Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from SPARC Europe

  SPARC Europe is an alliance of European research libraries, library organisations, and research institutions. We advocate change in the scholarly communications market, support competition, and encourage new publishing models (in particular, Open Access models) that better serve the international researcher community. We have over 70 members in 14 European Countries, including 22 leading universities in the UK. We are also supported by several national organizations within Europe, including the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) in the UK and the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) of the UK and Ireland. (See for details of membership.)

  SPARC Europe collaborates with the international SPARC organization based in Washington, DC ( Developed by the Association of Research Libraries, SPARC boasts over 200 members, mainly in North America.


  1.  The current system of scholarly communication—where access to the research literature is through paid subscriptions—is failing. Libraries can no longer keep up with the increasing costs of scholarly resources. Papers describing research funded by UK tax-payers can only be accessed by those lucky enough to work at an institution that can afford subscriptions to the relevant journals. Too large a proportion of the research literature is inaccessible to researchers in the UK. In addition, authors of research papers want the widest possible dissemination of their work to their peers world-wide and to all interested readers. The current system needlessly limits dissemination, so lessening the impact of research.

  2.  The introduction of the internet and digital publishing technologies allows us to conceive of a future where access to all of the research literature produced in the UK (and beyond) is only a mouse-click away. Unfortunately, many publishers have constructed elaborate electronic access barriers between the literature and interested readers. The strain on library budgets has increased further as many commercial publishers charge extra for online access to the literature and bundle electronic journals together in all-or-nothing "big deals" that remove collection development flexibility from the librarian and reduce competition by squeezing out small (often learned society, not-for-profit) publishers.

  3.  A new model of "Open Access" has been developed that makes better use of the internet and new publishing technologies to free up the literature to the benefit of authors, readers, students, libraries, funding bodies, and society as a whole. Open Access consists of two complementary strands. The first strand allows authors to "self-archive" versions of their peer-reviewed research papers in fully searchable, public electronic archives ("repositories") accessible via the internet. The second strand calls for journals to remove the access barriers between the literature and the readers and to look for sources of revenue other than subscriptions to cover the costs of publication.

  4.  Concrete steps have already been taken to realise this vision of Open Access. A growing number of universities have constructed repositories to archive the work of their researchers and we are seeing increasing numbers of new, high quality Open Access journals together with traditional, subscription-based journals moving to the Open Access model.

  5.  To ensure that all UK researchers, and the public in general, gain the maximum benefit from the possibilities offered by the new Open Access models we would suggest that the Science and Technology Committee recommend that all UK funding bodies:

    (a)  Make it a condition of grant that authors retain copyright in their papers. Authors should have the freedom to publish in whichever journal they consider appropriate, but they should not transfer copyright to the publisher. (Paragraphs 38 and 39.)

    (b)  Should require that authors deposit a copy of their final, peer-reviewed paper in a suitable, fully-searchable, freely accessible internet repository or archive. (Paragraph 40.)

    (c) Should provide as part of research grants monies to allow payment of charges for publication in Open Access journals. (Paragraph 41.)


  6.  Currently, most researchers gain access to the scientific literature through subscriptions paid for by their institution. The vast majority of the literature is now online and institutions purchase annual "site-licences" which gives all researchers at the institution online access. Many publishers take a narrow definition of a "site" and so, for example, a teaching hospital associated with a university would not be included. Additional payment would be required to give doctors and researchers at the teaching hospital access.

  7.  The cost of scholarly journals has risen over the last 40 years significantly faster than the increase in either library budgets or inflation. Figures compiled by Loughborough University show that between 1991 and 2003 the price of journals in the UK increased by 163%, compared to an increase in the retail price index of 43% over the same period. [114] UK libraries have responded by doubling their spending on journals, but even this significant increase in spending has failed to match the increase in prices.

  8.  This is a world-wide problem and figures complied in the US by the Association of Research Libraries show that the average cost of scientific, medical, and technical (STM) journals increased by 227% between 1986 and 2002, compared with an increase in the US consumer price index of 64%.[115]

  9.  With the move to online publishing, libraries have taken advantage of consortia and bundle deals (so called "Big Deals") to access more material than they could subscribe to in print. In online publishing, there are few additional costs in allowing extra libraries to subscribe to online journals (once the initial costs of publishing online have been covered). Therefore, a library can be offered online access to all of a publisher's titles, rather than print access to a proportion of the titles. Alternatively, libraries can come together in consortia to negotiate deals whereby all members of the consortia gain access to all journals in the publisher's portfolio. Invariably, these deals are priced by the publisher at a rate above what the library (or consortia) currently spends with that publisher. This has placed additional strains on library budgets.

