Monday, April 22, 2013

Open Access in Poland: Interview with Bożena Bednarek-Michalska

Bożena Bednarek-Michalska is an information specialist and deputy director of the Nicolaus Copernicus University Library in Torun, Poland. She is also a member of Poland’s Open Education Coalition (KOED), a board member of SPARC Europe, and the EIFL-OA country coordinator for Poland.

Bożena Bednarek-Michalska
While conducting the interview below with Bednarek-Michalska three things struck me as noteworthy about the current state of Open Access (OA) in Poland.

First, Bednarek-Michalska reports that access to research information in Poland is “not bad”. In light of Harvard University’s 2012 Memorandum arguing that subscription-based scholarly publishing is now “fiscally unsustainable” this is striking. Harvard is the world’s wealthiest university. If Harvard is struggling, why are Polish universities not struggling too?

Of course, Harvard is a private university, and so has to fund its own information needs. In Poland, by contrast, most subscriptions to international journals are paid for (or at least subsidised) by the Polish government — by means of national licensing schemes, or Big Deals.

So if the traditional subscription-based system is providing reasonable access to research in Poland why are Polish researchers being asked to embrace OA?

Because, says Bednarek-Michalska, it would be foolish to assume that the Polish government will continue to pay the increasingly expensive toll charges that subscription publishers demand. Moreover, she adds, the large electronic journal bundles that commercial publishers offer do not generally include titles published by transition and developing countries. Consequently, she says, it is vital that the research community builds its own open resources. (In fact, the information needs of Polish researchers are already being supplemented by open resources).

In addition, adds Bednarek-Michalska, there are unselfish reasons why the research community should aim to make OA the norm — not least because institutions in the developing world can generally afford to buy access to only a handful of international journals. As a result, their researchers are being deprived of the essential raw material they need in order to contribute to the research endeavour. In short, the developing world has a great deal to contribute, but for so long as it is excluded from much of the global exchange of scientific knowledge it will struggle to play its part effectively.

Not a source of revenue

The second thing to strike me in talking to Bednarek-Michalska was that, unlike most journals published in Western Europe and North America, Polish journals are not viewed as a source of revenue. Indeed, since it is assumed that the role of scholarly journals is to disseminate research, rather than make money, they tend to be subsidised. For this reason, no doubt, many Polish journals are produced not by commercial publishers, but by the organisations that generate the research in the first place — universities and institutes.

The appeal of OA for Polish research institutions, therefore, is not just that it can the increase the visibility of their research output, but (thanks to the frictionless nature of the digital network) it can reduce costs too.

As Bednarek-Michalska explains, “[T]he costs associated with distributing titles (to both Polish and foreign libraries) are huge. As such they represent a significant financial burden for universities, and everyone is looking to reduce this expenditure today.”

She adds that OA encompasses two intertwined issues. “Open access has to be understood as an issue of cost (without charge) as well as an issue of accessibility. If you have a printed version of a journal sitting on the shelf in the library but researchers can only use it in the reading room, accessibility is low. Open access means that journals can be digitised and placed on the open Internet.”

One consequence of the Polish approach is that home-grown publisher Versita (acquired by De Gruyter last year) has introduced an OA model that it calls “publisher pays”. Here publication costs are met by the university or institute that produces the journal, not by its authors (or their funders). 

When learning this it occurred to me that, in light of the increasingly controversial nature of article-processing charges, this approach — were it to be widely adopted — would make Gold OA far more palatable to the research community (Although whether, if commercial publishers were involved, the  cost of distributing research in this way would prove any more sustainable than the subscription system might be doubted).

However, Polish OA advocates are not overly taxed with this issue today. As Bednarek-Michalska explains, right now Green OA has a good deal more traction than Gold OA, and Polish universities are busy setting up institutional repositories to facilitate it. Partly for this reason, perhaps, the highly controversial RCUK OA policy — which expects researchers to “prefer” Gold OA — has attracted little attention in the country.

