The library as open access publisher: Meet Igitur publishing

I first encountered Igitur publishing while profiling the new religious studies open access journal Religion and Gender back in December. Igitur publishing is a service of the Library at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. I’ve been meaning to follow-up with Igitur, not only because I wanted to learn more about open access from the publisher side, but also because the idea of “library as publisher” has been really gaining traction in recent years (see, for example, this report just released in mid-March). I am very pleased for this opportunity to sit down (via email) with publishing consultant, Dr. Inge Werner.

Omega Alpha (OA): Dr. Werner, thank you so much for your willingness to speak with me a bit about Igitur publishing. We have been trying to arrange this conversation for a couple of months. I know you have been very busy preparing a launch of three new open access journals (more on this below). Can you tell me what “Igitur” means? It’s Latin, right? How is the name significant to your publishing efforts?

Werner: “Igitur” means ‘thus,’ or ‘therefore’ in Latin. The word stems from a Medieval student song called “Gaudeamus Igitur.” [OA: I found a reference to it in Wikipedia, complete with lyrics.] The name was chosen long before I came to work in the University Library, so I’m not quite sure what the reference implies. I like to think of it in terms of the self-evidence with which the Library aims to facilitate the university faculties and their communities of academics. At this point, “Igitur” has become synonymous with the Open Access activities of Utrecht University Library.

OA: How long have you been at it?

Werner: Do you mean me personally, or the Library as publisher?

OA: Both.

Werner: I started working in the Library after receiving a PhD in Renaissance Studies in 2009. I had been wanting to work in publishing for a long time. I was lucky to be able to start as journal coordinator for the Library’s open access journals. In the meantime my position has evolved to being team leader and publishing consultant in the team that works on the open access e-journals.

The Library has been at it since 1997, when the first Utrecht ejournal was started, the Electronic Journal of Comparative Law (EJCL).

OA: 1997 was still in the relative early days of the public Internet. The Open Access movement, as such, hadn’t even formally begun. I found this excerpt by the Editor, Sjef van Erp, from the very first issue of EJCL, which nicely captures many of the benefits of open access as we would enumerate them today:

One of the advantages – perhaps the main advantage – is that [electronic publishing] uses a new medium (the Internet) for the dissemination of ideas, which makes it possible to reach a readership to a degree which could hardly be imagined only ten years ago. Anyone connected to the Internet can read what is published there. Another advantage is that publication can be done at low cost by e.g. university computer services. It thus leads to a new type of ‘university presses’, and takes the publication of academic writings back to the place where the ideas emanate from. What academic authors most of all want is to be read by their peers, students and others interested in the results of their intellectual endeavours. Being read is, at the end of the day, the ‘profit’ they make and desire. (emphasis added)

Werner:  What I like about the concept of the University, or University Library as publisher is the fact that scholars or societies retain the intellectual ownership of their endeavours and their journal. A traditional publisher would want a journal to fit into a portfolio, while scholars often have a very strong and keen eye for a particular niche in their field, a topic that they would want to see addressed in a journal. This, for instance, is how Religion and Gender started. Dr. Adriaan van Klinken and Prof. Anne-Marie Korte came to talk with us and chose to publish with a library partly because it would give them the opportunity to form the journal according to their own needs.

OA: How are Igitur’s publishing efforts funded?

Werner: Initially, our publishing operation was funded entirely from budgets for innovation from within the Library. At this point, editorial boards and/or their societies pay for starting up and pay yearly amounts for support (and for extra services such as typesetting and print). However, a large part of what we do is still funded from within the Library for ideological reasons—to support OA publishing and stimulate transitions to OA.

OA: So it’s part institutional subsidy and part library budget. It speaks highly of your library’s commitment to open access that you would fund some of the publishing costs from your own budget.

I would be interested to know more about how the Utrecht University Library came upon the idea of promoting open access to the degree that you became a publisher. What was the catalyst? Have European academic libraries experienced the same “journals crisis” that U.S. libraries have regarding increasingly expensive subscriptions?

Werner: Most research and university libraries have been involved in OA since day one. Here in Europe as well as in the U.S. the journal crisis has led to a search for new ways to make scientific output available online.

Utrecht University Library has been developing open access services since 2000 in an innovative unit called Igitur, Publishing & Archiving Services. Two well-functioning open access services have now emerged from this unit. The first is the institutional repository for Utrecht academics called Igitur Archive (the ‘green road’ in OA-speak), and the second the journal publishing service (‘gold road’) called Igitur publishing, the service I am working for.

OA: I believe that if more scholars in religion and theology are going to contribute to and even start new open access journals, they will need encouragement and support from the libraries at their institutions. What advice would you give to libraries that might want to get involved in open access?