  10.  Big Deals are initially attractive to libraries as they allow the library to extend the range of material that they can offer to their researchers. However, it is becoming increasingly clear to librarians that Big Deals cannot provide a long term solution to the information crisis. Firstly, to find the extra money for the bundles the library often has to cut back in other areas—such as the monograph acquisitions programme or cancelling journals that are not part of large bundles (for example, high quality journals from learned society publishers). Secondly, the annual rate of increase in price for the bundles is often greatly in excess of any increase in library budget. Thirdly, some publishers who offer Big Deals are attempting to use the fact that the bundles contain a number of "must have" journal titles to increase significantly the price of access during renegotiation of the Deals. Fourthly, by bundling all journals together in "take it or leave it" packages librarians have lost the freedom to cancel under-used journals that are part of the bundle.

  11.  The problems of "bundling", of increasing market consolidation, and constant above inflation prices rises led the Office of Fair Trading to conclude in 2002 that "there is evidence to suggest that the market for STM journals may not be working" and "there are a number of features of the market that might be expected to prevent competition from working effectively".[116]

  12.  The information gap described above has resulted in widespread dissatisfaction with the current scholarly communication model at a number of levels. Authors want to put their work before their peers and before society as a whole, and they do this without any expectation of direct financial reward, eg from royalties. In fact, they often have to make a financial contribution to the costs of publication in the form of page charges, figure reproduction charges, reprint costs, etc., as well as giving away the copyright in their text, so limiting their further use of their own work. In return for donating their papers (together with a financial contribution and surrender of copyright), the current system places barriers between authors' work and their potential readers, so resulting in reduced dissemination and impact.

  13.  Readers are dissatisfied as they cannot get access to all the research that they need. The research literature is the most potent research tool available—it educates, provokes, and inspires researchers. The current system denies access to the complete body of the literature, so making the tool much less powerful and reducing the effectiveness of researchers. Librarians are dissatisfied as they are not able to meet the research needs of their users (both researchers and students). Even the wealthiest institutions cannot purchase access to all the information that their researchers require to be effective. A recent Report of the Research Support Libraries Group accepted that "...providing all of the information required by UK researchers is beyond the capability of any single library; and indeed that the aggregated efforts of all UK research libraries are failing to secure a national collection in keeping with the researchers' current and emerging needs and demands".[117]

  14.  Finally, Society as a whole loses if we continue with sub-optimal communications channels that restrict the free-flow of information between the world's scholars and between scholars and the public. The recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's "Declaration on Access to Research Data from Public Funding" noted that ". . . an optimum international exchange of data, information and knowledge contributes decisively to the advancement of scientific research and innovation" and that ". . . open access will maximise the value derived from public investment in data collection efforts." [118] While the focus of the Declaration, signed by the UK and 33 other countries, is on research data, the language and logic are equally applicable to the analysis of those data—ie, research papers.


  15.  In December 2001 a meeting was convened in Budapest to address these issues, to scrutinise potential new models, and to investigate the best ways in which the new technology could be used to promote scholarly communication. As a result of this meeting the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) was published in February 2002. [119] The BOAI identified two parallel and complementary Open Access strategies that could be used to move towards a fairer, more equitable, and more efficient communications system. These were self-archiving and Open Access journals:

    (a) Self-Archiving refers to the right of scholars to deposit their refereed journal articles in searchable and free electronic archives ("institutional repositories").

    (b) Open Access Journals do not charge for access to the papers, but make the papers available to all electronically and look to other financial models to cover the costs of peer-review and publishing. They do not invoke copyright or exclusive licenses to restrict access to the papers published within them; rather they encourage the dissemination of research limited only by the reach and extent of the internet.