By contrast, developments in both the EU and the US — including the OA requirements of Horizon 2020, the successful NIH Public Access Policy, the recent White House Memo on Public Access, and the proposed US legislation known as the Fair Access to Science & Technology Research Act (FASTR) — are being watched closely, and have encouraged the Polish government and its ministries to take an interest in OA. (We could note that OA efforts in the US are primarily focused on Green OA, not Gold OA, and the EU, unlike the UK, has expressed no preference.)

Broader movement for openness

Third, it would appear that activists in Poland tend to view OA as just one component of a much broader movement for openness. This is perhaps because they became interested in the topic at a later stage than those in the West (where OA has been an issue for some twenty years now). As a result, they entered the debate at a point where a number of different open movements were beginning to coalesce.

This broader approach is reflected in a new draft bill called the “Act on Open Public Resources”. If the bill were to become a reality it would apply to all publicly-funded scientific, educational and cultural resources. That is, it would cover not just scholarly papers and scientific data, but (where they were publicly-funded, or produced by a  public institution) “maps and plans, photographs, films and microfilms, audio and video recordings, opinions, analysis, reports and other works and subject-matter of related rights in the meaning of the law of 1994 on copyright and related rights, as well as databases in the meaning of the law of 2001 on the legal protection of databases.” (As translated by Tomasz Targosz of Jagiellonian University).

This suggests that if the proposed bill were enacted, Poland could find itself taking a leadership role. As Targosz points out, while as it is currently conceived the proposed Act can expect to face significant difficulties, it does nevertheless take a novel approach. For this reason, he suggests, it would benefit everyone if the experience of the wider movement could be brought to bear on the bill. “As the Polish attempt seems to be one of the first of its kind, certainly in the EU, insight from other countries could perhaps help to make it better and consequently to have a model law for the rest,” he says.

Unfortunately, the bill appears to have attracted little or no attention outside Poland, certainly in the West.

Read on to discover more about the current state of OA in Poland.

The interview begins …

RP: Can you give me a sense of how large the Polish research budget is, how Poland’s spending on research compares with other countries, and what proportion of the papers published globally each year are produced by Polish researchers. (For purposes of comparison, I understand that the UK produces around 6% of the world’s research papers, and currently spends £4.6 billion a year on publicly-funded research)?

B B-M: Part of the answer to this question can be found by referring to the Scimago service. This shows that between 1996 and 2011 Poland published 304,003 papers. This is 1.24% of the world’s research papers (the UK figure is 6.23%). Using Scimago, Poland’s research output can be compared with other countries, and more detailed information about science in Poland can be accessed here.

As concerns, science funding, in 2011 Poland spent 6.3 billion PLN (Polish złoty), which is €1.5 billion [£1.3 billion]. The Polish government plans to spend a little more on research each year.

RP: Can you say how many peer-reviewed journals are published in Poland, and to what extent Polish researchers tend to publish in international journals rather than local Polish journals?

B B-M: We publish around 2,200 scientific peer-reviewed journals in Poland. As to where researchers publish, some of our papers are published in English-language journals, but most are published in Polish ones. In Poland, as a general rule, scientists prefer to publish in international journals, while humanists prefer to publish in Polish journals.

RP: To what extent is access to research a problem in Poland today?

B B-M: In terms of access to knowledge resources, I would say that it is not bad at the moment in Poland. This is mainly because the Polish Ministry of Science buys a government package, which costs about 160 million PLN (£22 million) and provides all Polish universities with access to some paid-for databases.

RP: Is this a national licensing arrangement, or Big Deal?

B B-M: It is a combination. The Polish Ministry of Science funds access to the content of major scientific publishers for all academic and non-commercial research institutions in Poland. The national license agreements with Springer, Elsevier, Wiley, Thomson, as well as the publishers of Science and Nature are coordinated by ICM University of Warsaw, which also hosts the perpetual local archive of the licensed content for Poland.

Access to other publishers’ resources is organised by academic consortia with partial funding provided by the Ministry. Consortia licences only provide access to those institutions that are willing to pay for access. Not all will want to or be able to.

Individual academic libraries also buy access to other databases for their researchers, although they do not buy many as they are expensive. In addition, scientists themselves will use personal contacts to obtain papers. They will also use open resources, which are actively promoted by libraries.

RP: What would you say to someone who responded that if access to research is not bad in Poland today, why should researchers embrace OA?

