OCLC’s role in the Open Access ecosystem

This is the second in a series of blog posts exploring the vast terrain of ‘Open’ as it relates to libraries.

The first post in this series provided a broad overview of Open contexts in which libraries operate, signposting some key areas of library interest. Metaphorically, the Open ecosystem was compared to a constellation – a pattern that’s recognizable when you know what to look for, may look somewhat different depending on your local perspective, and emerges slowly from clouds of gas and dust. Out of an opaque and seemingly chaotic space, something luminous takes shape.

A photo of a public land trust, a membership good subsidized by financial contributions from individual members and business partners. The open land is used for commercial agriculture as well as public benefit, including recreational access and environmental stewardship.
Photo credit: Steven Miller “Hikers on the knoll. Jenner Preserve, Sonoma Land Trust.” via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This second installment is closer to earth. It describes the role OCLC plays in the Open ecosystem, focusing on Open Access, a context in which libraries have taken on an especially prominent role. Other Open contexts – Open and reproducible science/scholarship, Open Education, Open source software, Open scholarly infrastructures – are no less important, but a pattern of shared library service expectations has yet to emerge. This is an important consideration for an organization like OCLC, which maintains data and technology platforms for tens of thousands of libraries. We prioritize investments that deliver maximum benefit across our membership, reinforce and extend the strength of shared infrastructure, and sustain our community-building initiatives. Of the various Open contexts in which libraries currently operate, Open Access is the area where OCLC delivers the greatest immediate benefits today.

Supporting library participation in the Open Access ecosystem

OCLC delivers a range of solutions designed to support library participation in Open Access (OA), from facilitating the discovery of OA content to streamlining access and management of Open and ‘controlled’ collections under a variety of open licensing models. Many of these innovations were introduced a decade ago or more when the OA movement was still new. Others reflect more recent adaptations, and more will follow as libraries respond to changes in the scholarly communications environment, shifting policy mandates, and evolving institutional norms.

Examples include:

