Archäologische Informationen in Open Access: A model case for changes in academic publishing
Editor, Archäologische Informationen
(See email contacts page for the author's email address.)
The German specialist journal Archäologische Informationen has been published not only as a print edition but also in open access since Volume 2013, making it accessible to everyone around the globe for free. Its open availability on the Internet has many advantages for authors and readers, and it changes the relationship between the specialists and laypeople interested in archaeology. The transition of Archäologische Informationen to open access is presented here as a model case under its specific conditions.
What is new?
The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte e.V. (DGUF, German Society for Prehistory and Protohistory) gave the specialist journal it publishes, Archäologische Informationen a significant makeover during 2012 and 2013. (1) In addition to the journal, which continues to be published in printed form, all papers are now published online in open access as well. New papers are published in "Early View" even before they appear in print, i.e. they are published immediately after the academic and technical work has been completed and without regard to the preparations for the rest of the issue of the journal. (2) The online edition of the journal now makes it possible to include additional electronic material, e.g. high-resolution color photographs, maps, 3D images, and scientific data, where technical issues mean it is not possible or not practical to print them. (3) In addition to the usual quality control undertaken by the editors, all papers are now subjected to a peer review procedure.
In Germany, Archäologische Informationen is thus the first national archaeological journal not limited to a highly specialized topic to pursue this route to open access. Compared to the previous system, the change means noticeable additional work, and the association that funds the journal is also taking an economic risk. Therefore, before this step was taken there was a comprehensive process of clarification and evaluation, following which the association's management came to the conclusion that the benefits and opportunities of the open access strategy are more important than the disadvantages.
The context: The changes in the world of academic publishing
Free access to academic publications (open access) and research data (open data) are topics that are being widely discussed at present; all over the world many important research funding providers desire and support publication in open access. Those who publish solely in print or publish online behind a paywall are already losing public subsidies, and this trend will grow in the years to come. The publishers of other archaeological specialist journals will therefore also have to consider this step, even if they reach other decisions for reasons that make sense from their point of view or choose other practical solutions. The transition of Archäologische Informationen, a well-known archaeological specialist journal with a wide circulation, to open access is presented here as a model case under specific conditions: the situation at the outset, the foreseeable effects and consequences of open access, and the publisher's view of the advantages and disadvantages of the route taken.
Brief introduction: Archäologische Informationen
Archäologische Informationen (www.archaeologische-informationen.de) has been published since 1972 and accepts papers in German and English. It is sent to all DGUF members, and non-members can also subscribe to it or buy individual issues. By 2012 a total of 1,200 papers had been published in 35 volumes; the print circulation is around 1,000 copies. The distribution of the journal focuses primarily on Germany and secondarily on Europe: According to DGUF data, in mid-May 2013 about 92% of the journal's personal subscribers were from Germany, 7% from the rest of Europe, and 1% from the rest of the world. According to WorldCat (www.worldcat.org, Oct. 2013), 61% of the public libraries that subscribe to the journal are located in Germany, 30% in the rest of Europe, and 9% in the rest of the world.
At the beginning of each issue there are contributions relating to one focal topic; the talks given at the DGUF annual meetings often constitute one main topic. Academic disputes are taken up in the "Forum," where an initial paper is followed by further contributions that discuss its propositions in more detail, after which the author of the initial paper can comment and provide a concluding reply. Looking back, one finds some of these focal topics and forum discussions have turned out to be milestones. By way of example, I mention the discussion on the "Secondary Products Revolution" between M. Vosteen and A. Sherratt (1995-96) or the hypothesis of an autochthonous neolithization in Central Europe which was introduced for discussion by A. Tillmann in 1993 and led to several important papers in 1994 and again in 2003. A further example of a forum typical for Archäologische Informationen is the broad public discussion of university education and training in the discipline of prehistory and protohistory initiated by the "Arbeitskreis Archäologische Perspektiven" (archaeological prospects working group) in Issue 16(1) in 1993 that then ran over several issues and also included a subject-specific discussion of the Bologna reform. With the "Forum," and also with other content, such as the "Dissertationen & Examensarbeiten" (doctoral & other theses) section, in which junior scientists present their theses in short articles, the journal has several unique features that make it an unmistakable and permanent part of the publication landscape in German archaeology.