B B-M: Because the commercial packages that we buy do not have everything that our researchers need. For instance, they have no Polish scientific material, and they do not include material from other countries whose research we need to access — e.g. research from Bulgaria and Russia. So we need to work together to build open resources, and we need as many of these as possible.

In addition, of course, it would be foolish to assume that Poland will always have the necessary funds to buy access to commercial article databases. We also need to take an unselfish view, and be mindful of the needs of those researchers who work in countries whose research institutions cannot generally afford the increasingly expensive offerings of commercial publishers. 

No national solutions

RP: How would you characterise the current situation in Poland so far as open access is concerned?

B B-M: The situation in Poland is pretty good so far as the promotion of open access is concerned. There are quite a few OA events, for instance, and currently we are in the process of creating a Polish OA calendar to catalogue them.

However, we have no national solutions today, either collective initiatives organised by Polish universities, or initiatives overseen by our research foundations. Likewise, no national solution has been put in place by the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

But if you were to rank Poland alongside other countries in Europe in terms of the concrete steps taken by individual colleges or foundations, we would probably be in the middle somewhere.

One positive development is that we are seeing the emergence of a growing number of activists and social groups. I anticipate, therefore, that things will move forward slowly but persistently.

RP: Who are the main research funders in Poland?

B B-M: The largest funder is the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, which has two agencies — The National Centre for Research and Development and The National Science Centre. There are also a number of Polish foundations.
While some of them support OA, none has an official OA policy today. We in KOED have had discussions about open access with the presidents of these centres, but although they are open to debate, they anticipate a lot of political and bureaucratic obstacles to introducing an OA policy.

RP:  ROARMAP lists three OA mandates in Poland, and OpenDOAR lists 75 repositories. I am not sure how up to date these figures are, or how many research institutions there are in Poland, but assuming the figures are correct how satisfied are you with progress to date?

B B-M:  Yes, there are 75 Polish repositories in DOAR. Many of them are digital libraries that also contain current scientific journals and materials. I should point out that the situation in Poland is somewhat specific: when we began building digital content in 2004 we used the Polish software dLibra, which was not designed specifically for scientific information but for any digital object.

At that time we were not aware of dedicated repository software solutions like Fedora and DSpace, and we didn’t understand how important it is for universities to have their own repositories.

As a consequence, for instance, when they were deposited documents were not initially differentiated in any way. Today, however, we do differentiate. For example, we make a distinction between older documents that need to be digitized and documents that are born-digital.

I would think it fair to say that at the moment the situation is very dynamic so far as OA in Poland is concerned. The good news is that something changed within the Polish scientific community last year. Many researchers now understand that repositories can promote the research output of their university, and therefore of their own work. And they realise that this can increase the number of citations that their papers attract, and thus the impact of their work. This is probably because they have now had sufficient experience of using the Internet to see the benefits of increasing the visibility of their research by making it freely available.

But as I noted, there has been no progress with regard to OA policies and mandates. In Poland no one wants to force scientists to make their work openly available, so the focus is on voluntarism. Rather than work on developing a university policy it is felt better to let librarians develop and manage the institutional repository and allow faculty to get used to it. Trying to do it the other way round does not work. Perhaps Poles first need to be shown what is possible, and become acclimatised to new ways of distributing their research over time. 

Green or Gold?

RP:  Would you say that there is currently greater interest in Gold OA (OA journals) or Green OA (repositories) in Poland?

B B-M: I would say that Green OA is much more popular. It is easier to create institutional repositories in Poland, and new repositories are therefore being built, and will continue to be built in the near future.

In my opinion this is a realistic approach. We librarians are successfully convincing scientists that repositories are necessary, and we are doing so by arguing that most material is now born digital, and so must be archived somewhere.

When I talk about repositories, for instance, I do so mainly in the context of long-term archiving. Even though they are coming to appreciate the advantages of the increased visibility that OA provides, for some reason scientists understand the argument better when it is framed in terms of the need to store research, rather than on the need to disseminate it.

At the same time, however, we are working with scientific institutions to transform traditional paper journals into electronic OA journals. The Polish Academy of Science is currently active in this area, for instance, as are some universities — e.g. my own institution, the Nicolaus Copernicus University (NCU).

