After all the hard work that scholars put into their research, they are eager to have the papers reporting on their work widely read. Many understand that publishing their article in an Open Access journal provides them with the opportunity to reach the widest possible audience. However, lingering concerns about the quality of open access journals have kept some academics from fully embracing the innovative publishing model.
The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), a comprehensive international database of more than 10,000 Open Access journals, recently implemented a rigorous new vetting process that aims to raise the bar of quality for the journals it lists and filters out publications that are tarnishing the image of Open Access.
Lars Bjørnshauge, Managing Director of the DOAJ in Copenhagen and director of SPARC Europe, helped to spearhead the expanded review process, which began in March of 2014. The application that must be approved to get into the directory now includes about 50 questions rather than just seven. The questions explore aspects of the journal ranging from the transparency of the journal’s editorial processes to peer review and selection criteria, to plagiarism screening mechanisms, requiring full disclosure on all of these areas before a journal is accepted for inclusion in the DOAJ database.
The DOAJ currently includes 10,000 journals, each of which has been invited to re-apply for inclusion in the directory under the new procedure. This unprecedented, comprehensive review is currently underway, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2015. Since the new criteria were established in March 2014, DOAJ has received 4100 applications from journals, many duplicates. 700 have been included, 1100 have been rejected and 2300 are pending or in process. During the same period (12 months) 175 journals has been removed from DOAJ.
“Over the years, the demands and expectations from stakeholders have become more complex,” says Bjørnshauge. “You don’t only want to know if a journal is open access. Nowadays, when you have all the open access mandates from research funders, governments, and universities, these organizations want to know more…what kind of license the journals use, do they apply article processing fees, and what the archiving arrangementsare.”
Along with the need for more detail was a call for more transparency, adds Bjørnshauge. Readers wanted to know details about the editorial board, the peer review process, and all the elements that reflect a high-quality journal.
“There are publishers entering this new market with unethical business practices,” he says. “Being able to ask for information and display that information in the public makes the whole business more transparent. Through this service, Bjørnshauge says the hope is to get “shabby publishers out of the market.”
However, for journals that don’t initially make the new cut, all is not lost. Bjørnshauge and the DOAJ advise them on changes they can implement so that they can eventually become part of the directory. “It is part of our mission not to stigmatize publishers, but to help them do a better job,” he says. “If a journal doesn’t match our criteria, then we try to help them address those issues.”
The directory itself goes back over a decade, when Bjørnshauge volunteered to assemble of list of open-access journals following the now infamous gathering of advocates in Budapest in 2002.
A small grant from SPARC and the Open Society Foundation provided seed money to develop the service to establish the DOAJ, led by Bjørnshauge, who was Director of Libraries at Lund University in Sweden from 2001 to 2011.
“The original purpose of the DOAJ was essentially to provide a list of all Open Access journals that exist, since prior to the DOAJ there was no easy way for researchers or librarians to find these journals, “ says Paul Peters, Chief Strategy Officer for the Open Access publisher Hindawi Publishing Corporation, and a member of the DOAJ’s Advisory Board. “However, as Open Access publishing has expanded over the past several years, it has become increasingly important for the scholarly community to be able to judge whether a particular journal is being run in a professional, ethical, and transparent fashion.”
Not only do these standards cover appropriate peer review practices, but they also address issues such as long-term archiving, how conflicts of interest are handled, and transparency regarding a publication’s business model and advertising policies, notes Peters, who also currently serves as the President of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), the leading trade association for Open Access publishers. By updating its application process to include these criteria, the DOAJ will be able to help the research community identify Open Access journals that are meeting these standards of best practice.
“Addressing the scholarly community’s legitimate concerns over the quality of Open Access journals is critical for the movement to succeed, “ notes Heather Joseph, Executive Director of SPARC. “The actions that the DOAJ are taking in close coordination with OASPA provide an important new safeguard, and helps raise the quality bar.”
The DOAJ developed the new application over the course of a year, reaching out to its advisory board as well as a series of well-known international experts for feedback. A draft was circulated for public comment and the community responded with nearly 150 comments.
Caroline Sutton, Co-Founder and Editorial Director of Co-Action Publishing, and past-president of OASPA, was one of the experts with whom DOAJ consulted. She agreed it was time to tighten up some of the some of the criteria, and recognized that it also provided an opportunity to “harmonize” the new DOAJ criteria with the criteria used by OASPA in its membership review processOASPA in collaboration with COPE, WAME and DOAJ developed the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing http://doaj.org/bestpractice, and these organizations and now collaborating in promoting these principles.
“When we first started with Open Access, we were looking to be inclusive. After a few years, we saw there were projects that were more serious and less serious than others,” says Sutton. When OASPA launched in 2008, it introduced a process, which has since been honed.
At an early conference on Open Access, Sutton recalls Peter Suber talking about how it was important for the publishing community to police itself, says Sutton. “It’s very important in doing that to distinguish between clumsy start-ups – there are people with good intensions who have never done this before…and those who were purposely trying to take advantage of the situation.”
The current application form is “only a snapshot,” says Bjørnshauge, acknowledging that it will likely change over time as the industry develops.
The DOAJ since 2005 funded by the community it serves, with 110 university libraries and 15 library consortia paying an annual membership fee to support the organizations work. Many publishers are, as well, sponsoring DOAJ.
Reviewing all the existing DOAJ publications is a huge effort that has been aided by the help of many volunteers. Because many of the journals are in different languages, Bjørnshauge put out a call for help reading applications and volunteers from all around the world have donated their time in the effort. There are about 20 groups with editors reviewing the applications and a three-tiered evaluation process to guarantee a fair decision.
In time, Bjørnshauge anticipates having an established directory of certified high-quality journals will help advance the Open Access movement.
“I hope that this contributes to the strength, credibility, and attractiveness of open-access journal publishing,” says Bjørnshauge. “My vision is that researchers will find it just as attractive to publish in open access as in traditional, subscription-based journals.”
Peters, who was involved in the discussions leading to the new membership criteria, believes that providing a list of independently vetted Open Access journals will address the concern some have about how low-quality, open-access journals have negatively impacted the scholarly communications ecosystem.
“By giving researchers an easy way to determine which journals are being run according to the standards that have been established in the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice, my hope is that the DOAJ can become a sort of ‘white list’ of Open Access journals that adhere to these best practices,” says Peters.
As the field evolves, Sutton sees a need to build awareness around issues like this that the rapid growth of the Open Access publishing field has surfaced. For example, OASPA is looking into working with other organizations to build a campaign around how to tell if an open-access publisher in legitimate.
Sutton says she has only heard positive feedback to the new DOAJ procedure. “I’ve very pleased. By revising the criteria, by showing that we at DOAJ take this very seriously, that we are looking for quality and looking to raise the bar and help as many people get to that bar as possible,” she says. “The community has understood that. I think we’ve lifted the reputation of Open Access more generally.”
Peters says having a stricter set of criteria for journals applying to be in the DOAJ will show open access journals can be just as rigorous and prestigious as their subscription-based counterparts.
“The success of a large number of high quality Open Access journals has already demonstrated that Open Access publications can provide a very good alternative to subscription based journals, while addressing many of the problems inherent in the subscription model,” says Peters. “By addressing the concerns about these low-quality journals we will be able to remove any remaining doubts about the viability, and desirability, of Open Access publication models.”
The DOAJ is a community-supported resources. Any institution or individual interested in supporting the effort can sign up for DOAJ membership at https://doaj.org/supportDoaj.