PEER (Publishing and the Ecology of European Research), the first major research study on the potential effects of systematic, large-scale deposits of peer-reviewed articles into Open Access repositories (i.e. Green OA), has come to a close. At the core of the project was an examination into whether mandated deposits of the peer-reviewed, pre-print versions of articles into repositories will achieve greater use of research outputs and increase the impact of publicly-funded research and how it may affect journal publishing. The PEER project brought together stakeholders from three key communities: publishers, academic researchers, and research libraries to cooperate by setting up an environment in which article downloads from publishing websites and repositories could be systematically compared. Furthermore, the project conducted three research studies to investigate:
- behaviour of researchers as authors and readers
- usage of available content from repositories and publishers’ sites
- economics of peer-review publishing and Green OA.
The project was funded by the European Commission eContentplus programme and ran from 1 September 2008 – 31 May 2012.
Research Findings & Partners’ Experiences
In order to create an infrastructure in which the research project could be carried out, seven executive partners from the publishing industry, libraries and repositories, and academic researchers collaborated to create the PEER Observatory. The observatory, an experimental environment, included publisher platforms, PEER Depot (a dark archive designed to support ingest workflows), and PEER institutional repositories. Publishers moved a mix of metadata and manuscripts into PEER Depot. Next in the workflow: publishers invited authors to self-deposit their materials through a central interface. Then, PEER Depot pushed publications in a standard format into publicly-accessible PEER repositories via SWORD.
In connection with the published materials and PEER Depot deposits, three research studies were commissioned. A summary of findings are included in the Final PEER Report.
Of particular importance to libraries and repository managers:
- There appears to be a difference in usage of and attitudes towards Green OA deposits as compared to the published version of record by researchers depending on whether they are in “reader” mode or “author” mode: “Readers have concerns about the authority of article content and the extent to which it can be cited when the version they have accessed is not the published final version. These concerns are more prevalent where the purpose of reading is to produce a published journal article, and are perceived as less of an issue for other types of reading purpose.” (PEER Final Report, page 10)
- “Open Access Repositories are perceived by researchers as complementary to, rather than replacing, current forums for disseminating and publishing research.” (PEER Final Report, page 10)
In terms of economics:
- “Peer review has real costs and there are no economies of scale. (Average cost $250 per manuscript for salary and fees only, excludes overheads – infrastructure, systems, etc. and is heavily affected by rejection rates). Excluding peer review, average production costs range from $170 to over $400 per article (again excluding all overheads).” (PEER Final Report, page 10)
- For Green OA, the cost of processing documents for already-established repositories was estimated at 10 EUR maximum per reference, 18 EUR maximum per full-text document, 43 EUR maximum per journal article. However, this does not include the costs associated with starting up a repository or ongoing maintenance. (PEER End-of-Project Meeting, Report by Dr. Paola Dubini on Economics Research)
Furthermore, preliminary research from a randomized-control trial “indicates that making preprints visible in PEER repositories is associated with more traffic to the publisher sites at the aggregate level, but this varies by publisher and subject. Overall, PEER is associated with a significant, if relatively modest, increase in publisher downloads, in the confidence range 7.5% to 15.5%.” Researchers believe that this increase is due to the high-quality metadata offered through PEER repositories, which increase the visibility of citations through search engines and other platforms. (PEER Final Report, page 11)
During the end-of-project meeting (Brussels, Belgium, 29 May 2012), representatives from partner organizations shared some insights regarding their experiences in the project. Their points of agreement were summarized into several points:
- Building a large-scale infrastructure is organizationally and technically challenging.
- Building a clearing-house with automated workflows is helpful.
- Author self-archiving is unlikely to generate a critical mass of Green OA content.
- Stage II [peer-reviewed version of research output] archiving requires manual oversight and intervention.
- Scholars prefer the Version of Record.
- Usage scenarios for Green Open Access are more complex than generally acknowledged.
- The acceptance and utility of open access publishing has increased rapidly.
Key Takeaways for Libraries & Repositories
For Open Access repositories, maximizing visibility of research outputs is a key role. As Dr. Ian Rowlands of CIBER noted when discussing usage research at the End-of-Project Meeting, we are dealing with a very complex ecosystem. “For the average user, downloads come with no emotional or economic baggage nor much physical effort. We each download software, articles, files, images and other content many times every day without thinking, let alone remembering or pondering over its meaning.” Dr. Rowlands noted that it is not about publishers vs. repositories, but rather “it’s about fitting into a much larger ecosystem.” In this environment, most users arrive at an article from a search engine – very few users go directly to a repository or a publisher’s website when looking for an article. He compared Google to a remote control, a device that can be used to switch to different channels or sources.
As Rowland noted, “Opening up your content to a search engine is only the beginning of the conversation.” For repositories, this means a continued emphasis on adapting repositories’ infrastructure in order to ensure that content is exposed to search engines and other third-party applications according to current and evolving best practices.
Among partners and participants in the project, there is acceptance that self-archiving has had limited uptake among researchers. As Dr. Norbert Lossau, Director of the University Library of Goettingen noted: “Researchers sympathise with Open Access but don’t see self-archiving as their task – they mainly see this as a task for the libraries.”
While researchers who are in the process of authoring their own research indicated a preference for the publisher’s final version of an article to use in citations, there is value for many users in providing free, global access to pre-prints. According to the PEER Final Report, the targeted user groups and needs for the project include three categories of users: (1) researchers as authors, (2) researchers as users, (3) other users of research content. The needs for the third category were indicated as: “Access to research outputs where their institutional library does not subscribe” and “Access to research outputs where the user does not have a library.” Researchers as users also included “Access to research outputs where their institutional library does not subscribe.” While the version of record might be preferred, the pre-print, in many cases, is sufficient.
While the PEER Project focused exclusively on Stage 2 peer-reviewed pre-prints, most digital repositories include a variety of types of open content, not just pre-prints and articles. Neelie Kroes, the Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, noted in her opening address at the End-of-Project Meeting: “We should not limit ourselves to journal articles and the like. Open Access to research data, too, would open a new field of opportunity. Meaning you can re-analyse experiments; boost the impact of research; and provide a precious fuel for new collaborations and new knowledge-based industries. Those open data benefits, direct and indirect, can’t be ignored.”
While many repositories are beginning to tackle open data, others are also working with Open Educational Resources (OERs) – freely accessible, freely-adaptable and re-usable learning materials. Likewise, many research institutions are integrating their Current Research Information Systems (CRIS) with repositories in order better provide institutional support for research in a systematic, consistent way. Supporting open data, OERs, CRIS, and digital heritage collections using a single infrastructure or related repositories may help institutions mitigate some of the costs associated with starting and maintaining Green Open Access repositories.
Last, the scholarly communication landscape continues to evolve. Publishers, libraries, and researchers are all in a transition period as we seek to maximize the potential of the Internet to support access to knowledge. Open Access is still in its early stages of development; innovative new tools to support repository workflows, bring together content from disparate sources, and enhance the visibility of content in search engines are just now being developed. The landscape will continue to evolve, and libraries and repositories must be prepared to evolve as well.