Specifically, the NCU Press and Senate have decided to migrate NCU journals to the Open Journal Systems (OJS) software over the next 2 years.

We also have an open digital library, an open repository, and an open educational platform. This is a very new collection of open resources. I hope it will prove a good model and example for other Polish institutions.

RP:  Are you saying that NCU Press plans to convert its current subscription journals to OA journals? If so, how will they be funded — through article-processing fees or in some other way?

B B-M: Polish scientific journals (which are generally produced by our universities) are not profitable, so all the printing costs are covered by the owner institution.

Since it is not possible to make money from the journals the open access model seems entirely logical, and this is increasingly the view taken in Poland. OA journals will, therefore, continue to be funded by universities in the way they always have been.

RP: When you say that Polish journals are not profitable, and that all printing costs are covered by owner institutions, are you saying that these journals were never sold on subscription (and so were always OA) or that there were subscription journals that did not cover their costs? If the former, then presumably the only change at NCU Press is that its journals will be migrated to OJS, not that they will be made OA (since they always were OA)?

B B-M: No, they were sold, or sent, to libraries (via a national exchange programme), but never on a for-profit basis. The main problem in the past was that one always ended up with a large number of unsold copies. One benefit of online OA journals is that you don’t end up printing more copies than you can sell or send to libraries.

Additionally, the costs associated with distributing titles (to both Polish and foreign libraries) are huge. As such, they represent a significant financial burden for universities, and everyone is looking to reduce this expenditure today. Open access has to be understood as an issue of cost (without charge), as well as an issue of accessibility. If you have a printed version of a journal sitting on the shelf in the library but researchers can only use it the reading room, accessibility is low. Open access means that journals can be digitised and placed on the open Internet.

RP:  Presumably some Polish academic journals are published by commercial publishers?

B B-M: Yes. Some examples are Termedia, Via Medica and Versita. But Termedia and Via Medica have rich sponsors and so can provide open access to some of their titles or articles. Versita, which is owned by De Gruyter, also has open access policy. And in recognition of the fact that universities fund many Polish journals, it will negotiate agreements with scientific institutions using what it calls its “publisher-pays” model.

RP: Who would you say is mainly driving the development of OA in Poland today: researchers, librarians, research funders, or the government?

B B-M: In Poland, the majority of OA initiatives are undertaken by librarians. Librarians are also the most published on the subject.

That said, there are a number of research centres that have supported open access for a while now — e.g. ICM UW (Warsaw University Interdisciplinary Centre for Mathematical and Computational Modelling), the NCU, the AGH Kracow University of Science, and the Polish Academy of Sciences.

We have also seen the emergence of an initiative of young researchers known as The Citizens of Science. One of the goals of this organisation is to promote open access.  

One thing that distinguishes Poland from other European countries is the existence of the Open Education Coalition (KOED). This brings together a number of organizations that are working towards opening up educational and science resources, and representatives of the coalition take part in all the important debates about openness in Poland.

I should add that the Polish government — specifically the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, and the Ministry of Administration and Digitization — has also recently begun to take an interest in the topic.

Aware of the debate that took place in Europe in 2011, in 2012 the Ministry of Science and Higher Education commissioned a report on open science. This was edited by Marek Niezgódka, and published by ICM UW.

The report is called Implementation and promotion of open access to scientific and educational content and it outlined a path that academic institutions could follow if they decided to implement the OA model.

RP:  What recommendations did it make?

B B-M: The main recommendations were as follows:

  1. The open access model should be included in the parametric evaluation of Polish scientific institutions;

  1. Both the National Science Centre and the National Centre for Research and Development should mandate open access for the research they fund;

  1. Scientific journals that are funded from the public purse should be open access;

  1. The openness of a scientific journal should be taken into account when evaluating it;

  1. All the publicly-funded programmes of the Ministry of Science should use an open access model for the scientific material they produce;

  1. Doctoral theses and dissertations should be published under an open access model;

  1. The Ministry should develop programs to ensure that Polish scientists working abroad embrace open access.

And in line with the international declarations and developed solutions for OA (including libre OA and gratis OA) it was proposed that intellectual property rights in papers should be regulated by means of Creative Commons licenses.

