With nearly 10,000 Open Access journals currently in publication and climbing, librarians face the daunting task of parsing, cataloguing, and supporting patrons in the use of vast quantities of content of varying quality that fall outside the bounds of traditional serials acquisition decisions.  Even more crucially, the demand to publish in OA journals along with new institutional OA mandates together are shifting the focus of library budgets and disrupting established business models.  While the potential impact of the OA movement to academic libraries is great, until now there has been no way to quantify the real effect on resource management and the potential shift from subscription fees to article processing charges.

Standing at the crossroads of librarians, researchers and publishers, PCG receives inquiries from all sides regarding open access publishing and its future impact on these stakeholders. To address some of these questions, we conducted a new survey to understand how librarians view open access, what role they play in this model, and whether there could be potential for libraries and publishers to streamline the costs associated with publishing open access content. We received responses from nearly 150 librarians from 30 different countries around the world.

Under the open access model, content (e.g. journal articles, books) is freely available to readers upon publication. This study addressed “gold” open access, in which article fees charged to the author provide the funding for content to be published without a subscription paywall. Known as article processing charges (APCs), these costs may indeed be directly funded by the author, but may also be covered by sources such as grant funders, employer subsidies or institutional library budgets.

72% of the libraries included in this survey catalog open access resources, though many estimated these to represent just 1-5% of total catalog listings. Librarians determine which open access titles to include in their catalog by considering a variety of factors, including relevancy and faculty recommendations. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a popular reference to identify legitimate open access publications. Likewise, librarians avoid titles appearing on Beall’s List of Predatory Open Access Publishers, which aims to identify publishers which are potentially or probably exploiting the open access system.

The results show that at present, the responsibility for funding article processing charges (APCs) is more likely to fall on the author or granting organization than the library or institution. However, 23% of respondents stated that the library does provide funding for APCs, which often comes from the existing library materials budget. It was estimated that this cost equates to less than 1% of the budget for traditional subscriptions. Only 19% of those institutions involved in open access funding have an established ceiling for APCs, typically ranging from $2000 to $3000. The consideration of other purchasing options, such as the potential for institutions to prepay APCs for specific titles or publishers in order to benefit from economies of scale, is still in question.

OA Survey APC chart


The future involvement of librarians with open access publishing is still being established. While some believe the fiscal responsibility should lie solely with the author, others felt that the library should play a central role in open access in part by controlling APC funds.  It is clear from this study that there is still no definitive path forward, but there are many opportunities for innovation on the part of both librarians and publishers.

Kate Lara is Head of Market Research at Publishers Communication Group. The full report is available at pcgplus.com/whitepapers.

PCG Senior Publishing Consultant, Janet Fisher will discuss the results of the Open Access survey during the session, Open for Discussion: Open Access Resources and the Role of Academic Libraries on Thursday, November 6 from 12:45-2:00 pm at the 2014 Charleston Conference.