Open access for scholarly publications, part 10 – Infrastructure

The National Library of Sweden has held the appropriation directive from the Swedish Government to produce recommendations for the change to an open access scholarly publication system. These recommendations are presented by Henrik Schmidt, librarian here at KIB, in a series of blog posts.

How we communicate scientific results has changed as a consequence of digitisation. Sweden and many other countries are moving away from traditional publishing models. Yet we remain in a transitional period; with one foot still in the printed and closed landscape while the other one is trying to gain a foothold in the new, digital and open. For example, the means of dissemination and business models are changing, the scientific text is being enriched, new machine-readable identifiers are being established, the question of copyright is under discussion, as are a host of other matters.

As we have written about earlier in this series, the National Library of Sweden (KB) has conducted five investigations (only in Swedish) with the goal of producing recommendations for national solutions to the challenges posed by transitioning to a new scientific publication system. The purpose of these investigations is to support the scientific community in its structural conversion and by doing so reach the government’s target goals on open access. A deciding factor in the transition to open access is an altered and expanded infrastructure as far as systems, technologies and functions are concerned. The tenth recommendation issued by KB concerns the investment in and coordination of the new, centralized, infrastructural services necessary for enabling open access publishing.

As a result of digitisation, investments in infrastructure and information management plans are in focus, both here at Karolinska Institutet (KI) and at other educational institutions. In one blog post (only in Swedish), KI’s president has suggested that a national strategy, with accompanying resources, is necessary in order to ensure a coherent and coordinated use of advanced and costly research infrastructures. Strategy 2030 further states that in order to be groundbreaking in the present as well as in the future, an effective, collective and powerful IT-support, in all senses of the word, is needed. KB also emphasizes that new plans and resources are necessary in order to make the information, data and knowledge produced at KI (as well as at other institutions) openly accessible.

Hand in hand with the development of an IT infrastructure, standards need to be expanded and disseminated, not least in order to implement the so-called FAIR-principles: Findable, Accessible, Inter-operable, and Reusable. However, this is easier said than done. There are many resource swallowing pitfalls to avoid falling in to. Local perspectives and needs can encounter difficulties in accomodating regional, national and/or international ones.

One example of a challenge is the landscape of digital archives for parallel-published articles (so-called self-archiving). Self-archiving means that the researcher, if the publisher permits, publishes a peer-reviewed version of their article in an open access archive (sometimes referred to as a repository), while also publishing the article in a journal. This road to open access is sometimes referred to as the ”green” road. Most educational institutions have their own digital archives (at KI there is There are also, national and international archives, archives connected to research funding agencies and ones focused on specific subjects. The same article may appear in many different archives and the various archives are not always built up according to the same principles. So the landscape is quite messy. And not always FAIR.

Further more, the number of self-archived articles varies between Swedish universities. Many follow and register their own publication productivity through a local archive. At several universities, it is obligatory to register all publications in the local digital archive by simply providing bibliographic information, and as far as possible, the full text article included. At KI, the number of self-archived articles is low. No one is required to register. KI’s publication productivity is instead more readily apparent in the bibliometric system. A substantial proportion of publications is also searchable and visible in databases such as PubMed and Web of Science. This is not irrelevant. The significance of visibility and searchability in the scientific community has increased. This can in part be explained by the increased competition for research grants through evaluations and rankings. Visibility and searchability are prerequisites for increased ambition when it comes to collaboration and scientific impact.

On a national level, we have SwePub. SwePub contains references to scientific publications from approximately 40 Swedish educational institutions, including KI. The government provides commission and resources, while the KB is responsible for developing and managing SwePub. In addition, the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish Higher Education Authority are also participating. A strong motivational factor behind SwePub is, and has been, the desire to have the country’s research publication collected, accessible, and therefore more available for analysis and resource allocation. SwePub is built up by exports from the Swedish universities. Exports that should preferably be processed, enriched, controlled for quality and adjusted according to standards, in order to ensure that the database becomes what it is meant to be. University libraries, who are often in charge of this kind of work, do not receive any specific funds to do it, and the university management tends to want other things from its library. 

In its investigations, KB also emphasizes a socio-technical perspective on information infrastructure. This means that in addition to the technical aspects of IT, we also need to pay attention to how the technology coordinates with social and organizational conditions. The infrastructure will partly be shaped depending on how it is regarded and used by both researchers and others. In other words, we need to strengthen and continue to develop the infrastructure and standards of scientific publishing, but also adjust these systems so they are more closely aligned with how research is actually conducted and organised.

Recommendation 10 reads as follows: That educational institutions and research funding agencies provide continued and expanded financial support to existing as well as to new central infrastructural services that ensure open access, as well as provide resources for coordination of infrastructures.

Find out more about the description of and argument in favour of this recommendation in the report: Öppen tillgång till böcker (only in Swedish).

All blog posts in this series

Henrik Schmidt

Librarian engaged in research support in various forms. Teaches doctoral students and researchers in areas related to literature search, publishing strategies and publication analysis.