Last month our sister company PCG published an extensive report on how librarians from 30 different countries across the world were reacting to a world in which open access journals, books and other content were becoming a more prevalent part of their collections. The Open Access Library Survey takes the temperature of how librarians are acquiring and cataloguing open access content. It also looks at whether libraries (which have historically paid for journal subscriptions from library budgets) are now contributing towards the Article Processing Charges (APCs) that authors pay open access publishers to publish their articles from these budgets.

Over the coming days we'll be publishing a number of blog posts, each of which takes a closer look at a different part of the Open Access Library Survey. These will analyse the individual data points in the survey to see what they can tell us about emerging trends within the library market.

The upside of PCG's Open Access Library Survey was that for the majority of libraries, open access content is now part of their mainstream collections. 72% of librarians surveyed said that their institutions included open access journals in their library catalogue. This is important because library catalogues are a major discovery channel for scholarly content. As the first port of call for many researchers and students looking for the latest research in their subject areas, library catalogue inclusion can have a significant effect on the impact of individual journals. Catalogue inclusion is also a clear signal that an open access journal is an authoritative or trustworthy source of research. This idea that library catalogues can act as a 'first filter' for scholarly content is a subject we'll return to in a future blog post.

Fig: Do you list open access journals in the library's catalog?

OA content catalogued by libraries

While almost three quarters (72%) of the librarians who responded confirmed that open access journals were catalogued, that still left more than a fifth (22%) that did not. A further 6% who said they did not know whether their institution had a policy on cataloguing open access journals or not. This puts non-cataloguing institutions in the minority, but it also puts the students and researchers working and studying at these institutions at a potential disadvantage.

Without access to open access content via the catalogue, researchers may not be able to locate relevant material that will further their own research. Equally, without that 'first filter' of the library catalogue researchers aware of the potential value of open access research will face to the daunting task of locating and assessing sources for themselves.

Another divide in libraries emerged when PCG's researchers turned their attention to libraries' selection criteria for including open access content in their collections. Here again, the majority (63%) of respondents said that their institution had clear criteria that librarians could use to decide whether a journal should be admitted to the collection and catalogue. Yet this still left 21% of librarians who said that their institution had no such policy, and a further 16% who didn't know whether a policy existed at all. This paints the picture that there remains a sizable minority of libraries who have not taken steps to address the challenges of a world where scholarly content is increasingly provided as open access. It also suggests that some of these libraries are not communicating the policies they have developed, or not spending enough time training their staff to understand and implement them.

Fig: Does the library use selection criteria to add open access journals to its collection?

Criteria for including OA content in catalogue

It is, however, important not to overstate the problem that non-inclusion in catalogues presents to open access publishers and researchers at the moment. Almost half (47%) of respondents estimated that open access content only represents 1-5% of their total collections, but this is a situation that's unlikely to stand still. According to recent data, the Directory of Open Access Journals now lists more than 10,000 open access peer-reviewed journals, which contain 1.7 million articles. This means that around a third of the world's scholarly content is now available on an open access basis, and this is growing fast.

Yet the fact that policies to filter and include open access content in library collections is widespread, but not yet universal does indicate that there are wide disparities in the ways in which institutions are adjusting to the future. It's not yet possible to say that there is a clear divide between libraries that do understand how to sift and catalogue open access content and make it available to patrons, and those who do not. But as PCG's survey shows, it is a risk that the library sector would be advised to address.