Open access for scholarly publications, part 1 – Rating merits

The National Library of Sweden has held the appropriation directive from the Swedish Government to produce recommendations for the change to an open access scholarly publication system. These recommendations are presented by Henrik Schmidt, librarian here at KIB, in a series of blog posts.

In the latest research policy bill Kunskap i samverkan – för samhällets utmaningar och stärkt konkurrenskraft (only in Swedish) the opinion is that open access to research results is a way of “maintaining and promoting high-quality research”. The Government believes that open access is of great importance for all social progress, innovation and competitiveness. The goal is therefore for all scholarly publications to become “openly available as soon as they are published”.

The National Library of Sweden has held the appropriation directive from the Swedish Government to produce recommendations for national solutions and measures for achieving the goal. In the spring of 2019, the National Library produced 16 recommendations. The aim of the recommendations is to support the research community’s various stakeholders with the structural changes required in order to achieve the goal of open access. We at Karolinska Institutet are an important part of this change.

The first recommendation concerns research merit ratings. In many respects, the merit rating governs the allocations of funding and appointments. The form and understanding of this will also influence the choices made by individual researchers and research groups, including the choice of journal or other publication channel. “Despite researchers being encouraged to operate across borders and between disciplines and sectors and to participate in a culture where results are shared, this is often not rewarded or reflected in their career development.” This is how the European Commission (2018) describes one of the problems that need to be eliminated in order for the goal of open and free access to scholarly publications to be achieved.

In the present situation, publication in prestigious journals is of great importance for research merit ratings. High subscription fees are necessary for many of these journals, which therefore excludes everyone without a subscription. If we want to head towards open access, open publishing should be regarded as of merit.

This change is a major challenge since it requires changes in culture, mindsets and systems, not just for researchers and research institutions but also for funders and authorities. Changes need to be broad ones, across organisational and national borders. This is the view of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), an association of 23 universities in twelve European countries. They write: “Embed Open Science principles in the institutional research assessment system, shifting away from an excessive reliance on publication-based journal impact factors and citation cultures and recognising Open Science approaches such as OA publishing, data/code/reagent sharing, recognising pre-prints, etc.”

This is why merit systems at different levels and in different contexts should show that it is of merit to publish in such a way as to allow open access for every imaginable reader. In addition, the importance of the measurements linked to journals (for example journal impact factors) should be toned down when assessing the quality of the publication.

The National Library cannot change the merit system. This must be done by universities, research funders and scientific societies.

Recommendation 1: “Guidelines for merit ratings at educational centres and funders should remove aspects that negatively affect publication with open access. This work requires a coordinating organisation that can, as a suggestion, bring together universities, funders and scholarly institutions and scientific societies.”

Find out more about the description of and argument in favour of this recommendation in the report: Meriterings- och medelstilldelningssystemen i relation till incitament för öppen tillgång (only in Swedish).

Henrik Schmidt

Librarian engaged in research support in various forms. Teaches doctoral students and researchers in areas related to literature search, publishing strategies and publication analysis.