Reading without barriers
Scientific knowledge should not be a business model, but should be made available at no cost to all people worldwide. That is the basic idea behind Open Access. The movement emerged in the mid-1990s and has experienced steady growth ever since. As a counterpart to commercial science publishers, who often charge high usage fees for publications, many researchers have founded their own journals in recent years, enabling alternative publication channels and a new approach to research literature. However, submitting, reviewing, producing, and publishing research papers is very time-consuming and adds to the already heavy workload of researchers. University presses like BerlinUP can help.
Dr. Andreas Brandtner is someone who not only embraces the idea of Open Access, but who also works to put it into practice. Funded by the Berlin University Alliance (BUA), the head of the university library of Freie Universität Berlin, together with the library managements of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, recently founded the university press "Berlin Universities Publishing" (BerlinUP) as an Open-Access-Publisher.
Lots of encouragement from the scientific community
"In Berlin in particular, we started thinking about Open Access very early on," says Andreas Brandtner. For example, the "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities" adopted by German and international research organizations in 2003 is considered a milestone in the Open Access movement. In 2015, the State of Berlin adopted an Open Access strategy with the aim of making scientific publications, research data, and data on cultural heritage publicly accessible and usable. A short time later, the Open-Access-Büro Berlin was established at Freie Universität Berlin, which supports the Berlin scientific and cultural state institutions in implementing the Open Access strategy.
Following on from this, the Berlin Universities Publishing project was launched in 2019 – initially as a joint publication platform for the four BUA partner institutions – with funding from the Excellence Alliance. "Getting started with excellence funding was enormously important, otherwise we would not have been able to manage this project," emphasizes Andreas Brandtner. All four university libraries involved were able to hire staff and set up the necessary structures for a future Open Access publisher. The idea of a university press was well received by the scientific community: "Researchers at all four BUA institutions found it important to offer new publication channels and had a very pronounced interest in our plans," recalls Andreas Brandtner, who observes a growing desire in academia in general to "bring publishing back into the academic sphere."
A Joint Project of all Four BUA Partner Institutions
For the joint project, in which the teams of the BUA objectives Advancing Research Quality and Value and Sharing Resources have contributed, the institutions involved in the Excellence Alliance pool their existing expertise and experience to build on this.
"At Technische Universität Berlin, there was already a university publisher that mainly realized book projects, at Freie Universität Berlin we publish scientific journals and can contribute the necessary technical platform," explains Andreas Brandtner. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Charité will function as publication consultants for researchers who want to find out about suitable formats, copyrights or Open Access requirements of funding institutions independently of the publisher. The joint project aims to provide all scholars and scientists at the BUA institutions with an offering for quality-assured Open Access publication of their research results in monographs and journals, thus reflecting the diversity of Berlin's research landscape in the future. The scientific advisory board of researchers from various disciplines and career stages ensures that the high-quality standards set by the publisher are maintained.
After several years of development, there are now already three published monographs and with the "Journal of Geography Education" (Zeitschrift für Geographiedidaktik), a first journal title at BerlinUP. Another 15 to 20 scientific books have already cleared the first publishing hurdles and will also be published in the coming months. If you ask Andreas Brandtner about the publication, which is particularly close to his heart, the answer is prompt: "It is the first book: "Engage with Fungi" by Vera Meyer and Sven Peiffer. It has an interdisciplinary focus, deals with an exciting and witty topic, and also represents the Open Science idea."
Production underway, rising awareness
In the meantime, BerlinUP has left the project status behind. On September 26, the university press will be officially and solemnly inaugurated with 120 invited guests from the regional and supra-regional higher education landscape and politics, and the publishing industry, thus standing on its own two feet. The State Secretary for Science, Research and Equality, Dr. Henry Marx, the BUA spokesperson and president of Technische Universität Berlin, Prof. Geraldine Rauch, and the management of the university press will welcome the guests. The subsequent panel discussion with experts from all four BUA institutions will provide insights into scientific publishing and Diamond Open Access. On the following three days, Berlin will continue to be dominated by Open Science: The annual conference on the topic – the Open-Access-Days – will take place from September 27 to 29 under the motto "Visionen gestalten" (Shaping Visions) and will shed light on organizational structures, formats, financing, opportunities, and other aspects.
"We have achieved many of our goals, production is running, awareness is increasing and we are going into routine operation," Andreas Brandtner looks back on the work of the past three years. In the near future, the team will continue to raise awareness of the publishing offering with events and training sessions to promote Open Access publications. "I think we are a good example of how this works very well in a university press," says Brandtner.
"Research journals belong in the hands of research institutions"
Making scientific data and literature freely available and usable requires not only the necessary infrastructure, but also researchers like Vera Meyer, who publish their work in Open Access formats.