  • Enhancing the discoverability of Open Access content. For more than a decade, OCLC has provided a metadata harvesting service (the WorldCat Digital Collection Gateway) that enables libraries to register institutional repository content in WorldCat, supporting global library visibility of university research outputs. This service is used by thousands of libraries worldwide, resulting in the registration of more than 60 million items – a doubling of the collection size since OAISter’s transfer from the University of Michigan to OCLC in 2009. This massive collection of library-sourced content is integrated into the freely searchable WorldCat.org website and can also be searched as a separate collection. OCLC also partners with publishers and aggregators to bring metadata for Open Access content into OCLC’s data network so it can be made visible in WorldCat.org and library discovery environments like FirstSearch and WorldCat Discovery. Major OA metadata aggregators, including BioMed Central, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB), JSTOR Open Access Books and Journals, and many others participate in this program. As a result of these partnerships, metadata for more than 100 million OA items is available in OCLC’s data network. To facilitate end-user discovery of these resources, OCLC provides a one-click OA filter in WorldCat Discovery and a separately searchable OA collection in FirstSearch. This reduces “noise” in the discovery experience, enabling library patrons to limit their searches to OA content.
  • Streamlining metadata management for Open Access content. As the scope and variety of OA collections continue to grow, the need for process automation increases. OCLC delivers efficient metadata management for e-content – including OA content – by automating holdings maintenance. This ensures that library holdings and record supply stay up to date as the scope and coverage of collections evolve. It also reduces the time libraries spend monitoring and updating metadata and ensures patron discovery and access keep pace with changes to the library collection. OCLC Collection Manager, part of the WorldShare platform, consolidates metadata management for print, licensed and OA collections in a single application. Using Collection Manager, libraries can activate more than 800 collections of Open Access content to create a customized discovery experience that meets local needs and interests. Leveraging the benefits of library collaboration, OCLC enables libraries to build and share collections of OA titles, so that the benefits of expert selection can be widely shared. Libraries can create custom OA collections to highlight the scholarly work of local faculty and researchers, and enable other libraries to add these resources to their local discovery environments. Thousands of libraries are using this tool to manage and share OA collections.
  • Improving license management workflows for Open Access content. The proliferation of Open Access business models has complicated license management for libraries. In addition to tracking the terms under which e-content may be accessed at a collection level, libraries may need to track entitlements for individual titles in a package or even individual articles for which Article Processing Charges (APC) have been paid. The complexity of these arrangements mirrors the complexity of the business models that support ‘free to read’ and ‘free to publish’ agreements between libraries and publishers. From an operational standpoint, the costs of ‘free’ may be considerable – beyond paying subscriptions and tracking entitlements, the library may need to assume burdensome new workflows to document compliance with OA mandates or monitor usage of OA content. The License Manager module in OCLC’s WorldShare platform accommodates evolving workflows, enabling libraries to define custom terms (for example, access rules for hybrid OA journals, or APC counts) in addition to configuring more than 30 standard terms. Libraries can also build license templates to create model OA agreements, to harmonize licensing terms when negotiating subscriptions and renewals. As libraries step up to new roles managing complex Open Access license agreements, infrastructure like OCLC’s License Manager enables them to share model agreements, scaling the benefits of traditional copy cataloging to new areas of library work.
  • Facilitating access to Open Access content. Global discovery of OA publications is only valuable when it enables reliable access to content. Years ago, OpenURL was introduced as a standard method of connecting library users to the ‘appropriate copy’ of an electronic resource, providing link resolution based on institutional subscriptions and entitlements. With the growth of Open Access publishing, libraries are increasingly interested to provide direct access to OA versions of published content to promote the value of OA as a publishing model. This also helps to reduce friction in the end-user’s discovery experience by removing authentication barriers, where users must provide credentials and/or click through multiple interfaces before accessing the full text of an article. Differentiating between various versions of OA content at the point of discovery – a preprint, an author-accepted manuscript (sometimes referred to as a ‘postprint’), the published version of record, or even a retracted version of record, etc. – and presenting the ‘appropriate copy’ is not trivial. OCLC is tackling this challenge in a couple of ways. We offer an API-based integration of Unpaywall (a popular aggregation of OA content) in WorldCat Discovery, which surfaces links to OA versions of published content dynamically. And we support integration with LibKey, a service that provides direct links to full-text (PDF) OA versions of articles, including retracted versions. For researchers especially, differentiating between different ‘states’ of publication – prior to peer-review, peer-reviewed but not yet published, published, retracted, etc.  – is important to evaluating the credibility of sources.
  • Smarter ILL workflows: shortening the fulfillment cycle for Open Access content. Despite the advances libraries have made in providing global discovery and direct patron access to OA content, some fulfillment requests still land in the Interlibrary Loan (ILL) department. When ILL staff can identify OA fulfillment options, they can reduce the operational overhead of processing borrowing and lending requests. WorldShare ILL enables library staff to identify OA versions of titles that are requested by local borrowers or received as a lending request from another library at the time a request is received, so they can offer direct OA fulfillment instead. Using Tipasa, OCLC’s ILL management application, these workflows can be further automated, enabling ILL staff to notify a local patron or borrowing library and supply an OA link using a template. These timely interventions can short-circuit more costly and time-consuming fulfillment options, allowing ILL staff to focus on higher-value activities. Between January and April 2023 alone, more than 5000 requests were fulfilled using OA links in WorldShare ILL and Tipasa, delivering immediate impact for library patrons.

With these service enhancements and innovations, OCLC is tackling some of the key pain points that libraries face in transitioning their collections and services to achieve institutional Open Access goals, fulfill compliance mandates, and/or align with evolving community norms. We will continue to evolve our metadata, discovery, and management solutions to support emerging OA practices, consistent with our mission of expanding access to the world’s knowledge.

Beyond delivering workflow solutions that facilitate library participation in Open Access ecosystem, OCLC is committed to providing thought leadership to inform library strategy and practice, in the form of original research and educational programming that is shared freely with libraries worldwide.

Thought leadership: clarifying library roles and opportunities in the Open ecosystem

OCLC Research provides thought leadership on a wide range of topics, from data-centered analyses of the evolving collections landscape to practitioner-oriented explorations of library workflows. This distinctive research capacity – broad and deep subject matter knowledge, methodological expertise, direct access to networks of library practitioners and leaders – is part of what makes OCLC an extraordinary organization and community resource.

Here is a sampling of recent OCLC Research activities that provide insights into emerging library roles in the Open ecosystem:

Understanding researchers’ expectations for reusable data

For more than a decade, OCLC has been at the forefront of research on Open Science/Scholarship and its implications for libraries, particularly related to research data management. The IMLS-funded Dissemination Information Packages for Information Reuse (DIPIR) project investigated researchers’ data reuse needs and practices. It examined what it means for data to be reusable and for researchers to be satisfied with their data reuse experience. This research contributes to digital curation conversations about the preservation of context as well as content. Findings have been used to inform data curation checklists and demonstrate the value of data curation activities. The Secret Life of Data project is an NEH-funded research partnership between OCLC and Open Context, a research data publishing service. Our research team has been examining team-based research in the field and has identified ways to improve data creation and management practices to positively impact the team’s use of its data, as well as Open Context’s downstream curation activities and the broader community’s data reuse experiences. 

