Research Preprints

Discussing early research outputs

Reflections on Geneva: OAI10

July 7, 2017 mrittman

OAI10, hosted jointly by the University of Geneva and CERN, was a very thought-provoking conference. It gave me a great insight into how many in the scholarly ecosystem see open access and open science, especially librarians.

The most memorable session for me was the one on a transition to open access which, in reality, offered few solutions but outlined some of the principle ways of thinking of this issue and the drivers likely to determine the future transition to open access. My take-away was that any move away from APC-based gold open access is going to need a great deal of coordination between publishers, funders and universities. It also brought home how fundamental the transition of publishers from content owners to service providers is.

I was very pleased to have the opportunity to run an unconference session on preprints, ostensibly on how to integrate preprints into the research life cycle. The biggest benefit for me was to hear librarians speak on the subject of preprints. I hear a lot from funders and publishers, but very little from universities and libraries. The discussion went in a very different direction from what I expected. I realised that many librarians sit on both sides of the fence, as both consumers and producers of preprints. Institutional repositories, run by librarians, contain large numbers of preprints and working papers—collections managed by the university library. On the other hand, librarians must know when they can use preprints for staff and institutional evaluations and how to recommend them to readers.

There were a range of views expressed and there was by no means agreement on all topics, but the main subjects that came out of the discussion were:

  • What is a preprint? If we are going to develop policies for dealing with these objects we need some framework for deciding what counts.
  • More clarity is needed in terms of policies from funders, publishers and assessment bodies on how preprints can be used.
  • The prevailing view as that it is too early to adopt standards for preprints, however clear governance, links to journal article versions, CC BY licensing and interoperability are desirable.
  • It is unclear how to give advice to non-scholars on the use of preprints.

The last point dove-tailed nicely with a talk on the difficulties for NGOs, journalists and others to access peer reviewed literature, even via schemes designed specifically for that purpose. If non-specialists find a preprint version of an unavailable journal article, how can they rate its reliability or know whether it is similar to the published version?

Preprints were by no means the main theme of OAI10, although Jessica Polka’s excellent plenary talk in the last session sent everyone home with preprints on their minds. I still learned a great deal and am grateful to everyone who shared their views and experience with me.

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