SPARC Member Spotlight: Testing the waters with open-access funds (University of California at Berkeley and the University of Calgary)

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In a move to encourage researchers to make their work open to the public, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Calgary established funds that faculty and graduate students could use cover publication charges for open-access journals. Berkeley and Calgary are two of several funds established in recent years, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Wisconsin – Madison, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, the University of Oregon, and other sites in the U.K.

After a year of implementation in Calgary and Berkeley, librarians at these universities are reviewing their efforts and are pleased to report on the results.

The UC Berkeley experience 

“The response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic,” says Chuck Eckman, associate university librarian and director of collections at the UC Berkeley Library. During the 18-month pilot project starting in January 2008, the Berkeley Research Impact Initiative (BRII) subsidized the open publishing of 52 articles by Berkeley researchers, using about $72,000 of the $100,000 allocation.

At Berkeley, researchers can apply for up to $3,000 to cover the cost of publishing an article in an open-access (OA) publication. The fund also gives up to $1,500 for the cost of so-called hybrid publications’ paid access fees, where information is freely available but the journal limits the right to redistribute.

The bulk of the fund was used to support open-access articles (60 percent) and the rest was used for paid access articles. In terms of two major OA publishers, BRII funded 16 percent of the articles by Berkeley authors published in BioMed Central (BMC) journals and 25 percent of the articles by Berkeley authors published in Public Library of Science (PLoS) journals, with the remainder funded through author’s grants and contracts.

Those who tapped into the fund were primarily in the junior research ranks – assistant professors, post-docs, graduate students or researchers. One of the goals of the initiative was to support researchers who would like to publish in open-access journals but for whom cost is a barrier, particularly for those at earlier stages in their careers who may not have access to alternative grant or departmental funding sources.

When David Ackerly, associate professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley wanted to publish a paper about the potential impact of climate change on plants of California, he turned to the library to cover $1,125 open-access publishing fee in PLoS One.

“I absolutely wanted the results to be freely available to the press, state agencies and others who don’t necessarily have access to the libraries and journals,” he says. “It really paid off… When it was published, we got great press coverage.” The LA Times online version included a link to the article, as well as the San Francisco Chronicle  (

Ackerly is convinced that the link and the subsequent exposure would not have happened if the research was in a journal with restricted access. As a result of his good experience, Ackerly now plans to publish more in open-access journals.

The hope is to extend the pilot at UC Berkeley and a pool of $60,000 appears sufficient to continue the program for one additional year, says Eckman. 

University of Calgary reaches out

After discussing the idea for a year, the University of Calgary set up its Open Access Authors Fund in June 2008. With $100,000 to start, the library decided on a “soft launch” the first year, mostly spreading information by word of mouth initially, says Andrew Waller, serials librarian in Collection Services, Libraries and Cultural Resources at the University of Calgary.

Submissions to the fund came regularly throughout the year and administration of the fund was a little more work than expected – but not that taxing by any means, says Waller. There have been 67 official requests for money from the fund to date.

Faculty on campus long had an interest in Open Access and library just wanted to make it easier for researchers to make their material available to the public. “We built on demand that was already there,” says Waller.

The cost of journal subscriptions at times is crippling for libraries and the University wanted to experiment with a different way of encouraging Open Access. While Waller says most open-access journals don’t charge fees, a fair number still do and the library wanted to help support those efforts.  “With money for Open Access coming from the library, we are trying to change the model,” says Waller.

At Calgary the open-access fund paid an average of $1,538 Canadian dollars per article. Some were as low as a few hundred dollars; the highest was $3,416. The fund does cover some hybrid journal fees.  Both faculty and graduate students were eligible for the open-access fund, but in the first year full-time faculty were most common beneficiaries of the money.

Dr. Carrie Shemanko, Assistant Professor at the Southern Alberta Cancer Research Institute, Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary was pleased to learn that the library would be providing funds to cover the cost of publication in open-access journals.  She led a team that produced an article about how prolactin, a hormone partly responsible for breast development and function, contributes to breast cancer.

