Prof. Dr. Gerard Meijer is Director at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society and is a spokesperson for the DEAL negotiations. He chaired a working group of the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) that has recently issued "Recommendations on the Transformation of Academic Publishing: Towards Open Access".


GerardMeijer thumbnailGerard Meijer

Prof. Meijer, the recommendations of the German Sciences and Humanities Council describe science or scholarly communication as part of the research process, itself. Could you describe what that means in the context of the DEAL agreements?

Disseminating the results of a scientific research project is integral part of that research project. Researchers need to—and want to—make the results of their research projects widely known via the best possible and most appropriate way of scholarly communication. This can be in the form of lectures, workshops or discussion meetings but scholarly communication is most importantly done via scientific publications. Dissemination of research results costs money, and these costs should be viewed and treated as research costs. Research organizations and funders need to cover the publication costs, just as they cover the costs of the remainder of the research projects. That the cost of scholarly communication is part of the research costs is an important basic underlying principle that has to be realized by all parties involved in the DEAL negotiations.

In your view, what role do each of the various stakeholders in science communication, i.e. publishers, research institutions, research funders and libraries, have to play in the open access transition in scholarly publishing?

The role of the publishers will be back to their roots, i.e. they should focus on high quality publishing of the research results and on organizing a fully independent, high-quality peer-review process. The publishers no longer obtain the copyrights on the articles, described by experts in the field as "the bedrock on which the academic publishing business was based”, and competition for the best articles is expected to take place between various publishers in the Open Access system. For researchers, their role as writers of scientific articles or as referees will not change, although they should be more critical than in the past concerning the choice of publisher of their articles. For researchers who are editors of Open Access journals it is crucial to be fully independent: quality control of the scientific content is the responsibility solely of the editors and this should not be compromised for the interest of the publisher, who probably would like to get more quantity. The editors should therefore be fully independent, critical companions of the publisher for whom they work, and safeguard the scientific quality of the journals. Research organizations and research funders need to explicitly provide the required amount to cover the costs of research publications in the overall research costs; these publications costs are estimated to be around 1.5-2.0 % of the overall research costs. Librarians will play an important role in providing and overseeing the information budget (see next question), as well in informing the researchers about the Open Access publication possibilities and opportunities.

The Science and Humanities Council paper recommends that institutions establish integrated information budgets to be managed by libraries with which to cover not only expenditure for subscription and content procurement but also publication-related fees such as APCs as well as infrastructure costs. How do you see such a recommendation being carried out and what might this look like in practice?

To set up an integrated information budget, the leadership of research institutions will need to take their responsibility; a change of the governance might be needed to adequately organize the responsibilities and money streams within their institutions. Under the subscription system, research organizations provided reading access to the existing literature for their own researchers, while in the Open Access system they will have to provide researchers with the possibility to publish the research results openly. For the latter, money that is currently tied up in the library budget but also money that is integral part of the research projects and that is currently under the control of the individual researchers or their departments or faculties needs to be merged into a common information budget. This is beyond the current mandate and responsibility of librarians, and the academic leadership will have to organize this. It is probably most likely that the information budget is put under the responsibility of the librarians, although this can also be organized differently. 

What advice would you give to libraries that want to take up this call for integrated information budgets at their institutions—both in strategic and practical terms?

It is likely that the recommendations of the Science and Humanities Council on the Transformation to Open Access are read more by librarians than by the upper management of the academic institutions. It is therefore the first task of the librarians to point out to their superiors that in these Recommendations there is a coordination task for the academic leadership at hand that is beyond what librarians can do by themselves. Furthermore, it will remain important for librarians to keep on pointing out the advantages of publishing Open Access, both to the academic leadership and to all researchers: Open Access articles are downloaded and cited more and lead to more transfer activities. The librarians should also point out the anticipated strategic importance of the information budget: the total volume of the information budget for a certain institution is expected to become a real asset in the future—also to attract new scientific staff—as it is a measure of the scientific productivity of that institution.

Building on the council's concept of an integrated and centralized budget to support researchers in both getting access to content and in open access publishing, DEAL's transformative agreements already integrate both of these elements. How do you see transformative agreements evolving?

DEAL’s transformative agreements are indeed an important step in the right direction. The current agreements are not only called “transformative” but should also be transformative; they should lead to flipping of more and more journals, and the future agreements should be real pay-to-publish agreements, with reading being free for everybody. At the same time, they should also be “transformative” for academic institutions, many of which in Germany however do not yet have a centralized information budget in place. Although the publishers are paid based on the number of publications with German corresponding authors according to these agreements, the academic institutions in Germany are not yet charged for their number of publications, but rather according to their historic subscription spend. Only when all institutions have an overview of their combined true subscription and publication costs and when the funds for this are merged in centralized information budgets, the payment modalities within Germany to MPDL Services gGmbH (the contract partner with the publishers for whole Germany) can be the same as those from MPDL Services gGmbH to the publishers.