The publisher, The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte e.V. (DGUF), has more than 700 members and is Germany's largest national association working in the field of prehistory and protohistory. The DGUF works to bring together both scientists and members of the general public who are interested in archaeology, and it is the only national association for prehistory and protohistory that accepts personal members. The society holds an annual meeting, maintains a website (www.dguf.de), issues a free monthly newsletter, and awards the Deutscher Archäologiepreis (German Archaeology Prize). It is also involved in archaeological policymaking. In 2013, for example, it organized a public petition against cuts in the state budget for archaeology in the Federal German State of North Rhine-Westphalia, which ultimately became the largest petition for archaeology and the preservation of monuments ever undertaken in Germany. All DGUF members receive Archäologische Informationen as a membership benefit.
The status of open access in Europe in 2014
Open access has been a key issue for academia and research funding all over the world for more than a decade. In the "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities," nineteen international research organizations with strong German participation initially agreed to this goal in October of 2003 (openaccess.mpg.de/3515/Berliner_Erklaerung). All important governmental research funding organizations in Germany were among the very first signatories. By the end of 2013, 468 institutions worldwide had signed the Berlin Declaration (http://openaccess.mpg.de/3883/Signatories). For the European Science Foundation (ESF), the EU's main organization for research funding, open access is one of the key concerns of the funding program for 2014 to 2020 ("horizon 2020"), which has just started. All projects funded by the EU are urged to publish in open access. In brief, all important national and international institutions that fund research in Germany are steering the academic publishing system towards open access in order that research findings can be read on the Internet free of charge with no paywalls. This pressures researchers funded by third parties in particular to submit their papers to open access journals. It is likely that this trend will result in journals that are not published in open access drying up.
The DGUF's view of the benefits of open access
The discussion on open access was initially provoked by the criticism of the high and greatly increasing cost of subscribing to academic journals at the same time as the publishers of such journals were making huge profits. But open access has many advantages above and beyond economic considerations.
- Free access to academic literature without readers incurring any costs and without the need to have access to and go to a library. This leads to those working on the conservation of historical sites, in museums, etc., rebonding with research, because, for practical reasons, many passionate and highly qualified archaeologists who work for specialist authorities have only very limited access to specialist literature nowadays. Open access allows them again to participate in research and topical discussions without having to overcome obstacles to gain access. This also leads to an improvement in the quality of their work and their results.
- Opening up of research to the interested public: Specialist libraries are hardly accessible for non-specialists. Publishing in open access removes this obstacle; academic publications become accessible to all interested laypersons.
- Global reach: The data on the circulation of Archäologische Informationen presented in the introduction should be similar to that of other German specialist journals: concentrated on Europe with a strong focus on Germany. By putting the contents onto the Internet, we would de facto start to reach a global audience. We have therefore also changed the way we write citations to the internationally widespread Harvard style (APA 6).
- Access for search engines: Only openly accessible texts are found, scanned, and made accessible by search engines. Open access thus leads to significantly better, more detailed accessibility and traceability of valuable articles. This leads to increased visibility, even above and beyond one's own discipline, and, as a consequence, to enhanced interdisciplinarity and quality.
- Possibility of using links: The research contributions published in open access can be linked and — since they are openly accessible for reading — they can be reached from other texts. It is thus possible to refer directly to specialist academic articles in Wikipedia, for example, or in journalistic formats. A closer link between research and media with popular appeal becomes possible.
- Faster publication: In the model chosen by the DGUF all contributions are initially published online in Early View and printed later. This shortens the time between submitting an article and its publication considerably, in the case of Archäologische Informationen to around two to three months. The papers resulting from our meetings and the "Forum" in particular thus gain significantly in topicality and liveliness. Specialist journals are nowadays competing with contents from blogs and social media. Despite all the differences between a specialist article and a blogpost, it is already a fact that specialist debates in the blogosphere may be finished by the time a conventionally printed specialist article has finally been published. If one wants to continue to hold important discussions in academic journals, things have to move faster — but it is also crucial not to pay for time savings with a loss of quality.