Werner: The task of a university library is to support scientific communication, to distribute scientific information, to stimulate knowledge exchange by providing access and, finally, to support archiving and permanent preservation and findability of academic output. This is precisely what we do when we help scholars publish their research. The library’s expertise in online distribution of knowledge (findability and visability) is only one example. Through our archive and persistent identifiers for every published article we make sure the journal content is preserved in a sustainable way.

Speaking from the perspective of (journal) publishing as a relatively new task for libraries, I can only account for the fact that libraries are traditionally strong in services that are very useful in publishing. Typical publisher’s services such as editing and typesetting can easily be outsourced, and as regards peer review, many editorial board are already used to organizing peer review themselves. The actual reviewing is always done by scholars themselves, as a free gift to the academic community and to the publisher who in the traditional model makes good money out of their work.

OA: Can you tell me a little more about the services Igitur provides to scholars who might want to start an OA journal?

Werner: My team is a small team dedicated to the publication of these journals. We support scientific editorial boards of peer reviewed journals who want to publish their journal in Open Access. We offer software to set up and run a journal (Open Journal Systems) and help people to get started and going. My publishing team consists of four people: a marketing consultant, a journal coordinator, a publishing assistant and myself—publishing consultant. We are supported by some highly qualified developers and the Library’s ICT [Information Technology] maintenance section. Also, our subject librarians are involved in working on the findability and visibility of the journals. Due to their very specific skills in online information management, they are able to optimize the way in which journals are indexed and work on search engine optimalization.

Thus (igitur, if you will), over 20 journals have taken the step to Open Access under the auspices of the Library. Some entirely new, such as Religion and Gender, some subscription-based, paper journals who start publishing an Open Access version on the side, or convert to e-only.

In the last months, for instance, we have been working for three old and renowned Dutch society journals in Humanities who are transitioning to Open Access. All three of them have received funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Recently, NWO has supported the start or transition of several journals in Humanities through an Incentive Fund Open Access.

On Friday, March 30, all three of them have published their first issue in Open Access. You can find their websites here:

OA: It is very exciting to see traditional subscription-based journals convert to open access. This appears to include the digitization of back issues on at least two of the journals. Is the plan to include a full-run archive for each of these titles?

Werner:  Yes, together with the societies publishing these three, we are working on the digitization and importing of their archives. The back-issues for BMGN: Low Countries Historical Review have already been imported in the journal’s Archive. Issues have been digitized from 1970 onwards and have been made freely available in full-text via the website at the moment of launch. Studium has several predecessors, uploading these three will be completed in the course of this year. Back-issues for De Zeventiende Eeuw are already online via the DBNL (the Digital Library of Dutch Literature) and will be transferred to the journal website in the course of 2012.

OA: Have you now developed a process that has proven to be effective for open access journal publishing? Would it be fairly easy for other institutions to replicate what you have done? Indeed, have you assisted other institutional/library publisher start-ups?

Werner: Every now and then we talk to other libraries, both in Holland and from abroad who have plans of starting a journal publishing service. In the Netherlands, for instance, the Library of the Free University in Amsterdam has launched several journals last year, and the Technical University of Delft is working on some this year.

OA: Do you have any final thoughts, or can you touch on pertinent issues I failed to mention?

Werner: At this point, when traditional publishers start to convert to open access models and hybrid models, you have Open Access and Open Access. The original OA is about stimulating worldwide knowledge exchange through free availability online. Copyright with the author and licenses (e.g., Creative Commons) that stimulate reuse are also an important part of that. OA, therefore, is not only about accessibiblity but also about licensing. Also, I have concerns about for-profit open access publishing. The financial side of OA is complicated as we are now in a process of transition. Commercial publishing is inevitable, also in an OA world. However, we do need to find a way to keep article processing charges (APCs) within normal proportions. The current situation, where some traditional publishers increase their profits every year while universities are coping with shrinking budgets and cutbacks is untenable.

OA: Before I let you go, can you speak briefly about the e-book side of Igitur publishing? I just downloaded Pieta van Beek’s The first female university student: Anna Maria van Schurman (1636). I’m finding it a very interesting read!

Werner: Pieta van Beek’s book is actually the last e-book we published in the Library. After that, we stopped publishing e-books and decided to focus on journal publishing. We do, however, notice that there remains a big demand in the Faculties for publishing books and booklets online, like conference proceedings, or Utrecht-based output, such as a collection of interviews with Utrecht professors. Hence, we are looking into possibilities of supporting online publishing via a printing on demand button in the Igitur Archive.

OA: Dr. Werner, thank you so much for your time. I will continue to watch developments at Igitur publishing with great interest.

Posted in Economics & Business Models, Intellectual Property & Copyright, Interviews (Publishers), Libraries & OA, Open Access, Peer Review, Publishing Platforms
2 comments on “The library as open access publisher: Meet Igitur publishing
  1. Cy says:

    Gary–Very interesting article.
    Cy Dillon

  2. […] in my last post), and it falls in the same vein of several of my previous posts (such as here and here) covering the “library as publisher” […]

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