Prof. Dr. Vera Meyer is a biotechnologist and Professor of Applied and Molecular Microbiology at Technische Universität Berlin. Since 2016, she has been the Open Access representative at her university and is committed to ensuring that scientific publications are freely accessible.
Prof. Meyer, why do we need free and Open Access to research literature?
There are many good reasons for this. One of them is that our science is funded by society through taxes. That is why we should also make the knowledge freely available to society. This does not mean preventing patents or disclosing industrial data. If the decision is made to publish the data in the scientific community, I advocate that anyone and everyone outside this community can also read this publication. This data should be freely accessible worldwide, whether on the train, at home, on the intranet or in the café. Another reason is the new generation of junior researchers: Students today are practically born with the Internet and get all important information from there. What cannot be found is almost non-existent for them. Open Access is therefore crucial for teaching and enables current research results to be integrated and easily understood by students.
You have been the Open Access representative at Technische Universität Berlin since 2016. What milestones has the movement already achieved in recent years?
In 2014, 7% of all publications were from Technische Universität Berlin Open Access. In 2020, the figure was 64.6% across Berlin. New data shows how far we have already progressed: at Technische Universität Berlin, the figure at that time was over 72%. Open Access is established – that is a huge milestone. This process took several years and initially it took some advertising to convince researchers to publish publicly and openly.
How did you do the seemingly successful work of persuasion?
In every discipline, there are established publication channels – i.e. certain journals or publishers. There are the very well-known top journals such as Nature or Science. Getting published there is practically an award. We should reconsider that. Because not the journal is the decisive quality criterion, but the article itself. Is it frequently cited by other researchers? Does it influence future research in its field? In the beginning, it was all about making colleagues understand that there are also other publication channels and that it is worth trying them out. In 2016, I became the Open Access representative at Technische Universität Berlin. We visited all the faculties at the time, talked to students, international scholarship holders, and all kinds of institutions to explain why Open Access was important. At the same time, there was also a political development: the EU, the German Research Foundation, the Berlin Senate, and many other institutions set up funding programs in which Open Access publications were the prerequisite for funding. Of course, that helped a lot. On the other hand, however, we are now seeing a continuous price increase of Open Access publications at commercial publishers, which is worrying.
What are the concerns about Open Access?
Many researchers have the unfounded fear that their scientific success could suffer as a result. But from my point of view and in my experience, that is not true. In some fields of research, there are still no Open Access journals and many researchers do not have the confidence to start their own. But even then, one can make their own publication available as Open Access: on the so-called repositories of the universities, which make the works usable as a second publication without access restrictions for a maximum of twelve months after the initial publication. The "DepositOnce" repository of Technische Universität Berlin, for example, already contains 5,000 such secondary publications.
How is Open Access changing research?
There is data showing that Open Access papers are cited and considered more often in the further research process. Because they are more easily accessible. This means that one's own epistemological process reaches the scientific community and society more quickly. It is critical to understand that you are part of a community. If something is easy to find, I can research much more easily myself and gain knowledge faster. Of course, it would be ideal and desirable to have 100% Open Access one day.
What steps are still necessary for this?
Scientific publishing is based on the work of many researchers: if someone does research, writes, provides expert opinions or edits, the person usually does not get paid for all this. It is the publishers who earn the big money with scientific publications. With the so-called hybrid journals, you can convert your own paper to Open Access for a lot of money – we are talking about several thousand euros – to convert your own paper to Open Access. This is market-economy thinking that, in my view, should be urgently questioned. We should think more about how we can better support free repositories and journals. Berlin Universities Publishing (BerlinUP), initiated with the help of the Berlin University Alliance, is a step in the right direction. The first university presses were founded in England a few hundred years ago and started with the aim of imparting scientific knowledge to society and researchers at other universities. That is where we need to go again. Research journals belong in the hands of research institutions, not in the hands of stock corporations.
The BerlinUP publisher you mentioned was initiated in 2019 as a publication platform for the four BUA partner institutions and will now be officially incorporated as a publisher in the fall of 2023.The first book from this publisher was written by you. Why did you choose this publication method?
Yes, that is the book "Engage with Fungi" that I published in 2022. Part of my research has a lot to do with citizen science. Fungal biotechnology is an exciting field of research and has the potential to fundamentally change markets and production processes. Maybe in the future we will live in houses made of fungi or wear sustainably produced clothing made of fungal materials. In my opinion, we can only be a driving force for innovation if we bring together society, science, and art. None of us can understand and change the world on our own. We can only achieve that together. That is why the book is aimed at many stakeholders from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds. The new publisher is ideal for this target group and also for networking researchers from the four BUA institutions. At the same time, it is a signal: there are the new university presses. Let us use them as central publication channels. Incidentally, the first edition of the book is already out of print, and the second has been reprinted. This shows that this publication channel can be remarkably successful.