Journal agreements make Western research more accessible 

Western Libraries has reached licencing deals with academic publishers so that more research is in open-access journals. Photo by Bernd Klutsch of Unsplash

When professor Johanna Weststar’s most recent research paper was done, reviewed, revised and accepted into her preferred academic journal, just one more question remained: open access or closed?

If closed (or subscription) access, publication fees would cost her $5,000. But her decision to publish with open access was about much more than dollars-and-cents.

"If you want your work to have an impact, it has to be in the world beyond the academic world," said Weststar, a professor in the DAN Department of Management & Organizational Studies.

"Serving our own academic communities exclusively doesn’t work for me. I’d rather have my work read freely by a lot of people who might find the research useful, than by a few people behind a paywall," she said.

It’s also inequitable to limit scholarship and discovery - making it available only to those researchers who can afford the article processing charges and to readers who can afford the journals’ paywall fees, she said.

And that’s where a series of new agreements between Western Libraries and the publishers of some major academic journals has stepped up. The intention is to help change publishing norms that often limit published scholarship and readership to those who can pay.

The licences Western Libraries has negotiated allow authors to publish with open access at no or at reduced cost.

One of the most important reasons for open access is accountability to the broader community, said John Doerksen, special advisor to the provost.

"Fundamentally, universities have an important role when it comes to the public good - and making the outcomes of research and discovery available to the public is part of our core mission," Doerksen said.

In 2021 alone, the licencing deal saved 87 Western researchers more than $200,000, said Shawn Hendrikx, associate librarian, collections and content strategies.

New agreements signed so far this year, with 12 families of academic journal publishers, mean additional savings that could ultimately amount to saving millions of dollars in article-publishing fees.

"We’ve been supporting open-access publishing for years and this is one way we’ve been able to help make it happen," Hendrikx said.

Canada’s three major funding agencies - the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council - often require authors to make their articles freely available within a year of publication, even if it’s first published in a limited-access journal.

Open-access publishing is the best way to increase readership and citations - critically important to researchers who want to build their scholarly identity and advance scientific discovery, Hendrikx said

There’s also currency in being more current: peer-reviewed research begins to have impact the moment it’s published, rather than with paywalled publications that make papers publicly accessible a year or more later.

The Western agreements are part of a larger national negotiation by the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN).

Eliminating costly author publishing charges is something leaders at Western have wanted to see for a long time. President Alan Shepard was a key member of the  CRKN Stakeholder Alignment Group , advocating for the fair pricing and acceptable licensing terms of nationally negotiated journal packages.

"Canada has made great strides with this and now that the door is open, we’re going to have that discussion with every publisher," said Hendrikx, who is a member of Western’s standing committee on open access and the collections content strategies team.

Doerksen agreed: "This is part of a journey that will take many decades."

Weststar’s two most recent papers analyze the impact on digital game developers of the trend towards games as a service instead of a one-time product - one paper in Work, Impact and Society and the other in New Media and Society .

Facilitated through the agreements between the journals and library staff, the process was "incredibly easy," she said.

Western Libraries has outlined the process and its services in a.