Charleston 2017: What’s Past is Prologue

Autumn is perpetual summer in South Carolina. Byron Russell was there

I was lucky enough to escape the winter blues here in the UK and travel to Charleston, South Caroline, for the annual Charleston library conference. In addition to participating in the Vendor Day – a showcase of publishers and service providers, including Ingenta and accompanied by Ingenta’s sales, marketing and research arm PCG, this year we ran a highly successful Neapolitan session (not an ice cream, but a semi-plenary) on Open Access metrics.

For the 2017 conference we had a change in venue from the venerable – but rather cramped – Francis Marion Hotel.  Plenary sessions, Charleston Neapolitans, and some other sessions were held at the grand new Gaillard Center, a couple of blocks from the Francis Marion.  The Center has a performance hall capable of seating 1,800 people and is truly spectacular, plus a grand ballroom which will seat 250. In addition, “salons” cater for smaller sessions.  The Charleston Conference was the first conference to be held at the Center, and it’s a good thing because attendance this year was over 1,700, far exceeding the capabilities of the Francis Marion Hotel.  (In the past few years, apparently, attendance had to be capped when the limits of the hotel were reached, to the disappointment of some late-registering hopeful attendees). The 2017 Theme was “What’s Past is Prologue” – exploring what the future may or may not hold for librarians and publishers. Plainly the focus was on the situation on the US, but given the number of overseas visitors there was plenty that was universally applicable. Open Access was very much to the fore, with JSTOR’s presentation focusing on the rapid rise in the number of OA eBooks on the platform (from below 1000 in 2016 to 25,000+ by November 17), though they concluded that the awareness of OA books among faculty, students and even librarians remains low – though paradoxically demand is high. This seems to be a common theme; there are many researchers and academics who only have a vague understanding of what open access actually is and means, and among the general public – which should, surely, benefit from open knowledge transmission – awareness of OA is practically non-existent. The OA “movement” really needs to get its marketing act together.

Our own session (Wide Open or Just Ajar? Evaluating Real User Metrics in Open Access) attracted nearly 300 delegates, many latecomers sitting on the floor or standing. This was perhaps unsurprising given the panellists – the head of MIT Press, Amy Brand; the Director of Michigan University Press, Charles Watkinson; and Hillary Corbett, Director, Scholarly Communication & Digital Publishing at Northeastern University. It’s impossible to reproduce or summarise all three presentations here (I am happy to supply all slides on request – mail me at and slides will be uploaded to Charleston Library Convention site in due course). However, to summarise, each panels spoke on three diverse aspects of a theme – what different stakeholders need from OA metrics.

Amy Brand - the head of MIT PressAmy Brand: What Publishers need from Open Access metrics

  • In 2009 we flipped the journal COLI from paid to open access. While there had been roughly 15,000 downloads of articles in the journal in 2008, that number jumped to 85,000 in 2009 when the journal went OA.
  • In general the jury is still out on how to characterize the relationship between open access and downstream citation.
  • Open access MITP book that sold over 50K copies in the first year since publication. Increasingly, we are working with authors who expect both OA publication and generous publication royalties. It’s an interesting balancing act for publishers.
  • At the MIT Press, we’ve started signalling explicitly on our books that they have undergone peer review

Hillary Corbett - Director, Scholarly Communication & Digital Publishing at Northeastern University     Hillary Corbett: What Librarians need from Open Access metrics

  • It’s very difficult for libraries to gauge usage of OA content, which has implications for ROI in funding.
  • Out of 885 citations that our Engineering faculty made in their published research in 2014, about half were to things we subscribed to, and about 40% were to things available OA. If you assume that citation indicates significant usage of an item, this reveals that our faculty in this college are using OA materials almost as much as they’re using our subscribed materials. It took a lot of time to get this information – it’s not a scalable process.
  • Users often start their literature search in Google Scholar or just regular Google. If they need a specific article but run up against a paywall, they often try to obtain a free copy through a variety of other means – so, it’s difficult to get a full picture of how they are accessing OA content by gathering usage statistics

Charles Watkinson: What Funders need from Open Access metrics 

Charles Watkinson - The Director of Michigan University Press

  • Funders want to increase use and re-use through open licensing, to increase reach for strategic and equity reasons and to demonstrate impact and engagement. It’s desirable to “tell stories” rather than just showing numbers and visualizations of numbers. There may need to be demonstrable proof of a citation advantage of OA vs. comparable closed-access materials; that OA content has more use in less wealthy institutions, developing countries; and how OA publication leads to (greater) engagement by policy makers and their influencers – in policy forums, news media, social media.

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