The research was funded by the Alberta Cancer Foundation, the Alberta Cancer Board and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the article highlighted was published in Breast Cancer Research. Shemanko received $1,500 Canadian dollars to publish in the open-access journal, which is very visible in her field and has a high impact factor.

“The article was accessed very rapidly after it became available online, by a large number of users that continues to grow. I have also granted requests from other researchers for the reagents that we used in our work, so that they can further develop related projects,” says Shemanko. “My experience increased my awareness of the need to increase funding for library resources to match the growing need of research and development.” 

Getting the word out 

It can be a challenge to get the attention of researchers on campus – even when it’s to give away money. “It’s hard to get people to read email messages,” says Eckman. “We want to try new ways to get the word out.” Librarians working with the various departments at UC Berkeley worked through the Dean’s Council, faculty meetings and variety of tactics to make the pitch for the BRII to faculty members.

To spark interest in year one, the university came up with a clever postcard that looked like a credit card. Instead of a VISA logo, it had BRII in blue and gold with the message that the library would fund your open-access journal article and links for more information were provided.

The story is similar in Calgary. “Faculty members at universities are busy, busy people,” says Waller. To effectively communicate about open-access issues, including the fund to cover journal fees, the library made a brochure and talked it up at faculty council meetings and whenever there was an opportunity, says Mary Westell, associate university librarian for Information Technology and Scholarly Communications in Libraries and Cultural Resources at the University of Calgary.  The library also invited faculty to its annual retreat and discussed new ways of publishing to leaders from computer science who attended.

“Now you can say ‘Open Access’ anywhere on campus and people pretty much know what you are talking about… they understand the initiative,” says Westell.

One OA initiative fuels another

Since 2003, the University of Calgary has had an institutional repository (Calgary uses the DSpace software). It has become the third largest digital archive in Canada. To increase the amount of material on DSpace, librarians at the University of Calgary post papers for faculty and do the copyright clearing. The library only asks that the faculty member send a copy of the material to the library. The response has been good, with the sciences, including chemistry and computer science, a bit more welcoming of the institutional repository than the social sciences, says Westell.

As theses and dissertations get posted on DSpace, individual researchers started doing the same. One open-access project would feed into another, says Waller. When researchers would ask for money from the open-access fund, librarians would ask to put their work in the institutional repository and the relationships grew from there.

In May, the Libraries and Cultural Resources (LCR) unit at the University of Calgary passed an open-access mandate, requiring that all scholarly output from archivists, curators, and librarians be put in the institutional repository. The policy was passed by the Academic Council of LCR and is the first library group in Canada to adopt such a measure, says Waller. 

Sparking others to follow suit 

Leaders of the movement on both campuses hope to see others trying similar initiatives.

What a university can do depends on the time, money and resources available, says Waller of Calgary. “Do what’s right for you. The response can be different – that’s okay. Do what’s right for your institution,” says Waller.

The Berkeley initiative set out to encourage a more sustainable scholarly communication environment and develop an infrastructure for supporting alternatives to subscription-based publishing. “We shouldn’t be beholden to a single fund-flow model supporting journal publishing, says Eckman of UC Berkeley. “It is really important for academic libraries to forge relationships with research offices and think about their role in the broader community.” Just as publishers are being very experimental – so much so that UC Berkeley had a hard time categories which journals were open-access or hybrid – Eckman says universities should be open to pursuing new models, as well.

The library is seen as a positive leader in this area as a result of the BRII, says Eckman. Faculty members have been thanking librarians for providing the money and saying: “I can’t believe you are doing this,” says Eckman. “Faculty members involved in scholarly publishing are asking if a range of other content types beyond journals such as conference proceedings could qualify. It has also sparked a host of conversations around scholarly communication at the individual faculty-librarian level that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred.”

-Article by Caralee Adams for SPARC