Exploring the information-seeking behaviors of today’s (and tomorrow’s) learners

A long-running partnership between the University of Florida, Rutgers University and OCLC Research is examining how students find and use documents on the open web. The IMLS-funded Researching Students’ Information Choices project investigates the behavior, perceptions, and decision-making of students evaluating information resources in an open web search environment. The project has identified differences in students’ evaluations of scholarly and popular sources (see Container Collapse and the Information Remix, Science and News, and Authority, Context, and Containers), making it crucial for information literacy instruction to address evaluation in open web systems, not just curated library systems. More recently, the project found that most students don’t recognize preprints as a distinct category of publication and pay attention to peer-review indicators only when asked to evaluate the credibility of an information resource (Students’ Perceptions of Preprints Discovered in Google). The project team is currently analyzing students’ perceptions of access and its effects on their evaluation of information resources. Early results from this study were shared in a poster session at ACRL 2023. 

Library roles in the Open Science arena

Universities around the world have begun implementing and adapting Open Science (OS) frameworks over the past decade and research libraries have followed suit, assuming new roles and responsibilities in Open Access publishing and FAIR data management. In Europe, the LIBER Open Science Roadmap provides guidance to research libraries exploring this landscape and establishing their role(s) within it. In 2020, OCLC Research and LIBER conducted a joint discussion series based on this roadmap. Participating librarians voiced concern about being inadequately equipped to collaborate with the array of non-library stakeholders needed to enable success in Open Science. This finding led to the development, in 2021, of a joint LIBER/OCLC Research workshop series on social interoperability to help librarians forge partnerships with more confidence in the rapidly evolving open ecosystem.

Discoverability of Open Access content

In 2018-19, OCLC’s Global Council sponsored an international survey of library ‘open content’ activities. Respondents reported a high level of confidence in the success of library efforts in several areas, including library support for faculty/researcher content creation, investments in institutional repositories and library-managed publishing platforms, and digitization of cultural heritage collections. They also reported dissatisfaction with the visibility of Open Access (as formally defined) and openly available content (whether expressly licensed as ‘open’ or not) in library discovery environments. These and other findings are highlighted in a report published by OCLC Research in 2020.

In 2021, at the invitation of the Dutch library community, OCLC Research organized Knowledge Sharing Discussion Series to learn more about open content activities and experiences in Dutch academic libraries. This investigation confirmed that there is a gap between library perceptions of success in Open Access publishing activities (i.e., creating and disseminating OA content) and confidence about the discoverability of these materials.

OCLC’s Open Access Discovery project is designed to address this gap by providing libraries with better evidence to improve the discoverability of OA publications. This project is investigating how library staff are integrating scholarly, peer-reviewed OA publications into their users’ discovery workflows and surveying users about their discovery experiences. This research is being carried out by OCLC in partnership with two important Dutch library consortia—Universiteitbibliotheken en Nationale Bibliotheek (UKB) and Samenwerkingsverband Hogeschoolbibliotheken (SHB).

These are just a few examples of OCLC Research programs that are exploring the Open landscape, clarifying significant opportunities for libraries, and helping them plan with confidence. OCLC shares the outputs of this work freely, in research reports that are published under Creative Commons (CC-BY) licenses or as Open Access preprint of articles in academic and professional journals.

Going forward

OCLC’s investments in community-facing research and developing solutions for evolving library workflows (including Open Access), are made possible by a business model that balances our responsibility to manage community infrastructure on behalf of our members, with our mission to serve the world’s libraries.

The combined strengths of sound organizational management, financial sustainability, and community governance have enabled OCLC to evolve its products, services, technology platform and data network to meet the changing needs of libraries. Without this foundation, OCLC could not have taken on stewardship of OAISter or enabled it to scale globally. We would not have the resources to develop and maintain the WorldCat.org discovery platform that provides visibility for libraries and publishers, to expand and improve the WorldCat data network so that it is more fully representative of global library capacity, to deliver resource-sharing and management solutions that improve library efficiency and reduce library costs, or to produce freely available research.

The next post in this series will describe the membership-good business model that sustains the community infrastructure OCLC provides and enables us to deliver ‘common good’ benefits to all libraries.

This post benefited from the input of numerous OCLC colleagues. Special thanks to Alexandra Winzeler, Jennifer Rosenfeld and Laura Falconi for their product insights; Ixchel Faniel and Titia Van der Werf for summarizing relevant OCLC Research projects; and Merrilee Proffit for all-around editorial excellence.