  16.  Institutional repositories are digital collections capturing and preserving the intellectual output of a single or multi-university community. [120] They may contain a wide range of materials that reflect the intellectual wealth of an institution, but, in particular, they could be used to store versions of authors' final peer-reviewed papers. The repositories would be cumulative and perpetual, ensuring ongoing access to material within them. By building the archives to common international technical standards—specifically, to the Open Archives Initiative standards[121]—the material deposited within them will be fully searchable and retrievable, with search engines treating the separate archives as one. Readers will not need to know which archives exist or where they are located in order to find and make use of their contents. To maximise the use and impact of the repositories the material within them should be available freely over the internet.

  17.  Depositing research papers in institutional repositories provide a number of benefits at a number of levels:

    (a) For the individual they provide a central archive of the researcher's work and, as the repositories are free and fully-searchable, they increase the dissemination and impact of the individual's research.

    (b) They increase the institution's visibility and prestige by bringing together the full range and extent of that institution's research interests. They act as an advertisement for the institution to attract new funding sources, potential researchers and students, etc.

    (c) For society they provide access to the world's research and ensure long-term preservation of institutions' academic output.

    (d) They can accommodate increased volume of research output (no page limits, can accept large data-sets, "null-results", etc).

  18.  Over 200 institutions worldwide have taken advantage of free, open source software packages to implement institutional repositories. [122] In addition, a number of national initiatives have been set up to provide infrastructure support for repositories—these include SHERPA in the UK, DARE in The Netherlands, and the recent announcement of Australian $12 million to promote institutional repositories in Australia. [123] As the amount of content in the growing number of repositories continues to increase, new services are being developed to make use of this content. To date, the most active area of service provider development has been the construction of search engines that can search over a number of repositories simultaneously, so ensuring that the reader can find material irrespective of where it has been deposited. Using one of these search engines, OAIster, a reader can search over 3,000,000 electronic items in almost 270 repositories. [124]

  19.  The one function of the traditional journal that self archiving in institutional repositories does not fulfil is quality certification through peer-review. Each institution will be able to make its own policies on how material is to be deposited in their repository, and some may insist that papers receive at least an initial review before being made widely available. However, this will not be a substitute for independent, international peer review. Peer review serves the reader as a mark of quality (helping them to decide which papers they wish to read), while it is used by authors to validate their research (which is particularly important for their next grant proposal or attempt at promotion).

  20.  Peer review journals could sit comfortably with the network of institutional repositories. Authors who wanted their work to be peer-reviewed could, after they had deposited an initial, "pre-print" version in their local repository, send it to their journal of choice. At this stage the work would be evaluated as in the current system and, if considered by the editor of the journal to be acceptable, the paper would be published in the journal and so receive the journal's quality stamp. The authors could then place a peer-reviewed "post-print" onto their local institutional repository ensuring that both versions were archived.

  21.  Obviously, with all the relevant material available for free in a network of institutional repositories it becomes impractical for a journal to charge a subscriber to access a paper in the journal. The peer review journals, therefore, would need to have no access restrictions on them—that is, they would be Open Access.

  22.  Open Access would give free and unrestricted access through the internet to all primary literature published within the journals. This literature is given to the world by scholars without expectation of payment and in the hope that it is distributed and read as widely as possible. Making it freely available over the internet immediately distributes it to the 650 million people worldwide who have internet access. Giving all interested readers access will accelerate research, enrich education, share learning among rich and poor nations, and, ultimately, enhance return on investment in research (much of which comes from the taxpayer). From being in a position where institutions cannot supply all the information needs of researchers, researchers will be able to access all of the relevant information they need to be effective.

  23.  Open Access also provides major benefits for authors. Rather than their papers being seen by readers at the few hundred institutions lucky enough to have a subscription to the relevant journals, the papers can now be seen by all interested readers. This increases the profile of the authors, their institutions, and the countries that funded the research.

  24.  The number of open access journals publishing high quality, peer reviewed research is growing. Lund University in Sweden has compiled the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) listing fully peer-reviewed journals that place no financial barriers between the papers published online and readers. [125] The DOAJ was launched in May 2003 with 375 titles, a figure that now stands at over 730. One feature of the DOAJ is that records for each journal listed can be easily downloaded by librarians and entered into their catalogues, thereby allowing readers to learn about these journals and to easily find the papers published in them.

