Making Europe’s biggest online library

Nieuws | de redactie
3 juni 2009 | How to increase the quantity, visibility and usability of academic research while lowering costs? OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in European Networks) is working on it. This is a 30-month EU-project intended to develop and implement an Open Access publication model for peer reviewed academic books in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Recently named as one of the most promising Open Access examples, OAPEN has had a very promising start. Spokesperson Saskia de Vries: “We want to build the largest European Open Access online library.”

Sometimes the best ideas just ‘happen’. When Saskia de Vries, director of Amsterdam University Press went to attend the february 2007 EU-conference on Open Access she had no idea that she would return from Brussels with a plan, the commitment, and partners to start OAPEN. It just happened that way after Sijbolt Noorda, VSNU-president, had introduced her to several of her colleagues at other European University Presses. Almost a year later, united University Presses from Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands had proposed their plan for Open Access Publishing in European Networks and the EU programme eContentplus rewarded it with a €900.000 funding. De Vries: “We had already experimented with Open Access publishing, but now we were ready to aim much higher.”

“We all saw the opportunity and felt the need to organize scientific research and academic publications in this digital age in a more unified and accessable way. Right now, the availability of and access to academic publications in many areas of HSS is just too fragmented and limited.” Moreover, language barriers in Europe limit the national markets for publications, while increasing publishing costs create higher barriers for new publications.

How is OAPEN going to help?

According to the OAPEN website, the program contains several key objectives for building a network around OA publishing for stakeholders within the academic community. It wants ‘to create and aggregate freely available peer reviewed HSS publications from across borders within an Online Library, to engage stakeholders in the publication process, to develop common funding models for e-publication and to adopt common standards and metadata to improve retrievability and visibility of HSS publications.’

De Vries: “Our main goal is very clear. We want to build the largest Europan Open Access online library of current peer reviewed books in European languages in various fields of HSS. It’s important to stress once more that we’re focusing solely on monographies, not on articles. There are plenty of journals and sites for academic articles, not for books however. Hopefully, OAPEN can help fill this void.”

When asked if the financial crisis is slowing down the project De Vries states exactly the opposite. It seems to be fueling the development, because faced with harsh economic conditions University Presses are more and more looking towards digital publishing as a viable alternative for the costly printing of publications. This way it is also much easier to disseminate works that would otherwise not have been published. This means an increase in the availability of HSS works. De Vries: “Of course these works will be subject to the usual publishing restrictions of each press, and they will be made available as printed books through POD (Printing On Demand) partners globally.”

Shift to next gen publishing

Through POD-techniques people will still be able to hold the actual book in their hands. Yes, these people still do exist, but early results of an OAPEN survey point out that many academics are willing to move on. De Vries: “We have found that inceasingly more researchers are attracted to digital publishing and Open Access. For example, young researchers are opening up their databases to give others insight into their work, hoping that they will add information,  the wiki-idea. I think it’s safe to conclude that right now there is a shift occurring in the way people think about academic publishing, and I think this shift will definitely strengthen even more the next couple of years. You know that five years ago, when I asked a researcher if we should publish his or her work on the internet, he or she would look up to you very strangely. Now, they come up to us to make sure we send their publications to Google-Books.”

A clear example of the move towards digital publishing in HSS has been the revival of Rice University Press as the first fully digital university press in the United States and subsequently the announcement that Stanford University Press will be collaborating with Rice to publish a series of books reviewed by Stanford. De Vries: “Also, Harvard is working on an Open Access project after their scientists had approved the mandate that pleaded for a better accessible research database of the university.”

Peer review

In the summer of 2010 the OAPEN online library is supposed to go online. The biggest challenge that is still ahead is the quality control assurance of the published works. “Quality control is a big issue, it is what will distinguish the OAPEN library from other sites”, says De Vries. “Since everybody can post texts on the internet, we must sort out what is of academic value and what is not. The quality control instrument we have in mind is, obviously, peer review. Before a publication will be put in the database it has to be critically reviewed by at least two colleague scholars.”

“Unfortunately, peer review is in no way stimulated. There is nothing much to win for the person who does it, no creditpoints or something to get. Considering that writing such reviews is a very time consuming activity for researchers and very important for the academic discours, I think this is a strange phenomenon. I think the university system is inadequate regarding this point, especially for monographs that are to be published in HSS.

Therefore, I was thankful to hear that the Dutch Royal Academy of Science is looking into this. I reckon that in an ever increasing digital age, science is going to lean more and more on peer review.” 

List of OAPEN partners

Amsterdam University Press, Netherlands
Leiden University Press, Netherlands
Göttingen University Press, Germany
Museum Tusculanum Press, Denmark
Manchester University Press, United Kingdom
Presses Universitaires de Lyon, France
Firenze University Press, Italy
University of Amsterdam
Leiden University

More on OAPEN and how to join the Network, click here.
Here you can find a presentation on OAPEN.

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