The 14th Berlin Open Access Conference: A Q and A with Curtis Brundy

Curtis Brundy, Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Communications and Collections, was invited to attend the 14th Berlin Open Access Conference as part of its U.S. delegation. The conference took place December 3-4, 2018, at the Max Planck Society’s Harnack House in Berlin, Germany. The following is a Q and A with Brundy about the conference and his experience.

What is the Berlin OA Conference and when was it started?

The Berlin OA Conference is a gathering of cultural and political leaders from around the world who are interested in accelerating the scholarly publishing transition to open access. The first conference was held in 2003. The declaration that came out of the first meeting is considered one of the open access movement’s founding documents. The subsequent Berlin OA Conferences have each tried to further the open access goals set out in that first meeting. The theme of the 14th Berlin OA Conference was, Aligning Strategies to Enable Open Access.

What was your role at the meeting and how did you come to be a delegate? Is this the first time you’ve attended?

I was a conference participant, attending as part of the U.S. delegation. I was invited to attend because of my open access advocacy work and my involvement with OA2020. I Chair the U.S. OA2020 Working Group, which coordinates and advances the initiative’s goal of converting our current paywalled subscription model to models that are transparent, sustainable, and open. The University Library is one of ten U.S. institutions who have signed the OA2020 Expression of Interest.  This was my first time attending a Berlin OA Conference.

How many countries were represented at the conference?

The conference had wide representation, with 37 countries across five continents attending. And delegates came from many different scholarly publishing stakeholder groups, including government and private funders, university libraries, national libraries, universities, university associations, library consortia, and research institutes.

How do the OA strategies discussed at the meeting relate to Iowa State?

The strategies directly relate to Iowa State’s land grant mission, which states that we should share the knowledge we create beyond our borders. A lot of time was given at the conference to discussing transformative open access agreements and how they can be used to accelerate the transition to open access. A transformative agreement is one that allows a library’s users to read a publisher’s journal content and also allows its authors to publish their work open access in those same journals, making it freely and openly available to the world. These types of agreements have been made in Europe and the UK for the last five or six years and have dramatically increased the number of articles being published OA. At the conference, licensing experts, negotiators, and data analysts who have been involved with making and administering transformative agreements shared what they have learned. It was remarkably informative to hear and learn from these folks. The University Library has recently signed its first such agreement with the publisher De Gruyters.

Ron Mobed, CEO of Elsevier; Daniel Ropers, CEO of Springer Nature; and Guido Herrmann, VP and Managing Director at Willey Blackwell attended the second day of the meeting. Why were they invited and what did you learn from their participation?

They were invited so they could hear firsthand from the conference participants that there is international alignment around the need to accelerate the transition to OA and for transformative agreements that are fair and sustainable. The message was received quite differently by the three publishers. The CEO of Elsevier did not seem to recognize that his company was at all at odds with what was being requested. This was not well received, considering we were in Germany where research universities have been without access to Elsevier content since the summer, owing to Elsevier’s unwillingness to negotiate a transformative agreement. The Springer Nature CEO did recognize what was being asked and he spent much of his time sharing the lessons his company has learned from being in the vanguard of making transformative agreements in Europe. The Wiley VP pointed out that many of the journals Wiley publishes are actually owned by societies, making it a challenge to move forward quickly with transformative agreements.

What are the two most important take-aways from the conference?

The most important take-away is that there is significant global interest in using transformative agreements to increase open access. This was most dramatically expressed by the Chinese delegation, which included representatives from China’s national libraries and their largest research funding agency. China has surpassed the U.S. to become the top producer of research articles, representing over 20% of the world’s total article output. Nature has published a news article about the position staked out by China at the conference, including its interest in transformative agreements and support for Plan S, the initiative by European funders that would require their grant recipients publish all articles open access by 2020.

Beyond the solidarity and urgency that was expressed around accelerating the transition to open access, I think my other main take-away would be the importance of Plan S. The two primary architects of Plan S, Robert-Jan Smits, the Open Access Envoy of the European Commission; and David Sweeney from UK Research and Innovation, were both in attendance. They explained that Plan S is not about forcing authors to change their behavior, rather, it is about forcing publishers to change theirs. Much of the criticism of Plan S has been focused on what compliance will mean for authors within the current journal publishing environment. But Sweeney and Smits made a convincing argument that Plan S will inevitably force publishers to change their journal offerings, bringing them into compliance with its open access requirements. And with the expression of support for Plan S from China, it became a little easier to see how this might actually take place.

What is next for Open Access at the University Library?

The University Library will continue to pursue ways to support open access publishing on campus. We will pilot our first transformative agreements in 2019 with select publishers, including the previously mentioned agreement with De Gruyters. We will also increase our support for ISU authors who publish with pure OA publishers like PLOS, BMC, and Frontiers. And finally, we will continue to work with our partners, consortia, and colleagues to accelerate the transition to open access.

For additional information, please contact Curtis Brundy.