  25.  As well as seeing the launch of new Open Access journals, efforts are being made to transform current subscription-based journals into Open Access. A model has been developed that allows for a controlled, reduced-risk transfer to Open Access. [126] This model has proved to be attractive to a number of publishers, especially smaller and society publishers who believe in the moral case for Open Access but who did not see a way of converting their journals. Oxford University Press, the Company of Biologists, and the American Physiological Society are all experimenting with variations of this model. [127]


  26.  As Open Access is a relatively new concept, it is difficult to compare directly Open Access publication (either through self-archiving or in peer-reviewed journals) with closed, subscription-based access. However, initial evidence is accumulating that supports the intuitively obvious assertion that Open Access will give greater dissemination and impact.

  27.  Recent figures from the Astrophysical Journal show that for 72% of papers published in the journal, free versions of the papers are available (mainly through the physics repository, These 72% of papers are, on average, cited twice as often as the remaining 28% (for which no free versions are available). [128] At this stage it is difficult to show clear cause and effect, but it is an intriguing indication of the increase in impact of authors' work if they archive copies of their papers in suitable repositories.

  28.  The differences in downloads between closed, subscription-based journals and Open Access journals are even more dramatic. The Elsevier 2003 half-year results show that the average number of downloads for articles in ScienceDirect (Elsevier's online journal platform) over the past year was 28. Over the same period the average number of downloads for articles in BioMedCentral (an Open Access publisher) was 2,500. This would suggest that publication in an Open Access journal gives, on average, 89 times as much usage as publication in a subscription-based access! [129]

  29.  It is possible that this may not be an entirely accurate comparison, but Elsevier have refused to give the average downloads for biomedical papers published over the past year and so a direct comparison cannot be made. But even if 89 times is an over-estimate, it is clear that the evidence is beginning to show that Open Access does give greater dissemination, usage, and impact and as authors become more aware of this they are increasingly going to want to publish in Open Access journals and to deposit their papers in their local institutional repositories.


  30.  Without subscription income publishers will have to look at new financial models to support their journals. There are costs associated with the peer review process and with publication of a paper (even if it is only online), and these costs must be met. In addition, publishers (be they small, not-for profit learned societies or large commercial publishers) must make some surplus to invest in new technology and to fund the launch of new journals.

  31.  A number of possible revenue sources for Open Access journals have been identified, 130 but one of the most stable for the scientific, technical, and medical fields may be that where authors pay a publication charge, so ensuring that the publisher receives sufficient revenue to make the paper available to all with no access restrictions. Ultimately, it would be for the author's funding body or institution to cover the publication charge, but basically, this model looks to a move from paying for access to material (through subscriptions) to paying for dissemination.[130]

  32.  Funding at the input (author) side has a number of benefits—it allows for Open Access for all readers, it provides a financial model that scales with increases in research funding (compared to the current system where libraries' budgets have rarely kept pace with increases in funding), and it provides a stable business model for publishers (both learned societies and commercial publishers).

  33.  The Wellcome Trust has recently calculated that if all the papers reporting research that the Trust had funded over the past five years had been published in Open Access journals the additional cost in publication fees would have been approximately 1.5% of their research spending. This would have been a small increase to ensure that the Wellcome Trust-funded research was accessible by all readers. While the figure of 1.5% may vary across disciplines, for most research in science and medicine the cost of Open Access will be a small fraction of the cost of the research.


  34.  As the limitations of the current system and the possibilities of the new models become increasingly apparent, there is growing international momentum in favour of institutional repositories and Open Access journals. Increasing numbers of libraries are taking on the role of hosts for institutional repositories, becoming responsible for maintaining the intellectual heritage of their institutions. The libraries are also increasingly resisting the old models of subscriptions and big deals. Growing numbers of Open Access journals are attracting high profile editors and quality papers from excellent authors. These papers are viewed by more and more readers, increasing the impact and visibility of the journals. In addition, the continued success of these Open Access journals is proving the feasibility of the new business models. As issues surrounding institutional repositories and Open Access journals become more widely discussed there is increasing awareness amongst authors of their need to retain their publishing rights (eg, does assigning copyright mean that they cannot put a copy of their own paper on their departmental website?).

