The transformative agreement is dead, long live the transformed agreement

A new sector agreement with Springer Nature reminds Libby Homer that we all have a duty to seek value for money in research publishing

Libby Homer is the Director of Student and Library Services at Anglia Ruskin University.

Following months of hard negotiation by Jisc’s Content Negotiation Strategy Group, the library sector has reached an agreement with Springer Nature.

It meets many of the objectives set by the sector on open access, constraining costs and rights retention and it should be applauded for this, it is the best that could be achieved in the policy and cultural climate we are operating in currently.

Despite this, there is a bitter taste left in the mouth by this deal and the library community has expressed significant reservations. For example, we are still not any clearer on transparent costs for article processing charges but more fundamentally, the agreement replicates the models that have been established for read and publish in a transformative agreement age.

The question now is, what next?

What’s the big deal?

I would argue that transitional agreements on “big deals” have transformed very little in the publication of research by academic colleagues. Plan S, funding, and the REF spurred on publishers to negotiate deals with open access elements, but we can hardly say that our contractual relationships with publishers have been transformed, and certainly not radically.

Deals can still concentrate on historic hard copy journal spend and publishers have taken the opportunity to monetise open access in such a way to protect their dividends. I understand the need for publishers to keep their shareholders happy, but you can begin to see why the sector feels slightly short changed.

I acknowledge that part of the issue is within the library sector – we have not had either the capacity nor momentum to think about what a radical shake up of the journals market could really look like. How do we protect ourselves from entering into “walled gardens” which prevent inclusivity and accessibility to resources.

As co-chair of SCONUL, I understand that many of our members have serious reservations about our direction of travel to this point and are keen to put the brakes on and achieve deals that are truly different and “transformed”. In our new strategy both sustainability and envisioning new models for library provision are cross cutting themes, we have to collaborate to achieve this and utilise the energy I’m seeing from colleagues. We believe we need to flip to a different model altogether which takes research out from behind paywalls and into the open where it can reach the most people and have the most impact.

We haven’t done enough to achieve cultural change, libraries are still plugging the gaps in our content provision, and allowing a culture to develop that loves open access but still wants to be able to publish in a Nature journal. We need to shift the culture so that openness is prioritised, and costs align more closely to the value of the services offered by publishers and less towards a journal “name”. If we aren’t already, we should now be focussing on facilitating this cultural change, but support is required, and this is a job for university leaders, librarians and our academic allies. We have seen colleagues from across the sector speak out about the Springer Nature deal, but there are simple things that we can do to counter the status quo, and we’re asking our colleagues to help shift the dial.

What can we all do

We can consider how our own decisions help shape academic publishing.  Everyone wants to maximise the reach and benefit of their research so avoid limiting its impact by allowing it to be placed behind a paywall or within any intellectual “walled garden”. And we can be active advocates for open research dissemination in subject communities and consider how our collective power can help change the publishing landscape.

We can challenge instances where promotion or preferment is based on the journal’s reputation rather than the quality of the research, adopting the principles set out in The Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) – which around half of UK universities are already signatories to. We can hold on to the rights to our own work; avoiding signing these over when articles or monographs are out forward for publications. Many institutions are putting in place rights retention policies which are designed to ensure that you are able to do this in a straightforward way. If you are not sure get hold of your policy – and use it.

We can ask what we are getting for the Article Processing Charge that we or our institution are being asked to pay to get work published.  What do we get for that money? How is that cost being justified? We can do the same for any Book Processing Charges we are asked to pay.

And, of course, we can talk to our librarians about how we can support their efforts to deliver open research dissemination.

SCONUL will be advocating for these simple messages, but also issuing a challenge to our members about the objectives they wish to achieve in the next big deals. It may be that there is no such thing as a big deal, but without this thinking and agreement, we cannot offer a mandate to our colleagues from Jisc to go forward with on our behalf.

Policy making has led to transformative agreements and more open access, and it will continue to have a role to play in content provision. However, with the UKRI monographs open access policy on the horizon, we could be in danger of recreating and repeating the mistakes we have made with journals.

We need to be decisive, collaborative and empower others in our community to challenge our status quo. Transformation is required, not the kind dictated to us but kind we can foster and develop ourselves. Be ready to transform.

One response to “The transformative agreement is dead, long live the transformed agreement

  1. I really enjoyed this piece thank you. My one question is whether rights retention (and undoubtedly authors should retain their rights in their work) will yield any greater results than the transformative deals, as AAMs are no one’s preferred way to access published research, for better or worse, and will still feel primarily like a compliance task, rather than a good solution to making research available to all. I think embedding DORA principles, challenging the current incentives for scholarly publishing, and promoting new routes to dissemination through platforms like EOSC and Octopus are probably the big game changers that are needed, and this means it cannot just be librarians who bear the brunt of responsibility for embracing open research, we need academics, HR staff, and universities in general to engage in these conversations.

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