Elsevier acquisition highlights the need for community-based scholarly communication infrastructure

This blog post was written jointly by Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director of COAR, and Heather Joseph, Executive Director of SPARC, and is also available on the SPARC website.

September 6, 2017

Like many others in the scholarly community, we were very disappointed to learn about the recent acquisition by Elsevier of bepress, the provider of the popular Digital Commons repository platform. (1) The acquisition is especially troubling for the hundreds of institutions that use Digital Commons to support their open access repositories. These institutions now find their repository services owned and managed by Elsevier, a company well known for its obstruction of open access and repositories. (2)

While we were disappointed, we were not surprised. Elsevier’s interest in bepress and Digital Commons is reflective of the company’s long term strategy to stake an ownership claim in all the functions vital to the research cycle—from data gathering and annotation, to sharing and publication, to analytics and evaluation. Prior high-profile acquisitions (including SSRN and Mendeley) have made this strategy crystal clear. While this might be a smart business move on the part of a commercial company, it presents significant challenges and risks to the academic and research community.

The dangers inherent in the increasing control of crucial research communication functions in the hands of a small number of commercial players are well-known and well-documented. (3) The dysfunction in the academic journal market serves as a case in point. This consolidated control has led to unaffordable costs, limited utility of research articles, the proliferation of western publishing biases, and a system in which publisher lock-in through big deal licenses is the norm. This situation is damaging for the research enterprise, individual researchers, and for society. Further consolidation of the market across functions and platforms—including key elements like research information systems and open access repositories—will exacerbate this already unhealthy situation.

As organizations and communities, COAR and SPARC have spoken out and regularly taken action to support researchers and academics in taking back control of the research enterprise  to ensure that it functions in a manner that has the public good at its center. We share the end goals of maximizing the benefits of research through investing in and sustaining an ecosystem that nurtures openness, innovation, diversity, and equity. We also share a commitment to supporting the vital role that open access repositories play in making this kind of an ecosystem a reality.

COAR’s Next Generation Repositories initiative aims to position repositories, libraries, and research institutions as the foundation for a distributed, globally networked infrastructure for scholarly communication. This work involves developing new functionalities for repositories on top of which layers of value added services, such as peer review, can be deployed. (4) We believe that an international network of next generation repositories, collectively managed by the scholarly community, has the power to transform our system for communicating research—making it more research-centric, and open to and supportive of innovation. The use of open source platforms, with appropriate community governance, is also critical to this goal and to preventing greater commercial control of scholarly content and associated services. COAR has also been working to strengthen and align the major repository networks around the world to help advance this vision. (5)

Rather than viewing the bepress acquisition as simply another occasion to register our collective disappointment, we are committed to making the development of community-owned infrastructure a priority, and to using this opportunity to catalyze positive community action. This acquisition has highlighted the vulnerability of the research communication enterprise and underscores the need for us to more clearly articulate our vision for the future of scholarly communication, the principles associated with that vision. In the coming months, COAR and SPARC will work together to move this discussion forward, and collaborate with the broader library community and other stakeholders to undertake the actions required to ensure that research communications is a community supported and owned enterprise.

(1) See the news article: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/08/03/elsevier-makes-move-institutional-repositories-acquisition-bepress

(2) https://www.coar-repositories.org/activities/advocacy-leadership/statements-and-guidelines/petition-against-elseviers-sharing-policy/

(3) https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jun/27/profitable-business-scientific-publishing-bad-for-science

(4) https://www.coar-repositories.org/activities/advocacy-leadership/working-group-next-generation-repositories/

(5) https://www.coar-repositories.org/activities/advocacy-leadership/aligning-repository-networks-across-regions/aligning-repository-networks-international-accord/

Asia Open Access Regional Survey

COAR has just published a new report, Asia Open Access Regional Survey

The report presents the results of a survey of open access activities in Asia undertaken in early 2017.

“The continent of Asia is rapidly increasing in prominence on the world stage, both in terms of R&D as well as scientific production. According to the UNESCO World Science Report (2015), the region encompasses “close to half of global economic output (45%) and expenditure on research and development (R&D, 42%) and is home to both some of the world’s most dynamic technological powerhouses”. In terms of research outputs, the Asian continent is already prolific and is growing quickly, with China poised to become the world’s leading country in terms of number of published research articles.

As with other continents, open access policies and practices are being adopted in Asia, although progress varies greatly across the different jurisdictions and locations. This report provides an account of the current state of open access in 16 regions of Asia. It is expected that the survey results will contribute to the wider implementation of open access and help various regions make the case for greater investment in open access, both in terms of policies, as well as national and local infrastructure.”

Summary of COAR Annual Meeting

On May 8-10, 2017, the COAR meeting took place at the Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice, Italy

80 international delegates attended the three day meeting, which focused on fostering closer collaboration across countries and regions, and facilitating dialogue about issues of common concern.

