Open access – gathering the evidence

The last six months have seen a large number of open access events, and at all of them there has been some discussion about the need to gather evidence – whether of the benefits of open access, its potential effect on learned societies, current publishing practice, or researcher attitudes to and awareness of OA. The first steps to addressing some of these questions are now being taken. The publisher Taylor & Francis, for example, recently conducted a survey of its authors’ views about and behaviour related to open access. A total of 14,769 responses were received, and while they have not yet been fully analysed, early findings are at least suggestive. Attention has been given first to ‘licensing, reuse, peer review and metrics’, and the survey revealed that 79% of respondents remain in favour of rigorous peer of their work when published on an open access basis, 68% are happy with the idea of non-commercial re-use of their material, and 70% feel that it is important for the general public to have access to their work. Of the 11,422 respondents who indicated their broad subject area, 9% (1,022) were from the humanities – the joint largest group. The full survey results are well worth looking at.

Turning to historians in particular, History UK (HE) has conducted two surveys (one aimed at heads of department, the other at individuals) charting the journal publication patterns of UK-based historians between 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2012. The responses – 17 departmental (encompassing 353 FTE) and 352 individual (encompassing 273 REF Category A staff and 79 others) – are an interesting insight into current, largely non-OA activity. Among the key findings are that the average (mean) number of articles published per FTE over the four-year period was three; just 10% of articles were co-authored; and 37% of articles were published in overseas journals. For those REF Category A researchers who responded, 14% of articles had already been made available via gold open access; and 72% of this cohort published their first work in a journal rather than as a monograph. See HistoryUK Open Access Publishing Survey results (PDF) for the full survey results.

Neither of these surveys, of course, presents the whole picture, and no doubt there are methodological issues that could be discussed, but they are the beginning of what I hope will be a useful and enlightening exploration of the academic publishing process.