Barriers to Perfect Open Access

To get a bit of insight into what is on the mind of the Repositories Community, I performed a brief survey and asked as many people as I could what barriers to perfect Open Access they came across in their day-to-day professional lives.  The scale of the survey (13 responses to two open-ended questions) doesn’t make it statistically significant, but it did spark a lot of interesting discussion.


I put no plan into who I interviewed — just whoever I bumped into at the conference.  I made a note of the job titles of the people I talked to, and have grouped them into three broad categories:

  • Strategic Leadership
    • Associate Dean for Digital Strategies
    • Director Information Management
    • Head of E-Science
  • Tactical Leadership
    • Library Digital Development Manager
    • Manager Digital Library Product and Services
    • Manager of Leicester Research Archive
    • Project and Community Manager
    • Research Data Support Manager
    • Research Support Manager
  • Technical
    • Applications Specialist
    • Digital Repository Developer
    • Systems Developer
    • Technical Support Staff

This seems like a fairly representative cross section of the conference!  Unfortunately, none are academics — it would have been great to get some input from our end-users.

Perceived Problems

Interviewees were not limited to one response, and many gave more, so the number of answers is higher than the number of interviewees.  Answers have been grouped into rough classes of problem:

  • Academics
    • Academics’ understanding of what OA is, because they have very mixed ideas of what it is. Some are very worried that it will “take away their things”.
    • Awareness of researchers that OA is important to them for their careers.
    • Educating fellow librarians and faculty about OA issues.
    • Embargoes and Engagement with Academics — some academics are great, but some would rather just be doing their research.
    • Engagement of the researcher and their understanding of what it’s for, how it benefits them and that it requires them to spend time on the process.
    • No direct contact — all second-hand, which is good. Academics don’t understand the full consequences of OA and what green, gold, etc mean for them. Whether it’s just ‘we need to wait for a new generation’ or not, it’s taking a long time for people to understand.
    • Rights issues; knowledge of the rights, versions that can be used
    • The technology and the way that research is actually shared at the moment (i.e. requirement to formally publish and have processes of review) — it’s very specific and formulaic. In Perfect OA, there wouldn’t be these barriers. The way people communicate doesn’t support perfect OA.
    • The way Academics are measured and promoted in Australia isn’t supportive of OA.
    • We simply don’t see publications. Our academics write a paper, and we just don’t know it exists, so we can’t ask for it.
  • Infrastructure
    • Accessing content in a machine-readable form.
    • Ease of deposit
    • Grand ideas at the institution, but no developers to implement them. E.G. Long-term preservation.
    • Lack of APIs or consistent APIs.
    • Systems are clunky
    • Universities not adhering to standards.
    • We don’t have a clear message and a clear channel for overcoming challenges.
  • Publishers
    • It’s a matter of control. There are relatively few players that are holding very tightly onto the access and control of the flow. We need to have ownership across the whole system (‘we’ being the scholarly research communities, the universities; those that have the public good in mind).
    • Political & Financial issues. Need to find business models to fund and support their work. Established business models are a barrier. Compare with changes in music and media (move to streaming and downloads).
    • Voracious publishers eager to suck up anything that’s put online and the charge libraries for it.

What I find interesting about this list of problems is that the clear winner by weight of numbers is a feeling that Academics still don’t know enough, or aren’t willing enough, to engage fully with Open Access.


The final question was about what ways forwards — ways in which organisations (like us at SHERPA services) can help with these problems.

  • Communication
    • Advocacy, education resources
    • Face-to-face advocacy is handled by the library — providing training for advocates on national issues. Advising on narratives would be very useful. We have to make advocacy easier.
    • Part of this is having really frank conversation about what is happening. Elsevier with platforms like PURE and its add-ons is taking huge areas of control over the process. We need to say that this is happening.  Really collaborate internationally to break this. Both financially and intellectually.
    • Technology is very community-driven, and requires for knowledge and expertise at various places in the community. At the institutional level, there often isn’t the expertise to drive technology forwards (e.g. upgrades). Perhaps training for developers.
    • We need to get a handle on stopping people publishing in hybrid journals. We should tell people which those are. Raising awareness of the consequences of this is essential.
  • Research
    • Case studies across different disciplines. A lot of the problems vary over disciplines due to different requirements.
  • Technical
    • Accurate machine readable embargo information.
    • APIs (Sherpa services are awesome)
    • Coordination of platform provision would be useful. Help with coordinating and harvesting data to present a community-wide view for institutions.
    • Help determine rights of items, including digitised items
    • Help researchers and organisation have less work for publishing and making available their work. Increases in efficiency will reduce the costs and help to open the data.
    • Making systems more interoperable
    • Notifications from Jisc when publishers accept articles OR advise the authors on what to do next (i.e. please give your repository this article)
    • SHERPA is getting more UK centric. It should be modular to allow international concerns to be served.

My $0.02

People are very passionate about the problems, and it was not difficult to engage people and get them to talk about what they saw as the problems and limitations in Open Access.  The two key ones, which I think have become almost cliché, are that academics don’t deposit, and publishers are just in it for the money.  Two-thirds of the issues mentioned can be put into those two buckets.

I understand the combative relationship we have with publishers.  We’re disrupting their business model, and they’re understandably resisting that.

I think the relationship the community has with the academics is far more complex.  In running the developer challenge at the conference I had one half-serious proposal for an entry.  A couple of delegates suggested that we just wait 30 years until the next generation of academics grows up ready to eat their vegetables.  This view is unhealthy for our movement.  We’re in the business of scholarly communications and our priority should be to serve the academics.  If they don’t understand how to use our services after more than 10 years, that’s our failing, not theirs.

With that in mind, my pick of the solutions is:

Face-to-face advocacy is handled by the library — providing training for advocates on national issues. Advising on narratives would be very useful. We have to make advocacy easier.