Today’s post is co-authored by my Ithaka S+R colleague Christine Wolff-Eisenberg.
On Friday, Ithaka S+R released the latest cycle of our long-standing US Faculty Survey. This survey has tracked the changing research, teaching, and publishing practices of higher education faculty members on a triennial basis since 2000. Here, we highlight some of the key findings around open access that we expect will be of interest to the scholarly communication community. Notably, we find a widening disconnect between faculty attitudes, on the one hand, and reported practices, on the other, related to open access publishing.
In this seventh project cycle, we surveyed a random sample of faculty at four-year institutions within the United States. Nearly 11,000 faculty members — from a wide variety of fields — responded, for a response rate of 7.2 percent.
In the questionnaire, we continued to track key topics, including information discovery and access, data management, research dissemination, perceptions of student research skills, and the value of the library. We also added new questions on emerging areas of interest, including open educational resources, learning analytics, and evolving scholarly communication models.
The work of this project was sponsored by Clarivate, Digital Science, Elsevier, Ex Libris, JSTOR, and 15 scholarly societies that allowed us to send messaging to faculty in specific fields under their signatory. In addition, a group of 13 colleges and universities ran a localized version of the survey in parallel with our nation-wide sampling.
Christine Wolff-Eisenberg and Melissa Blankstein are the authors of the survey report, which is publicly available.
Strong Sentiment for Open
Faculty members are increasingly interested in open access publication models. Approximately 64% of the 2018 respondents indicated they would be happy to see the traditional subscription-based publication model replaced entirely by an open access system compared to 57% in 2015. Younger faculty are particularly interested in this pivot; roughly three quarters of faculty ages 22 to 34 agreed with this sentiment compared to less than six in ten faculty ages 65 and older
Percent of respondents by age cohort that strongly agreed with this statement: “I would be happy to see the traditional subscription-based publication model replaced entirely by an open access publication system in which all scholarly research outputs would be freely available to the public.”
Majorities of faculty members in every age group, but especially early career researchers, expressed support for a switch to open access.
Notwithstanding this sentiment, traditional scholarly incentives continue to motivate faculty behavior. And, younger faculty members in particular are more likely to face the direct effects of these incentives in processes for job-seeking, tenure, and promotion. As a result, early career researchers are more likely to report behavioral patterns that are inconsistent with their expressed enthusiasm for open access publishing that we discussed above. Indeed, early career researchers often report that they are very closely aligning their research outputs to match the criteria they perceive for success. We observe this across an array of survey findings, but we especially see this pattern of self-reported behavior in one key area.
Faculty continue to value the same characteristics of journals as they have historically. They most highly value a journal’s area of coverage aligning closely to their immediate area of research, the current issues of the journal being circulated widely and being well read by scholars in their field, and the journal having a high impact factor or excellent academic reputation.
Faculty are relatively much less concerned about the extent to which a journal makes its articles freely available. Greater shares of respondents, in comparison, expressed concerns about the costs that they themselves might incur during the publication process through article processing charges. Older faculty, however, find notably more value than younger faculty in a journal making its articles freely available on the internet with no cost to the reader.
“When it comes to influencing your decisions about journals in which to publish an article of yours, how important to you is each of the following characteristics of an academic journal?” Percent of respondents
by age cohort that indicated that each of these characteristics is highly important.
The overall patterns in reported decision-making about free to read vs. free to publish have not meaningfully changed since 2015. With a notable increase in preference towards open, however, as we reported above, we see that the gap between attitude and practice is widening. Especially among early career researchers, real-world incentives remain misaligned — and indeed appear to be moving further out of alignment — with the drive towards open access.
Open Access Royalty
As one of us has observed in The Kitchen, the read and publish/publish and read (R&P/P&R) deals are pushing towards instantiating the current crop of major publishers as the open access royalty. It is therefore noteworthy that very few respondents agree that publishers have been rendered less important to their process of communicating scholarship because of increased opportunities to share their work directly with others online. Moreover, the vast majority of respondents do not take issue with the publishers currently involved in the subscription based model. Approximately seven in ten would be happy to see the same publishers involved in an open access publication system if the traditional subscription-based model was replaced entirely
Percent of respondents
by age cohort that strongly agreed with each of the following statements.
There is little evidence in our findings to support a groundswell of enthusiasm for replacing publishers, or, for that matter, the editorial and other contributions of scholarly publishing.
Read the Report
This offers just a taste of the full meal of findings available. Please visit the Ithaka S+R website to read or download the full report of findings. You are also welcome to join us for a webinar about the broader array of key findings this Wednesday. We look forward to your comments and questions.
Looking ahead, our team is gearing up for the next cycle our Library Survey of deans and directors, which we will be conducting this fall. We would love to hear what you would like to learn next, on scholarly communications and beyond, from this important community.
Thanks to Kimberly Lutz for reading a draft of this post.