Reasons to go for open access: perspectives from a clinician and a librarian

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In recognition of Open Access week, Dr Pascal Meier an interventional cardiologist from University College London and Yale Medical School, and Whitney Townsend, the coordinator of the Health Sciences Executive Research Services at University of Michigan, provide their views on the benefits of open access publishing.

Dr Pascal Meier
“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” Oscar Wilde

During the first few years of my academic career, I only used to submit my articles to “traditional” print journals. I would apply a “top-down” submission system for my papers: a list of traditional scholarly journals in my research field, ordered according to impact factors. I would submit the article to the highest ranked journal first, where it usually got rejected, and I would subsequently submit to the next journal, and then to the next until it eventually got accepted.

However, during a fellowship at the University of Michigan, I extended my research into the library, performing systematic reviews and meta-analyses. During my discussions with librarians, especially with Whitney Townsend, I got exposure to the idea of open access publishing. Most of the open access journals claimed to provide a fast and efficient review and publishing service. This was a very compelling argument after I had become a little frustrated with my “top-down” submission approach which was very slow, and it usually took ages until a paper finally got accepted and published.

At the time of my first submission to BMC Medicine in 2009, I have to confess that I had rather mixed feelings: it was a very new journal, it had no impact factor yet and I was therefore not sure whether it would count towards my academic career. I did not know whether these newer journals would successfully “compete” with traditional journals. Similar to a Swiss Rolex watch, traditional journals have cultured their brand names and built up their reputation over many years. What if the journal fails? Will the article disappear from the world wide web and be lost, without any paper copy available anywhere?

Despite having published also in rather renowned traditional journals including Circulation, our publication in BMC Medicine was the first paper to be picked up by the press. To this day I get correspondence from clinicians and researchers who read this paper. I had very similar experiences with articles which I subsequently published in BMC Medicine in 2010 and 2012, and other open access journals such including PLOS ONE. Most of these articles did get significant media attention and were mentioned in the Wall Street Journal and information platforms like theheart.org, etc.

The downside of open access publishing, naturally, is that it comes with a price tag. However, for me it was absolutely worth the publication fees. I don’t perform my research for myself. I would like to spread the results, I would love to have an impact on clinical practice and on future research, I am interested that my research field is progressing and that other authors will cite my research. As a scholarly author, I don’t profit from any revenue from reprints or copyrights. I do research to have an impact and for my academic promotion. I feel that publishing an article is also a form of self-advertisement. Why wouldn’t I want as many people as possible to see my advertisements?

Whitney Townsend

When Dr. Meier and I first began to consult together on literature search strategies for his planned meta-analysis projects, the topic of Open Access (OA) publishing was of major interest to the academic library community as a whole, and for medical libraries in particular due to the joint pressures of shrinking collections budgets and rampant journal subscription inflation. While these are very practical concerns that effect libraries and the information resources that they are able to provide to their users, the idea of access to information for all is at the very core of every librarian’s philosophy. The benefit of Open Access journals for libraries and subscribers is obvious: free, timely access to articles without unregulated inflation. However, for the Open Access journal model to be truly viable to the clinical and research communities there need to be clear benefits to the authors as well.

Studies have shown that articles published in Open Access journals are accessed and cited more frequently than those in traditionally published journals, a major advantage for any author hoping to publicize their work to the broadest audience possible. In addition, fully Open Access journals fulfill the open access mandates that many government agencies are beginning to require for funding. While some subscription journals are now offering semi-open access models to help authors comply with open access mandates, additional fees (in addition to the high subscription fees that are already paid by institutions and individuals) are the norm.

Open Access journals have moved from an interesting experiment to a robust alternative publishing model within a few short years. I believe there will always be a place for both traditional and open access journals, but it is very exciting for this librarian to see the work of “my” clinicians and researchers being disseminated, accessed, and cited at an unprecedented rate. The University of Michigan, along with many other academic institutions and advocacy groups, continues to act as an information hub and funding source for authors considering publishing in an open access format. Open Access Week is an outstanding time to learn more about what open access journals and publishing can do for you, as an author, clinician, or researcher. Be sure to check in with your local medical librarian for more information about institutional memberships to offset article submission fees, writing OA fees into grants, and other forms of open publishing that are available.