Scholarly work and Open Access

The whole idea of scholarship is oriented towards maximising the dissemination of research results. Carrying out a research activity is all about exploring territories, where knowing what the others are doing, what their most recent advances are, what projects are being undertaken, is essential to make sure that one’s own research actually goes beyond the state of the art and can be situated within a larger corpus of discoveries. Communicating results is thus an essential activity in one’s academic life, all the more that the assessment of such communications through peer review mechanisms impact on the capacity to get institutional recognition and thus financial means to carry out further research.

This is the context in which research organisations should be designing their own Open Access (OA) policies in order to help researchers to get access to existing publications (traditionally through journal subscriptions), publish their own results to a wide audience (by means of publication repositories[1]) and manage associated research assets (laboratory notes, observations, primary sources, databases). This has been made particularly difficult in the recent years because of the incredible increase in publication prices imposed by private publishers, which has been seen as contradicting the intuition that new technologies should indeed simplify dissemination rather than increase operational publication costs. The situation has become all the more unbearable that most of the various processes bringing a research manuscript to publication are carried out for free by researchers themselves.

Even if the OA movement is quite recent, it is possible to outline some principles and possible action lines. Among the various meetings which, in the early years 2000, contributed to stabilize the basic notions of Open Access, we can quote the core statement from the Berlin Declaration (2003) that requested a “…free, irrevocable, worldwide, right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose…. ”. Not only does this statement reflect the feeling that the current landscape is inadequate to fulfil the communication needs of the research community, but it also outlines a possible ideal scheme where commercial constraints would have a lesser importance than issues related to public good and wealth.

There are basically two ways to implement such a change in the scholarly publishing environment. The first one (also called green open access) consists in letting the journal publishing industry carry out its business as is and deploy an infrastructure of publication repositories to freely disseminate authors’ versions online. Such an infrastructure may be deployed at the level of a research department, a university or cover a wider geographical or institutional spectrum. In the case of France, a national publication archive infrastructure, HAL[2], has been deployed to cover the needs of most French academic organisations. It is now part of the official Open Access policy of the French Ministry of Research and Higher Education[3]. Such publication platforms are particularly important since they support the immediate dissemination of research papers from an early drafting stage to its final publication. It is also a way for research institutions to get a global picture of all research carried out under their auspices, since it is associated with precise descriptive information (for instance, affiliations) that can be curated by librarians in a coherent way[4].

There is also an increasing demand from scholars to benefit from trusted repository environments where they can deposit their research data with the guaranty that these will be accessible and referentiable in the long-term. Recent developments in the Netherlands with the NARCIS repository[5] for example have shown that such environments can even be coupled with a traditional publication archive.

The other way to implement an OA policy (also called the gold way to OA) is to replace the current subscription-based model by other business models both allowing “fair” publishing organisations to break even in maintaining a publication framework and designing a barrier-free system for the access and reuse of research results. Even if the publishing industry has recently perverted this golden way by introducing an article-processing-charge system that only reshapes what used to be subscription costs into an author-pay model, we will see in the rest of this post that there is room for other perspectives to reform the publication landscape.

A first strategy may be to think of alternative business models that are based on an ethical support to scholarly publishing within an OA perspective. This is what has been proposed by the OpenEdition publishing infrastructure with their Freemium model. It is based on the principle that basic access (for instance in HTML) to published material should be made open for free but that additional services can be sold to libraries (pdf, ePub, cataloguing services) for a reasonable fee. The corresponding benefits are in turn given back to the journals so that they can cover their day-to-day costs. Indeed, as is the case for OpenEdition, the core infrastructure as well as the general editorial support is part of the institutionally funded infrastructure.

If we are still attached to the traditional journal editorial setting, we can observe that its core services, namely identification, certification, dissemination and long-term availability, can be easily implemented on the basis of an existing publication repository. Indeed, such a repository provides a submission environment, which identifies authors and time-stamp the document, and offers a perfect online dissemination platform, with the necessary long-term archiving facility of the hosting institution. In such a context, designing a certification environment mechanism whereby a paper deposited by an author is forwarded to an editorial committee for peer-review, is quite a straightforward endeavour. This is exactly what is now being experimented with the Episciences[6] project on top of the HAL platform. Such a platform is also interesting in that it offers new possibilities for changing our perspective on the certification process: open submission, open peer-review[7], updated versions of an article and community feedback are features that may dramatically change our views on scholarly publishing.

At specific stages of the research process, it is often not so much important to produce an in-depth scholarly than to provide short snapshots on the current developments of an experiment in hard sciences, or the analysis of a source in the humanities. This is a situation where it is more appropriate for a scholar to write small reports in the form of blog entries and publicize them on various social networks. Blogs offer a first layer of scholarly publication with both online availability and the possibility to comment on the actual scholarly content. It is also a simple way to gain a primacy for a specific result or gather observations step-by-step, for instance during an archaeological campaign. The ideal situation is when blogging occurs within a secured scholarly environment such as where researchers benefit from an editorial support as well as a wide visibility.

The various possibilities outlined so far only make sense if research institutions invest time, political energy and budget to implement such models and make them part of the daily life of their researchers. A typical best practice example can be taken from the recently published open access policy of Inria[8] which combines a deposit mandate of all publications on the HAL archive, a cautious assessment of any new models provided by the private publishing sector and the funding of the Episciences platform.

We can observe that having a not too overly conservative vision on scholarly communication opens up a whole range of possibilities to improve the way scientific ideas can be seamlessly transmitted to a wide audience. Even more, we can see that a new landscape can be outlined where the management of virtual research environments comprising research data, various types of notes and commentaries, as well as drafted documents linking these objects together could dramatically change the way scholarship will be carried out in the future. In such environments, various levels of “peer-review” are possible, from the simple feedback of known colleagues to the possibility for any member of a research community to comment on the content. Traditional peer-review is just one possible implementation of such a model where the main objective should remain to improve quality and wide accessibility for science.

As a whole, I defend a vision of scholarly communication which is entrenched in the wider notion of research infrastructure and which as such must be considered as part of the realm of public research institutions. We need to see what the consequences of such a vision are, in terms of budget shifts, investments in technological settings, but also in changing the roles of research libraries so that they can provide the necessary editorial support to such environments. The change may be drastic, but I think this is the only way to optimize tax-payers’ money at the service of science.


[1] see Romary Laurent & Chris Armbruster “Beyond Institutional Repositories”, International Journal of Digital Library Systems, 1(1), January 2010 —


[3] See

[4] Note that the quality of such descriptive information is one of the difficulties I see in such commercial platforms as or Research Gate.



[7] see Pöschl U. (2010) “Interactive open access publishing and peer review: the effectiveness and perspectives of transparency and self-regulation in scientific communication and evaluation”. LIBER Q. 19, 293–314.

[8] see

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