Implementing Open Access APCs: the role of academic libraries

On 5 July 2013, a group of 10 UK librarians, along with representatives from SAGE and Jisc, met to discuss the
role of academic librarians in implementing gold open access (OA) article-processing charges (APCs).
This event follows on from a roundtable commissioned by SAGE and held at the British Library in 2012, which
set out some of the challenges and opportunities faced by librarians around the world with moves to OA. Since
that event, there have been significant policy moves towards OA in the UK in particular, with the publication of the
Finch report and subsequent revisions to OA mandates from Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the Wellcome
In view of these trends, the latest roundtable set out to consider the practical implications for academic librarians
of helping researchers in UK higher education to comply with funder mandates.
It is still early days in the management of compliance with OA requirements from funders and institutions are at
different stages of developing internal OA policies. However, some key trends emerged from discussions at the
Participants showed strong support for the principles of OA but there was a preference amongst librarians and
institutions for green OA in institutional repositories. It was felt that the institutional repository can help universities
track their research output better and prepare for the Research Excellence Framework (REF).
However, the RCUK policy favours gold and there was concern expressed about journals policies changing to
encourage people to take a gold rather than green approach. There were also concerns about a possible shortfall
in funding for gold OA and that gold OA could cost institutions more than previous models.
The task of managing APC budgets has generally fallen to libraries. For many participants, the simplest and
most cost-effective way to spend the grants given by RCUK to fund APCs is to put this money into publisher OA
membership deals, often with large publishers that have a heritage of subscription publishing. Participants noted
the similarities between publisher membership schemes to manage APC payments and big deals for journal
APC funds are often allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, regardless of the level of seniority of authors.
However, there was a feeling that it should not be up to librarians to determine which papers get APC funding so
many institutions have implemented an additional stage of academic sign-off before APCs are allocated.
In general, APCs are paid by the institution of the corresponding author, provided these are in the UK and funded
by one of the funders with a gold OA mandate. It is a challenge when authors have different institutions, funders or
even countries.
Volumes of APC requests to date have been low. This may be because some researchers have already been doing
gold OA using existing budgets. However, discussions also revealed a lack of awareness from researchers about
gold OA and publishing more generally, including a lack of awareness of copyright issues.
There was also a feeling that authors are not strongly motivated by the prices of APCs in choosing where to
publish. Journal quality and impact factors were felt to be more pressing concerns than price for authors.
Librarians also expressed concerns about top journals in particular fields not being compliant with UK funder
mandates and about the potential for dubious publishers to take advantage of gold OA mandates.
A positive side of the low volume of initial engagement in gold OA, according to the roundtable discussions, is that
it enables librarians to spend time working with researchers and establishing processes.
This slow start also provides an opportunity for librarians to investigate options for managing APCs. Several
roundtable participants reported practical problems to date with managing APCs, both through intermediaries and
in direct transactions with publishers. Problems encountered included the wrong VAT rate being assigned, failure
to reconcile payments with the correct papers and the whole process taking a long time. Some librarians end up
duplicating the administration process internally to avoid errors…