COASP 2010 Wrap Up

As my flight back to Oslo ascends into the air and Prague begins to fade with the distance, I have found an opportunity to sit back and take stock of the impact this year’s COASP has left upon me. One thing is clear – it’s a big one.

The topics of the meeting gave food for thought – and I will get to that. But first, something else just has to be said. What is special about COASP – and what is going to keep us wanting to come back year after year – is the people! COASP is the place to let your guards down. COASP is where serious people with progressive and even radical ideas meet to inspire and challenge one another in a collegial, intelligent atmosphere. COASP is where we can admit some weaknesses and celebrate our innovation and successes with others who share an understanding of our challenges as well as our passion. Curmudgeons beware! You too could be sucked into the spirit here.

In my own keynote address I argued, using concepts from Collins and Porras, that discourse on open access publishing has begun to embrace the genius of the AND, leaving behind the tyranny of the OR that has earlier been infused in open access dialogue. The most apparent evidence of this in my mind is the growing number of mixed model publishers – traditional subscription publishers who have launched, or who are preparing to launch, open access journals programs. A well-known example is Springer, who announced the launch of Springer Open earlier this year. Wim van der Stelt offered a candid presentation of Springer’s leap into open access publishing and some of the organizational changes that are taking place as a result.

A second OASPA member, the BMJ Group was also represented and Trish Groves, Deputy Editor of the BMJ, shared with us some exciting steps that the BMJ Group is taking. Worth a particular mention is the launch of a new journal, BMJ Open, which offers a publishing outlet for a wide array of medical publications. The BMJ was in fact one of the first (perhaps THE first) major medical journal to move online and open access, having taken the plunge already during the mid-1990s. I am embarrassed to admit that I did not know this until hearing Trish’s talk. But I can say that it makes me that much more proud to have the BMJ Group as a member of OASPA!

Funding of Open Access publications was a highly discussed topic at the conference and in addition to a breakout session on this, Chuck Eckman from UC Berkeley Library offered a library perspective on the topic. UC Berkeley manages an institutional fund that offers researchers an annual maximum level of support for their open access publications. The fund has been fairly easy to administer to date, and the cost represents a small percentage of the library budget. From the other side of the equation, Matt Cockerill (BioMed Central), Paul Peters (Hindawi) and Mark Patterson (Public Library of Science) gave overviews of their current institutional membership programs. Each program is unique and provided a point of departure for discussing best practices for further developing payment mechanisms as open access publishing grows.

At last year’s COASP the breakout session for institutions and libraries resulted in a suggestion to investigate the possibilities of establishing aggregated payment programs across publishers, and working with library consortia. It became clear to the OASPA board that a useful first step in any discussion around payment programs would be to catalogue OASPA members’ approaches. Anuar Shafiei, a graduate student at The Hague University, who has been working as an intern with Pleiade Management & Consultancy, has carried out a survey of OASPA members and presented the results of this survey at the conference. Clearly, across our membership, fees vary from none at all to over 1000 EUR, and opinions vary as to whether participation in an aggregated institutional membership program would be advantageous or not for themselves or for libraries. Although no specific best practices on this topic emerged from the conference, we do have a good basis upon which we can continue our discussion.

Again, COASP brings together an innovative crowd, so it goes without saying that one session would be dedicated to hearing about some of those innovations. Daniel Mietchen, from the Structural Brain Mapping Group at Friedrich Schiller University, has MY brain spinning with thoughts of the possibilities of using wikis as journal platforms. And while it strikes me that he might be suffering at least mildly from an obsession (please know I mean this in the best possible way!), I can see the guy makes an interesting point. I won’t be looking at wikis in quite the same way anymore.

The necessity for low price solutions (note: low price AND quality) can be a driver of innovation and Rob van Glabbeek, Editor of Electronic Proceedings in Theoretical Computer Science, offered an example of this by showing us how he has built a peer reviewed proceedings series as an overlay of arXiv. His approach made sense, but what I really want to know, however, is how he manages the entire job on just a few hours of work per week!

