and was well attended by government representatives, national open access advocates, local researchers and librarians, as well as several members of the Bangladesh parliament. The event was covered by the local media – in the national newspaper and on broadcast on national television.

As in previous years, the meeting was an opportunity to focus on open access activities in the Asian region and exchange information about strategies, infrastructure and policies, as well as provide the community with an update about COAR’s next generation repositories and aligning repository networks work.

Agricultural research is a key priority and strength for Bangladesh, and open access to the results of this research is important as it can support the development of new services and innovations and have direct benefits for the local farmers.

The challenges faced in Bangladesh to implementing widespread open access are familiar to many of us: lack of incentives and awareness by the research community, insufficient resources to support “pay to publish” models, and gaps in expertise and staffing. However, to address this, the Bangladesh community has already begun working together to develop shared strategies and resources across the major research institutions.

Participants discussed the unique opportunities in the country that could be leveraged to move things forward, in particular the strong push by the federal government for “Digital Bangladesh”, a strategy to modernize and provide digital and open access to government services, data and information. At this meeting, we were able to articulate how open science fits into the broader concept of open government, and discuss how Bangladesh can both support local priorities, while still participating in international research activities.

Big thanks to Dr. Susmita Das, Dr. M. Baktear, and all the colleagues at BARC for co-organizing and hosting this event.

COAR Updated Feedback on the Guidance on Implementation of Plan S

February 6, 2019 – This is a slightly updated version of the COAR initial feedback published on December 13, 2018.

The Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) reiterates our strong support for the goal of Plan S to achieve “immediate Open Access to all scholarly publications from research” and we appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback on the guidance on the implementation of the Plan.

COAR is an international association with members from over 140 organizations on 5 continents. COAR promotes global interoperability of repositories, helps to build capacity across regions, and offers an international perspective related to repositories, open access and open science with the aim of creating a global ecosystem for research dissemination.

General comments

COAR agrees with many of implementation guidelines outlined in Plan S, but has some concerns that the technical requirements are too high and will result in only large, well-funded publishers and repositories to become compliant. The unintended consequence is that Plan S would further entrench the position and control of a small number of players in the scholarly communication system, hampering innovation and our ability to control costs.

10. Deposition of Scholarly Content in Open Access Repositories

We recognize and agree with the aim of transforming the publishing industry, however to truly improve and transform the system there needs to be a multipronged approach, with a number of actions undertaken concurrently.

Repositories are important mechanisms for advancing innovation in research communications, as detailed in the COAR Next Generation Repositories report, and should be considered on equal footing in terms of their role in providing open access, while also recognized for their contribution towards a more sustainable system that can support management and access to a variety of research outputs.

To avoid further enclosure by a small number of large publishers and the negative consequences that would come with this (cost inflation, misaligned incentives, and publication barriers), we recommend that Plan S actively foster and explicitly acknowledge the importance of a diversity of publication models and non-APC based service, such as the vision outlined in the COAR next generation repository work. This model offers a sustainable alternative to traditional publishing by building peer review layers on top of the global repository network, distributing the services and costs across institutions.

Specific comments related to implementation guidance

10.2 Requirements for Plan S compliant Open Access repositories:

COAR and others in the repository community have concerns related to several of the requirements for repositories, a number of which we argue are not necessary and will create artificial barriers to the participation of universities and other research organizations in the scholarly communication system.

While some of these recommendations may be ‘nice to have’, they are not prerequisites for robust and interoperable repository services. Instead they could result in driving repository functionality in the wrong direction, create too high of a bar for less resourced institutions, and further centralize research infrastructures and services because they cannot be adopted, leading to a replication of the existing inequalities in the scholarly communication system.

We urge authors of Plan S to remove or reword some of the requirements, and move others into a “Recommended additional criteria” section, and establish a transition period for repositories to become compliant with some of the requirements.

Below you will find COAR’s detailed feedback related to the “Requirements for Plan S compliant Open Access repositories”. These recommendations are based on widespread expertise of the COAR community and input from the COAR Next Generation Repositories Editorial Group, representing some of the foremost experts in repository technologies. The technical recommendations are based on a 1.5 year in-depth examination of the future behaviours and functionalities required for repositories undertaken by COAR and the Next Generation Repositories Working Group. We would be happy to explain these comments further and would be pleased to work with cOAlition S to finalize the recommendations. This will ensure that the implementation of Plan S for repositories is achievable and supports our common goal of accelerating open access.

Automated manuscript ingest facility

Apart from the SWORD protocol and a few regional router services, very few repositories currently have an automated ingest process for manuscripts. Indeed, most repositories employ a human-mediated deposit approach which involves librarians and/or repository managers recruiting and depositing content into the repository on behalf of researchers. This approach ensures there is some quality control of metadata and that the appropriate version of the article is being deposited. We do not believe that an automated manuscript ingest functionality is needed for repositories to comply with the intent of Plan S, which is to provide immediate access to the Author’s Accepted Manuscript. Furthermore, there are numerous different ways which “automated ingest” could be interpreted and implemented by different repositories. Unless there is a common, standardized mechanism required by all repositories, this requirement will not be effective in aiding with automated population of repositories. With further explanation and specificity, this functionality could be included in a “recommended additional criteria” section.

Full text stored in XML in JATS standard (or equivalent)

The adoption of XML is extremely resource intensive. While we agree that full text articles need to be available for TDM, this does not equate to full text needing to be pre-processed through XML-JATS. This requirement supposes that text mining is part of the repository system, but the  preferred approach to TDM for repository content is that external services aggregate and convert resources into text-minable format. It is sufficient to require that the content in repositories are available/open for automated discovery of full text (e.g. pdf or word). To that end, Plan S should recommend the Signposting protocol as the standard convention for making full text easily discoverable and retrievable by external services and processes.

Quality assured metadata in standard interoperable format, including information on the DOI of the original publication, on the version deposited (AAM/VoR), on the open access status and the license of the deposited version.

We agree with this requirement and have nothing to add.

Open API to allow others (including machines) to access the content

We agree that repositories should have an open API, however with hundreds of different open APIs, it is important to specify which APIs should be adopted in order to ensure machine interoperability and that service providers can develop cross-repository services. Plan S should recommend and eventually require, after a transition period, the adoption of Resource Sync as an API. ResourceSync is a modern successor to OAI-PMH. It is a specification based on Sitemaps that can be used by repository managers to provide information that allows third-party systems to remain in sync with the resources in their repository as they evolve, i.e. are created, updated, deleted. ResourceSync has been found to improve aggregation services, is scalable and is being adopted by service providers.

QA process to integrate full text with core abstract and indexing services

Many repositories are already connected and indexed through regional, international or national harvesting services (e.g. OpenAIRE, BASE, CORE, LA Referencia, etc.) We recommend that the requirement that repositories integrate into abstract and indexing services be replaced by a requirement that repositories be harvested by a national, regional or international aggregator.

Continuous availability

We agree with this requirement and have nothing to add.


The aim of this requirement is to ensure that the repository service is contactable and will respond to issues or queries from users. However, this seems unnecessarily onerous for the repositories. Many complex websites and services do not have helpdesks. We recommend that instead of a helpdesk, Plan S require a mechanism for users to get help or support for using the repository, which could be as simple as an email address or a simple online form. This is in line with existing practice for mainstream web services.

We would be pleased to provide further explanation, and happy to work with cOAlition S members to ensure Plan S can be successfully implemented. For more information, please contact Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director:

Download a pdf version of the response.


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