Disadvantages and risks for the publishers from the DGUF point of view
Open access has clear benefits for authors and readers. The situation for the publishers of a journal is slightly different. The model adopted by the DGUF, publishing in open access yet also continuing with the printed edition also has disadvantages:
- Increased work, new technical complexity: Compared to the previous situation, the editors have had to modify work flows and shorten internal deadlines, and, in addition, the Early View articles that are put onto the DGUF website require DGUF.de to be updated more frequently. This means a noticeable increase in workload for the staff, who all work on an honorary basis. The active members of the DGUF made a conscious decision to take this step. The archive of the journal is maintained using the "Open Journal System:" free, open-source software that is sponsored by the DFG (German Research Foundation). The maintenance and long-term archiving have been taken on by our partner, Heidelberg university library. Although the DGUF will not incur any costs for this in the foreseeable future, it is still additional work.
- Possible loss of subscribers and association members: Until now, reading Archäologische Informationen has meant having a subscription, purchasing an individual issue, or membership in the DGUF. What will happen if the papers are accessible for everybody via the Internet free of charge? It is possible that subscriptions and memberships will be cancelled. The Board and the publisher have had to consider this aspect with particular care, because it involves economic risks. The layout work and the printing of Archäologische Informationen are funded by the membership fees. Against this background, the DGUF conducted a survey of its members at the beginning of 2013 and its high response rate provided a representative insight into the views and wishes of its members. To begin with, the responses made clear the distinct wish to have Archäologische Informationen available in digital form for free, the older volumes as well. The main thing that the survey makes clear is that receipt of the journal was one of several motivations for membership. In addition to the journal, the DGUF has a very strong profile for policymaking in archaeology and further fields of activity that are important to the members and that they want to support with their memberships. In the years gone by, the Board has specifically focused on enhancing this profile in order to shift the focus: The membership fee paid by today's members of the DGUF goes primarily to support the values, aims, and activities of the association, and receiving a journal is more of an ancillary benefit. It is possible that other specialist journals do not have this profile and this type of membership loyalty, which is why the considerations of the DGUF may be valid generally, but the evaluations and the route taken are not universally transferable.
Determining how to position Archäologische Informationen
The core task of our journal is to serve the authors and readers and to disseminate valuable academic content in high quality and as broadly as possible. Care and quality control are essential elements of this task, but simply printing paper or making a profit are not what the DGUF is concerned with. The two editors therefore consider the switch to open access to be an important and necessary step in order to develop the journal further in keeping with the times and to maintain its appeal. In order to follow the wish of the members and achieve the benefits of open access for all our authors, it was decided to go to the considerable effort of retrospectively digitizing all older volumes, and this has already begun.
Open access as a step towards Open Archaeology; Open Archaeology as a step towards anchoring archaeology in society in the long term
In addition to the obvious benefit of open access for specialists, opening up the discipline to a wider public is also a crucial motivation for the DGUF. The change to open access archaeology, which is dependent on the collaboration and the interest of non-specialists to a large degree, wins back laypeople again as a (possibly very critical) audience — laypersons who can now read the scientific findings of a dig, for example, which they had previously been able to watch in their own neighborhood. Open access opens up an additional information channel between the specialists and the public. Press releases, mass media, and museum exhibitions usually report on archaeological successes, "treasures," and the use of advanced technologies in archaeology. At a more basic and potentially critical level, the availability of specialist academic papers, which is made possible by open access, makes available to the public vastly expanded insight into the routine work of archaeology and its less spectacular efforts. In addition, specialist discussions provide insight into archaeologists' concerns, for example, funding problems, inadequate laws, or problems with education and training. Open access offers challenges to interested laypeople and takes them seriously. We are not so naïve as to equate the public's increased access to research findings with more public acceptance, however. On the contrary, a consequence can be public criticism or a public lack of appreciation of our work ("Why does there have to be yet another investigation?!"). Merely informing the public differs from real academic communication here. But in Germany — and not only there — the state is withdrawing from many previous obligations. The Federal States, which are responsible for archaeology, are not allowed to incur any new debts from 2020 onwards; so they are cutting back even more than the Federal Government. In this political situation, academic fields that do not rise to the challenge of real communication are more at risk than ever before of being forced to take so many small cost-savings measures that in the end there is nothing left.
Initial experience with open access
The preparations and the change to open access are a comprehensive and complex work package that comprises far more than putting a few PDF files, which exist anyway, onto the Internet. The editors of Archäologische Informationen are aware of all the work that is still in progress — even now, six months after the start. But the initial experiences are encouraging, and the feedback is entirely positive. The bundle of features "Open Access, Early View and Peer Review" in particular has led to more articles being submitted in English, and the international visibility this brings benefits not only all the contributions but the specialist debates in Germany as well.
-- Frank Siegmund