As open access and open science become more widespread, repositories play an increasingly important role in the ecosystem, acting as the foundation for a distributed, globally networked infrastructure for scholarly communication, on top of which layers of value added services will be built. COAR aims to ensure that the repository community is aligned around common goals, and collectively makes progress towards this vision.

One of the major highlights of the meeting was the launch of an International Accord for Repository Networks. The accord, which was signed by 8 regional organizations, will lead to greater alignment of repository networks, and strengthen the distributed, community-based open access infrastructure around the world. By working together, the regional networks will ensure their services are interoperable, providing a more seamless, global view of research results. They will also work together to support the regional adoption of common technologies and services.

During the meeting, participants learned about recent developments in the area of open access around the world. Significant progress has been made in terms of the adoption of services and infrastructure in many regions, and most countries now have policies and laws that require open access to research articles through repositories. The delegates also discussed other strategic issues such as how to support research data sharing, the future of libraries, and improving the visibility and impact of research results.

A good portion of the meeting was devoted to a discussion about the work that COAR is doing to define new functionalities for the next generation of repositories. The widespread deployment of repository systems in higher education and research institutions provides the foundation for a distributed, globally networked infrastructure for scholarly communication. However, to remain relevant, there is a need to update repository systems with new technologies and implement a wider range of functionalities. The COAR Next Generation Repositories Working Group presented a number of scenarios for the future of repositories,  including peer review and commenting on top of repository content, social networking functionalities, and better workflows for users. These scenarios will guide technological recommendations of the working group, that are expected to be published in the summer 2017.

In addition to the stimulating discussions and presentations about the future of research communications, conference delegates were highly impressed by the beautiful architecture of the Università Ca’ Foscari, and the wonderful views from the venue of the canals of Venice. The meeting closed with great appreciation and thanks to the hosts at the Library System of the Università Ca’ Foscari for their hospitality.

The meeting presentations are available on the programme page, and videos of some of the sessions will also be available in the coming weeks.

International Accord strengthens ties between repository networks worldwide

Venice, Italy

On May 8, 2017, several regional and national repository networks and stakeholder groups formally endorsed an international accord that will lead to the greater alignment of repository networks around the world. The aim of the accord is to improve cooperation between national and regional repository networks by identifying common principles and areas of collaboration that will lead to the development of global services.

Repositories play a fundamental and expanding role in supporting open access and open science, and there are thousands of repositories deployed around the world that provide access to research articles, data and other types of content. Increasingly, these repositories are connected through regional and national repository networks that define standards for their communities and offer valuable services on top of repository content. However, given the international nature of research, it is critical that these repository networks work together to ensure they are interoperable, while also supporting the unique needs of their local communities.

The international accord, developed by COAR, the Confederation of Open Access Repositories, will foster closer relationships between the regional networks and act as a framework for undertaking specific activities including metadata exchange across networks, the adoption of common standards and APIs, and implementation of common functionalities. The accord was signed by network representatives from Australasia, Canada, China, Europe, Latin America, Japan, South Africa and the United States.

“We share a common vision of a distributed, community-based open science infrastructure around the world”, says Eloy Rodrigues, chairman of COAR. “But to achieve this vision, we need to work together.” Kathleen Shearer, COAR Executive Director says, “This accord brings us one step closer to our goal of transforming the system to make it more research-centric, open to and supportive of innovation, while also collectively managed by the scholarly community.”

In the coming weeks, COAR, along with the signatories, will work to define the various levels of collaboration, with the eventual aim of positioning repositories as the foundation of a global knowledge commons.

The accord is available here: https://www.coar-repositories.org/activities/advocacy-leadership/aligning-repository-networks-across-regions/

For more information, contact Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director, COAR

Next generation repositories – now open for public comments!

COAR is pleased to announce the publication of the initial outcomes of the COAR Next Generation Repositories Working Group for public comment.

In April 2016, COAR launched a working group to help identify new functionalities and technologies for repositories and develop a road map for their adoption. For the past several months, the group has been working to define a vision for repositories and sketch out the priority user stories and scenarios that will help guide the development of new functionalities.

The vision is to position repositories as the foundation for a distributed, globally networked infrastructure for scholarly communication, on top of which layers of value added services will be deployed, thereby transforming the system, making it more research-centric, open to and supportive of innovation, while also collectively managed by the scholarly community.

Underlying this vision is the idea that a distributed network of repositories can and should be a powerful tool to promote the transformation of the scholarly communication ecosystem. In this context, repositories will provide access to published articles as well as a broad range of artifacts beyond traditional publications such as datasets, pre-prints, working papers, images, software, and so on.

The working group presents 12 user stories that outline priority functionalities for repositories. The document, to which you can provide public comments directly, is available here: nextgenrepo.coar-repositories.org

We very much welcome your input, and also encourage you to share this message with your colleagues. We hope to have widespread feedback from the community.

Public comments are open from February 7 – March 3, 2017

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