Here is an extract of the Executive Summary in English (Pages 10-23)

“Proposals stated above were put in order according to their importance. The most essential suggested changes concern the parametric evaluation of scholarly institutions and implementation of open mandate in Polish research funding agencies. These proposals are at the same time the most difficult to implement, but they are also able to make significant difference. On the other hand, modules concerning evaluation of scholarly journals and their budget funding should be the easiest to introduce. All of these changes should be complemented with additional actions: building OA recommendation on Ministry level, supporting scientist and institutions in embodying open access policy by legal, financial and infrastructural help, providing a training system.”

To date, however, no action has been taken to provide decisive and systemic support for Polish universities wishing to embrace open access, and the only concrete measure the Polish Government has taken with regard to OA is to fund the publication of articles using Springer Open Choice.

RP: Can you clarify the meaning of the first recommendation: “The open access model should be included in the parametric evaluation of Polish scientific institutions.”

B B-M: We have in Poland a system of evaluation that we call “Parametryzacja”. This involves a survey being completed on each research institution, and on the basis of that survey the Minister makes an assessment. This assessment then determines how much funding the institution gets. 

Act on Open Public Resources

RP: What are the major OA initiatives in Poland right now, and what are their objectives?

B B-M: The most interesting current initiative comes from the Ministry of Administration and Digitization, which has proposed an “Act on Open Public Resources.” If this succeeds our job will be made much easier.

RP:  What is the objective of the proposed Act?

B B-M: The aim is to ensure that as much material as possible is published on the Internet, especially material resulting from public subsidies.

If nothing else, the proposal has sparked a debate in Poland about access to resources that have been funded with public money.

RP:  It sounds much wider than open access alone. Can you say more about the scope of the draft Act, and what specifically is proposed?

B B-M: The Act would define open public resources as scientific, educational and cultural resources that have been supported by public money. It would assume that all of these resources should be open, but to different degrees (more or less open) and over different timescales (e.g. by the use of embargos). I should stress that this would apply only to public institutions and to publicly-funded material.

But as I say, the draft Act has sparked a debate, and a very heated at that. Since the Act would include cultural material there has been a lot of protest from those who work in the world of culture for instance.

So right now, therefore, both OA activists and activists working in the sphere of open educational resources (OER) have their work cut out to try and convince the various communities that the Act is a good idea.

But as I indicated, we are seeing more and more advocates for open science, education and culture emerging today, especially among younger scientists. We are also seeing the formation of working groups in various organizations to support greater openness. This is evident not only among citizens but also in government agencies and academic institutions, as well in foundations like the Foundation for Polish Science and the Polish Science Foundation.

RP:  As you may know, the OA policy recently introduced by Research Councils UK has proved very controversial, particularly its requirement that researchers “prefer” Gold OA over Green OA. Has this controversy influenced the debate in Poland at all?

B B-M: No, there is no great discussion about this in Poland; we are not at that stage of the debate. We also do not have a large national research council like RCUK able to dictate to other institutions and impose a model of OA on them. Consequently, most discussion of OA in Poland today is limited to the question of whether individual institutions should build an institutional repository or convert their journals to OA.

In time, I hope, more and more institutions will do so, and I hope that they will copy what we at NCU are doing. If that were to happen then the ministry would have to take notice.

I would note, however, that the deal with Springer Open Choice suggests that the Minister prefers Gold OA. I assume, therefore, that the focus is on continuing to publish in traditional titles that have an Impact Factor.

RP: Green OA of course enables researchers to publish in subscription journals with a high impact factor but then make their papers OA by self-archiving them (although perhaps after an embargo). One might argue that this is a more effective way of  publishing in high impact factors than paying for Gold OA with a single publisher like Springer.

B B-M: Yes, you are right. I did raise this issue with Minister Elzbieta Orłowska, the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. I suggested that we need to develop OA in Poland in two directions. But unfortunately she believes there is only one form of OA — Gold OA.

