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Improving Open Access Equity

This article explores the Iowa State library's approach to author equity during a rapidly evolving moment in open access and scholarly communication.

Published onNov 09, 2022
Improving Open Access Equity

The Iowa State University Library has pursued open access through our journal negotiations and agreements since 2018. Today, approximately one third of our subscription spending has been shifted to support open access through a variety of open business models, including Read and Publish, Subscribe to Open, and cooperative Diamond approaches. Our strategy, however, continues to evolve as the landscape continues to evolve. The Nelson OSTP memo, for example, will no doubt lead to changes that will require adjustments to our approach. And there will no doubt be other tweaks ahead as we work with our campus stakeholders to ensure Iowa State’s future research publications do not wind up behind a paywall, limiting social impact and exacerbating information inequity.

But the equity focus during the OA transition can’t be limited to the reader. We must also ensure equity for authors.

Our approach to advancing equity for both readers and authors has several facets. We are active partners in developing and supporting equitable models like Subscribe to Open. We support open infrastructure and initiatives that are laying the foundation for a more open, equitable scholarly publishing ecosystem. And we continue to engage directly with publishers to help them bring alignment between their espoused values around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and their actual values in action.

One example of this is with APC waiver and discount programs. During our earlier OA negotiations, waiver and discount programs were not part of the discussion. We did not have an ask or an expectation. Not surprisingly, publishers were happy to leave their programs unexamined and separate from the discussion. Why? Probably for several reasons. The programs are inadequate, complicated, and can be at odds with a publisher’s own stated values around DEI [see espoused values link above]. Publishers also likely know a waiver and discount program that fully met unfunded and underfunded author need would be expensive and would cut into commercial profits and non-profit surpluses (see here, here and here for more info on the shortfalls and issues with waiver and discount programs). To be fair, providing waivers and discounts to those with need while excluding those without is really difficult. But the reality for most waiver and discount programs is that the “good enough” approach has become the accepted standard rather than a “good faith” approach.

To encourage a good faith approach, we now bring up waiver and discount programs during our negotiations. Specifically, we ask publishers to commit to following these unofficial best practices:

  • Waiver and discount eligibility criteria meets unfunded and underfunded author need regardless of discipline, country, institution, or affiliation.

  • Clear and updated pre-submission waiver and discount information for authors, including eligible journals and program expiration and terms, with information found at the journal web page level and made visible to authors during the submission process.

  • Automatic recognition of eligible authors.

  • Hybrid and full OA journals included in program.

  • Waiver and discount program performance information and data is publicly shared, including: total number and value of waivers and discounts granted and denied; program partnerships; and other evidence demonstrating the program meets or does not meet unfunded and underfunded author need.

This should be considered our own good faith attempt at improving author equity with publishers using APC-based OA models. We believe improving waiver and discount programs can provide some short-term gain to author equity. However, we also believe permanent gains will only come from equitable OA business models that do not remove one barrier while erecting another.

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