A major step forward for open-access publishing

Representatives from the science-funding agencies and library communities of 29 countries are meeting at CERN today to launch the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3) initiative. At a meeting last week the CERN Finance Committee officially approved the award of contracts for the provision of peer-review, open access and other publication services for the benefit of SCOAP3. The consortium aims to provide unrestricted access to high-energy-physics (HEP) research literature in its final, peer-reviewed form, by sharing the cost of the peer-review service between funding agencies, research institutions, libraries and library consortia, while publishers make electronic versions of their journals open access.

"The Finance Committee's approval is a watershed, with a large exclamation mark!" says CERN librarian Jens Vigen. "After years of design and consensus building, we can now move on to the implementation phase of the project. This is the first time ever that an entire field is concretely moving towards open-access publishing."

The goal of open access is to grant anyone free access to the results of scientific research. But the current model of scientific publishing – where journal access is restricted to paying customers and reuse of material is hindered by copyright restrictions – is at odds with this idea. Traditionally libraries have paid, on behalf of their readers, for access to content. However, the service needed by the community is the peer-review and quality-assurance service, as in the field of high-energy physics community preprints of articles are generally made available online long before they appear in journals. SCOAP3 is putting this service at the centre, remunerating the publishing industry for it, while content will be open access.

"The issue is that people in our field don't tend to read the journals, they read the arXiv," says Vigen. "This said, peer-reviewed journals add an indispensable quality stamp. The new system enshrines the role of the journals in providing the peer-review service rather than repositories of content."

With a projected SCOAP3 budget of 36 million Swiss francs over three years, 12 journals from 7 publishers are now on the list for a possible contract for the provision of peer-review, open access and other publication services. Over 6600 articles relevant to the field were published in these journals in 2011; this represents the vast majority of the literature.

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