Croatian Open Access Declaration, the “Hamster” portal, and open access theology journals

I received an email last month from Matina Ćaran, theological librarian at the Biblijski institut/Bible Institute in Zagreb, Croatia about open access initiatives happening in her country. She told me about the Croatian Open Access Declaration that was officially released on October 24, 2012, and about Hrčak (“Hamster”) an open access scientific journals portal, which also hosts a number of journals in theology, including Kairos, a title published by the Bible Institute. I want to thank Ms. Ćaran for bringing these initiatives to my attention. I am also indebted to Dr. Ivana Hebrang Grgić, senior research associate with the Department of Information Science Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, whose book Open Access to Scientific Information in Croatia: Increasing Research Impact of a Scientifically Peripheral Country (2011, pre-publication version) added significantly to my understanding of the current state of open access in Croatia as I was researching for this piece. Thanks too, goes to Google Translate, which helped me immensely with the Croatian language.

Croatian Open Access Declaration

The Croatian Open Access Declaration was presented at a workshop hosted by the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Zagreb, on October 24, 2012 during International Open Access Week. The workshop featured presentations by professors, librarians, computer information technologists, and a computer science student. The opening speech was given on behalf of the Croatian Ministry of Science, Education and Sports—the central funding body for basic research in Croatia—which has put open access to scientific literature on the national agenda. The first signatories of the Declaration were members of the organizing committee and presenters at the workshop.

To express our concern caused by lack of strategic points of reference on access, dissemination, storage and preservation of scientific information in Croatia, we are making the Croatian Open Access Declaration the purpose of which is to sensitise everyone who participates in creation, publishing, use, and preservation of scientific information in Croatia. In our declaration we are stressing the fundamental importance of scientific information, necessity of it being available to everyone, and obligation of its permanent preservation. Open Access means unrestricted, free, and undisturbed online access to digital scientific information that allows scientific information to be read, stored, distributed, searched, reached, indexed and/or used in any other legal way. Unrestricted in this context means free of any restrictions and terms imposed upon its access and use. For the purpose of having unrestricted access to the information, it is necessary to guarantee anonymity to the information users. … We are inviting the state administration, headed by the ministry responsible for science, as well as scientific and educational institutions, organisations, professional associations, and all the others involved in gathering and publishing scientific information to act decisively and in coordination in order to store all the Croatian scientific information in open access form. (from the Declaration)

As of February 2, 2013, 549 persons have added their names in support of the Croatian Open Access Declaration.

Hrčak (“Hamster”): Portal of Scientific journals of Croatia

hrcak.hampsterIn 2003, the Croatian Information and Documentation Society developed an idea for a central online portal for storing and accessing Croatian scientific and professional journals. The platform was developed and is maintained by the University Computing Centre, University of Zagreb, and it receives support from the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports of the Republic of Croatia as part of the government’s Science and Technology Policy [PDF]. The portal, which was launched to the public in February 2006, is called Hrčak, or “Hamster,” (apparently) named for that rodent’s remarkable ability to stuff its cheeks with food, which it then safely stores in its nest, to eat as needed at a later time. Not only is Hrčak intended as a portal for current access, it also serves as an archive for ongoing preservation, including journal titles no longer in publication. The Hrčak portal utilizes Open Journal Systems (OJS) publishing and peer-review management backend.

Thanks to Hrčak, publishers have a free, simple and fast tool for creating online versions of their journals, i.e. for small effort and no cost they can become OA publishers. Publishers are responsible for the regular uploading of full text articles and for inputting metadata at journal, issue and article level. Authors can see their articles’ download counters; their articles have better visibility and impact. Research and academic institutions get the chance for better dissemination of their research results. Readers (who can be scientists or the wider general public) can easily access the results of publicly funded research. Web robot software programs can disseminate information about the articles to the global scientific community. (Hebrang Grgić, pp. 48-49.)

According to Dr. Hebrang Grgić the majority of journal publishers in Croatia are not-for-profit, a status that makes them eligible for government support. According to the “Code of ethics for editors on the Hrčak portal” [PDF in Croatian], open access content is a pre-requisite for inclusion in Hrčak, with preference given to content that is immediately available (simultaneous with the release of a print or digital version). In special publishing circumstances, an embargo of up to 6 months is allowed, though issues will not be publicly displayed as published in the portal during this time. Finally, to enhance international visibility of Croatian research published through the portal, bibliographic information such as titles, abstracts, and keywords should be included in English and other languages. Conversely, inclusion of foreign-published Croatian research in Hrčak should include bibliographic information in Croatian. As of this writing, Hrčak has archived 323 journals, 7,013 issues, and 88,218 full-text articles.