Peer review is a typical area for innovation today and Ulrich Pöschel, Editor of Atmospheric Chemistry & Physics, presented the journal’s approach to interactive open access publishing and public peer review. While similar experiments in the past have not always met with spectacular results, Ulrich was able to show that public peer review AND quality publications can go hand-in-hand. Submissions of careless papers has all but disappeared, leading to better quality submissions and less work for the editors and editorial board.

Salvatore Mele, CERN, presented the first results from the SOAP Project, giving us a glimpse of what 30 000 researchers think about open access and much more. It was fantastic to catch a glimpse of the enormous data the SOAP project has collected, and which Salvatore’s team worked into the night analyzing such that we could take part in. We’ve gained insight into both some of the expected and very unexpected results one can find there and I am left feeling anxious to learn more as SOAP’s further data analysis progresses. (ps. Few people, if any, are able to present an hour’s worth of data at 9:00 am in quite the engaging and entertaining way Salvatore can!)

The SOAP data demonstrated that there are geographic differences in readiness and opinions about Open Access as well as subject-based differences. This reminds us that we must be alert to open access across different communities, which COASP aims to be.

Mathematics is one area where we find fewer open access journals and it was interesting to hear from Petr Sojka, Faculty of Informatics, Masaryk University, who is working with seven OA mathematics journals as well as in a project to create a European Digital Mathematics library. These activities are fuelling mathematicians’ big hairy goal of capturing the corpus of mathematical formulae on single hand-held device.

Susan Murray, African Journals Online, outlined for us the achievements as well as the challenges that African editors face. While the SOAP data indicated that Europeans and North Americans feel they face some barriers, these pale when juxtaposed against the challenges Susan shared with us, making the successes of AJOL all the more impressive against this backdrop.

From Africa, the conference also moved to a tour through the open access publishing landscape in Greece, where change is also taking place slowly but surely as Victoria Tsoukala, of the National Documentation Centre, EKT, could show. Even Humanities researchers in Greece are beginning to embrace the opportunities. Not bad for the cradle of European scholarship and classic literature!

Finally, this year’s COASP gave space to discussions on Open Access books publishing. Eelco Ferwerda, University of Amsterdam Press and the Director of OAPEN, kindly led a breakout session specifically for this group in addition to a plenum presentation on Open Access monograph publishing in the Humanities. We were also pleased to hear from Donna Livingstone, The University of Calgary Press, who presented very concretely the steps that her press has taken in order to move to open access publishing. I found her talk to be wonderfully sincere, as she shared their good work as well as the tougher aspects of change management with good humor.

The networks that open access books publishers have established over the last couple of years are nothing less than impressive. Clearly, it is challenging to identify sustainable business models to support books publishing but OAPEN and others are determined to show that you can have open access AND books publishing, as well as open access books AND financial stability! OASPA will work closely with this group to design membership criteria, with an aim to complete this before the next election. In the meantime, OASPA welcomes open access books publishers to join as Associate Members such that we can further support discussion and networking in the meantime.

To all the COASP delegates and speakers – thank you for having inspired and challenged me. Please feel free to comment here on the conference and make suggestions for next year.

To the COASP sponsors – River Valley Technologies, the DOAJ, Copernicus Publications, INASP, and Datapage – thank you for helping us make it possible to hold such a conference!

Although my flight is now descending at Gardermoen, and Prague is geographically far behind, the spirit of Prague will be close at hand as the OASPA board works to develop a plan of action for the year to come. I look forward to seeing you all again next year and to welcoming others who recognize themselves in the spirit I’ve described above. Until then, “Preserve the core AND drive progress”!

Warm regards,

Caroline Sutton

President, OASPA

Co-Founder, Co-Action Publishing

PS. All sessions were video-recorded by River Valley. The videos will be available at

4 thoughts on “COASP 2010 Wrap Up

  1. I’d also like to add that the staff at the President’s Hotel in Prague was fantastic. They attended to our every detail and provided us with a wonderful experience. I’d recommend the hotel for any smaller-sized conference.

  2. Pingback: Anonymous

    • Thank you for your comment. Sometimes we forget that not everyone is well versed in these many acronyms. We will be more conscious of this in the future. In the meantime: COASP (Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing), OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association), BMJ (British Medical Journal), CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Reserach).

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