New open access publishing agreements secured by the libraries have made Rochester research ever better—and more cost-effective.
Author: Matthew Cook
A graphic of an unlocked orange combination lock over the top of a view of Rush Rhees Library from the Eastman Quad

The University of Rochester Libraries—in collaboration with faculty members—has been steadily building its association with open access (OA).

OA combines principles and practices that make scholarly work accessible at no charge to readers and with minimal copyright restrictions. We offered an example of the libraries’ work in this area in 2019, when River Campus Libraries (RCL) STEM librarian Moriana Garcia teamed up with Jonathan Holz, associate professor of instruction in the Department of Biology, to adopt an open textbook.

In 2020, Rochester gained an unwanted partner in this open endeavor: the pandemic. One of the rare silver linings of COVID-19 is that it brought OA education to the forefront.

At Rochester, the pandemic gave more weight to the Access to Course Textbooks Commitment. It gave more reason for the libraries to create “Zero-Cost Heroes” to recognize Rochester educators who selected or created free course materials for their students. It made the creation of an open education resource repository by Digital Ideas for Teaching and Learning project more valuable. And it made the publication of Open Pedagogy Approaches, an open book coedited by Kim Hoffman, director of Learning Initiatives at the RCL, feel like a statement: We’re open for “open business.”

The libraries’ latest move in their open crusade entered the realm of sustainable scholarship. Committed to making scholarship more open, affordable, transparent, and ultimately, sustainable for researchers, the libraries now have open access agreements with the following publishers:

  • American Chemical Society
  • Microbiology Society
  • Public Library of Science (PLOS)
  • Rockefeller University Press
  • SCOAP3
  • MIT Press
  • Punctum Books

These publishers were chosen based on being strong, trusted partners, but also because they are where Rochester faculty publish and cite from most.

Not down with A-P-C

Rochester is classified as an “R1 University,” meaning we do a lot of research. That means a lot of publishing. And that’s where the Meliora vibes start to dissipate.

Many researchers want their work to be OA—which again, is intended to make their research accessible at no charge—but depending on the journal, it can be prohibitively expensive.

The shift toward OA turned the publishing world upside down. Researchers wanting to share their work for free was a pretty big monkey wrench in publishers’ business models. (They stood to lose a lot of money.) Knowing faculty at institutions across the country need to publish and knowing their publications are valuable real estate for research, publishers shifted their strategy. Instead of covering publishing costs as they had in the past, they now have authors pay an article processing charge (APC). And they can vary quite a bit.

“Sometimes you have to pay an additional fee if you want an open access article,” says Justin Fay, professor of biology and member of the Library Advisory Council. Most of the work that comes out of Fay’s lab is published OA. “It’s very standard that we pay. Around $3,000 is common, but Nature can be like $5,000, or at worst, around $10,000.”

APCs are essentially the new normal for academics. In the current landscape, $3,000 is a pretty good deal—even for OA journals, which also require APCs. But publishing cost is only one variable. Fay points out that researchers really do care about the journals in which their paper is published. They have to consider a journal’s reputation and if its audience is best for their paper. Still, a lot of the time, cost controls their decisions.

“Let’s say you have two choices,” Fay says. “One journal is 100 percent open access and costs $3,000. The other journal is also $3,000, but it will cost an extra $1,000 to make the article open access. That’s the kind of pricing that could drive the whole industry to be open access.”

The libraries’ OA agreements are an X-factor of sorts for Rochester faculty. Choices are now easier to make, and depending on the journals they’re considering, they might not have to choose at all.

It’s Meliora, baby

In publishing terms, Rochester’s OA agreements are called “transformative agreements.”   

Lindsay Cronk, assistant dean for Scholarly Resources and Curation, explains that these are contracts that change where money is going. “Typically, we would send a check to a journal to secure a subscription,” Cronk says. “Instead, our money is now going toward a publishing faculty member or researcher, who can use those funds to make their article open access.”

Think of the agreements as an OA slush fund provided by the libraries.

The cost-saving potential for these agreements is substantial. In the case of PLOS, which is where Rochester faculty publish open access most, Cronk estimates Rochester will immediately save thousands of dollars, and in the long-term, it’s possible to see savings of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.

“This is also really exciting for our faculty members who are using grant money to pay for publishing,” says Cronk. “Federal grant funds have been stagnant for decades. So, it’s possible faculty have had to choose between publishing in certain journals and not hiring a graduate student to work in their lab.”

Beyond the dollar and cents, the open access agreements help make Rochester research more accessible than it’s ever been. It’s the difference between being able to drink from a Meliora fountain and having to find a Meliora vending machine, giving it your money, and hoping the Meliora doesn’t get stuck on the way down (that probably wouldn’t happen).

And in some ways, this is just the beginning. These are only the first OA agreements the libraries have reached with publishers. The libraries will add to this list, but they’re going to be choosy. Cronk is looking for high publication and citation numbers, attractive publishing models in terms of cost-efficiency, and cost transparency.

“The future of publishing is the future of research, which is the heart of our University,” says Cronk. “Our ability to keep advancing the scholarly dialogue by making our research open sooner is how we can further assert ourselves as leaders.” ∎

If you are interested in learning more about open access publishing or want to recommend a publisher for an open access agreement, please contact a scholarly communication specialist or your librarian.

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