UPDATE: I received further information about Hrčak from the portal’s development team at the University Computing Centre, University of Zagreb. The name “Hamster” is an acronym for HRvatski (Croatian) CAsopisi (journals). The portal was developed in-house and has been designed to be easy to use. “It does not support the whole publishing process like OJS, just the publication of ‘finished’ articles. Journal editors do all the manual work. They enter articles (each article as separate pdf) and respective metadata for their journal. We also have an OJS instance for interested journal editors, and have implemented a bridge between OJS and our back-end so there is no need to duplicate effort.”

Theological journals in Hrčak/Hamster

Calling this a portal for scientific journals is technically misleading from a disciplinary standpoint, because Hrčak also includes journals in the social sciences and the humanities. “Scientific” here is meant to encompass any systematic scholarly study of a topic or subject.

Of particular interest are 22 journal titles listed under Theology. A closer look shows 20 titles with content, including 3 titles that are apparently no longer published, but issues are included for archival access. About half the titles include coverage in theology as part of the inter- or multidisciplinary scope of the journal. Ms. Ćaran is not aware of any significant theological journal that is not included in Hrčak.

About a third of the journals are relatively new, having begun publication in the last 10 years. But several have been around for a long time, including Obnovljeni život/Renewed Life (ISSN 0351-3947), published by the Institute of Philosophy and Theology of Society of Jesus since 1919, and Bogoslovska smotra/Theological Review (ISSN 0352-3101), published by the Catholic Faculty of Theology, University of Zagreb since 1910 and is considered one of the oldest Croatian scientific journals. (I have created links to these titles in the Journal Directory.)

Kairos: Evangelical Journal of Theology

One of the relative new journals is Kairos: Evangelical Journal of Theology (ISSN: 1846-4580 (Croatian), 1846-4599 (English)), published by the Biblijski institut/Bible Institute, Zagreb beginning in 2007. (I have created a link to this title in the Journal Directory.) On the journal’s website, editor Stanko Jambrek lists four goals for the journal.

First, to be a canal for communicating the gospel and biblical values to intellectuals, pastors, preachers, students, believers and society. Second, to be a publishing support to Croatian evangelical theologians and scientists as well as lovers and doers of the Word of God. Third, to be a Croatian Evangelical voice to the world. Fourth, to publish articles of authors from around the world who are important to Evangelical Christianity in Croatia. The academic works of Croatian authors and authors from abroad who work in Croatia or who have been, in some way spiritually connected and influential in Croatia will be published in the articles and discussions section. Articles may be from biblical, systematic and applied theology, ethics, Church history, and sociology of religion, philosophy and church life. The journal publishes academic works that are characterized in accordance with the recommendation of the Ministry of Science, Education and Sport of the Republic of Croatia. Kairos publishes articles that are reviewed and those that are not subject to review. Articles that may be categorized as “academic” or “expert” need to have at least two positive reviews. Reviews are anonymous. The journal publishes articles without review that are of relative content for Evangelical Christianity, well thought out and well written.

I gathered Dr. Jambrek’s statement that the journal publishes academic works “in accordance with the recommendation of the Ministry of Science, Education and Sport of the Republic of Croatia” is referring to standards of academic quality, peer-review, etc. But also because the journal is open access.

As it happens, librarian Matina Ćaran is the journal’s secretary. I was able to ask her about Kairos as an open access journal.

We are proud to say that Kairos has always been open access, and will continue to be so. Kairos has so far been published by the Bible Institute, and as of this year it will continue to be published jointly with the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, Croatia. It is the first Evangelical theological journal in this region of Europe. Although it is a fairly new journal, over the last six years it has become a true Evangelical voice in these parts of the world, and we are reporting both strong and diverse readership. As a secretary of the Journal, I am happy about our growing exchange with other journals in the region, and presence in various open access databases and libraries.

Ms. Ćaran is also a signatory on the Croatian Open Access Declaration. I asked her about her philosophy of open access.

I am a librarian hoping for the time when I will no longer have say to my fellow students: “This is a article you need, but we cannot get it for you.” My personal philosophy of open access rests primarily on front-line work with students, and my personal experience throughout my previous and current studies: hitting walls of restricted access, having to become skilled in all kinds of ways to get to the requested information, article or book, and trying to work with what one has. However, even before I started working as a librarian at my school, I always believed that scientific information is something that is shared and given, not possessed and bought, and that everyone honestly seeking it for the sake of good should have an equal opportunity to access it.

Posted in Economics & Business Models, Intellectual Property & Copyright, Interviews (Journals), Interviews (Scholars), Libraries & OA, OA Policies, Open Access, Peer Review, Publishing Platforms, Publishing Technology, Scholarly Associations, Scholarly Journals
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