  35.  2003 saw increasing support for Open Access (in the form of both self-archiving and Open Access journals) from the funding bodies that pay for research. In April 2003, a meeting of major medical research funding bodies organised by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the US resulted in the Bethesda Declaration in support of Open Access. [131] This was followed in the summer by a statement of strong support from the Wellcome Trust in the UK. [132] In October, all the major German funding bodies signed the Berlin Declaration adding their support to Open Access. [133] The Berlin Declaration has also been adopted by, amongst others, the CNRS and INSERM in France, by the FWF Der Wissenschaftsfonds in Austria, and by the Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek in Flanders. This support from the funding bodies has come about as they realise that, to quote the Berlin Declaration, "Our mission of disseminating knowledge is only half complete if the information is not made widely and readily available to society." The funding bodies increasingly believe that it is in their interests, and it is their responsibility, to support the wider dissemination through Open Access of the research results that they have funded.

  36.  There are a number of recommendations that the Science and Technology Committee could make which would accelerate movement towards Open Access. These recommendations would be implemented by the UK funding bodies and would require no new legislation from Government.

  37.  Specifically, we would suggest that the Science and Technology Committee recommend that the UK funding bodies:

    (a) Make it a condition of grant that authors retain copyright in their papers. Authors should have the freedom to publish in whichever journal they consider appropriate, but they should not transfer copyright to the publisher.

    (b) Should require that authors deposit a copy of their final, peer-reviewed paper in a suitable, fully-searchable, freely accessible internet repository or archive.

    (c) Should provide as part of research grants monies to allow payment of charges for publication in Open Access journals.

  38.  The transfer of copyright (or granting of exclusive and limiting licences) in research papers from the authors to the publishers gives control of access to the papers to the publishers. The publishers can then place limits and conditions on access, regulating who can view the papers and how much they must pay. Transfer of copyright also limits the uses that the authors and their funders can make of the research—for example, the authors may not be allowed to place a copy of their paper on their own website or on their funding body's website.

  39.  Requiring that authors retain copyright will ensure that reuse of the material, within accepted scholarly and educational practices, will be safeguarded.

  40.  If all authors were required to deposit a copy of their final, peer-reviewed paper in a fully searchable online archive we would see the rapid formation of a UK research "library" containing the fruits of all publicly funded research in the UK. This would be freely available to all researchers and general readers in the UK (and beyond). There are a growing number of institutional repositories and discipline-based repositories where authors could deposit their work. A requirement to deposit would accelerate work already being carried out in the UK to develop additional repositories.

  41.  Realising that publication is part of the research process, funding bodies should include as part of their awards funds for publication. This would give UK authors the freedom to choose which journal to publish in, whether Open Access or subscription-based. As authors see the increased usage and citations that accrue from Open Access they will increasingly publish in Open Access journals provided they have the funds. If the funding bodies do not make specific publication funds available UK authors will suffer as they will find it increasingly difficult to publish in Open Access journals, while an increasing number of their international colleagues will have funds for Open Access. Failure to support UK authors in this way would result in UK research becoming less visible internationally.

February 2004

114   Library & Information Statistics Unit (LISU), Loughborough University. Back

115  Back

116   "The Market for Scientific, Technical and Medical Journals-A Statement by the OFT", September 2002, OFT396. Back

117   Report of the Research Support Libraries Group, 2003, Back

118,2340,en_2649_34487_25998799_1_1_1_1,00.html  Back

119  Back

120   Crow, R (2002). "The Case for Institutional Repositories: A SPARC Position Paper."  Back

121   For details of institutional repository technical specifications see the Open Archives Initiative,  Back

122   Details of the various Institutional Repository software can be found at: GNU Eprints-, DSpace-, CDSWare-, Arno-  Back

123   SHERPA-, DARE-, Australian initiative-  Back

124 Back

125  Back

126   Prosser, D C (2003). "From Here to There: A Proposed Mechanism for Transforming Journals from Closed to Open Access". Learned Publishing, Vol 16, pp 163-166 (Available at:  Back

127   Oxford University Press-, Company of Biologists-, American Physiological Society- Back

128  Back

129£a106276332667919229  Back

130   Crow and Goldstein "Guides to business planning for open access journals"  Back

131¥peters/fos/bethesda.htm  Back

132  Back

133  Back

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