RP:  Another controversial aspect of the RCUK policy is its requirement that Gold OA papers are made available under a CC-BY licence. How would you describe the current discussion in Poland vis-à-vis research papers being made available under more liberal copyright licences? Or is this issue not much discussed?

B B-M: CC licences are now well known in the Polish scientific community. We have been trying to promote their use for five years in our scientific society — by we I mean OA and CC activists.

To do this we have organised many lectures, meetings, debates, and workshops, and we have published a lot on the topic. This has even seen the largest newspaper in Poland — Gazeta Wyborczaenter the debate. But what we learn from this is that current understanding of the issues remains very low.

However, some digital libraries and repositories have started using CC. They do so, for example, in my university — but that is because I am based here and can explain what it means to our faculty. You can see an example of one of the CC-licensed documents in our repository (RUM@K) here.

By the way, while we in the Open Education Coalition recommend the use of CC BY-SA for scientific papers, scientists generally prefer CC BY-ND.

RP:  To what extent is EU OA policy (particularly with regard to Horizon 2020) influencing the debate on OA in Poland?

B B-M: The EU initiatives — both Horizon 2020 and the Recommendations of 17th July 2012 — are very important because they have given us an opportunity to open further discussions with the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

The Ministry knows that it is time to focus on the topic, and it was for this reason that it commissioned the 2012 report on the implementation of OA in Poland. As I noted earlier, this was undertaken by the ICM UW, which is a member of the Open Education Coalition. It is very good document, and recommended, inter alia, the use of CC licenses.

I hope that the report will speed up decision making, but we will see. And I hope that the EU recommendations, combined with bottom-up initiatives, will deliver some good results in the near future. 

Helped to focus minds

RP:  I also wanted to ask to what extent developments in the US (including the National Institutes of Health Public Access Policy, the proposed FASTR legislation and the recent White House Memo on OA) are influencing the debate on OA in Poland?

B B-M: As with the EU recommendations, these developments have served to make researchers and physicians more aware of open access to science. Cleary, those who publish with PLOS now also understand the issues.

And it was initiatives like those you mention that helped to persuade the Minister of Administration and Digitalisation (MAiC) to prepare the draft law on open public resources. In other words, the international debate about providing broader access to content — and not just in the field of medical sciences — has helped to focus minds in Poland.

RP:  You will doubtless be aware that a new organisation called the Global Research Council was established last year, and is currently working on an action plan for open access. Is Poland involved in the GRC, and do you expect the new organisation’s initiative to prove important for the development of OA?

B B-M: No, I have no information about any Polish involvement in this organisation. But thank you for drawing my attention to it.

RP: Do you have specific views on the debate about open data and open science, and the role of OA within the larger Open Science debate?

B B-M: I believe the broader debate to be very important. I began to taken an interest in this topic in 2011. Below are some of the lectures I prepared to explain both open science and open data.

·         With Caroline Grodecka from Krakow I developed an e-learning course in which we explain these new terms.

·         In 2012 we also organised with EIFL an international conference about open science.

·         We also prepared a special issue of the EBIB Bulletin on open data (with English abstracts).

·         See also our issue on Open Science and education (with English abstracts).

RP:  What are your hopes and expectations for OA in Poland in 2013?

B B-M: I hope that this year we will see more systemic action to support OA in Poland, and with luck our ministries will develop some specific policies to implement it.

In the meantime, we will continue to organize training events and conferences, and take part in Open Access Week. We will also respond to all official documents on the topic. Our objective is to continue to change the consciousness of Polish society about the need for open science.

RP: Where do you think Poland should be putting its main energy today?

B B-M: I believe that Poland should move quickly to implement the EU Recommendations, although it would have been nice if we had already implemented them.

The proposed Bill on Open Public Resources could be key. If it were adopted Poland could leapfrog many other countries in Europe, and take a leading position on OA. However, it will inevitably be a painful and lengthy process if we are to succeed.

RP: Thank you very much for taking time to answer my questions.


Iryna Kuchma said...

Thank you for the interview Richard and Bożena! Bożena is actually the EIFL-OA country coordinator: (not a former country coordinator).

Richard Poynder said...

Thank you for alerting me to this Iryna. I have amended the text.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes even open licenses are closed: