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ARL Views

How SCOSS Is Strengthening Global Open Access and Open Science Infrastructure

Last Updated on October 21, 2020, 1:08 pm ET

time-lapse photo of sunrise light trails on a bridge
image CC0 by Anders Jildén

It has been nearly two years since the Digital Preservation Network (DPN) announced that it was shutting down. DPN was an early example of an open, community-governed, core-infrastructure endeavor—addressing the basic need for preservation of increasingly digital, diverse, library collections. DPN also successfully raised start-up money through institutional memberships (largely from ARL libraries), counting on members to incorporate and operationalize the infrastructure in order to sustain the network. The announcement of DPN’s wind-down in 2018 came at a time when the academic and research library community was still reeling from Elsevier’s acquisition of bepress a year earlier, and together these events were part of an inflection point for new and creative thinking. What kind of collective, or coordinated, investment strategy and what kind of governance would the academic and research library community need to build and sustain its own core digital infrastructure?*

One such initiative is SCOSS, the Global Sustainability Coalition for Open Science Services, which formed in 2017 to help essential, noncommercial services for open science in need of immediate financial support. In other words, SCOSS formed to address the imbalance of community overreliance on particular resources, with community underinvestment in their sustainability. SCOSS functions as a global crowdfunding call for vetted services. Open access and open science infrastructure providers apply for consideration and are evaluated by an expert advisory panel appointed by the SCOSS Board. If selected, SCOSS works with the provider to establish a three-year funding target meant to transition the service to stable funding. Then SCOSS leverages the participation of key organizations—primarily national consortia—to promote the funding call in their respective regions. SCOSS also strongly encourages the community governance of these structures.

Last week, SCOSS met a major milestone, when one of the services recommended during its pilot funding cycle—the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)—met its funding goal of 1,370,000 euros. More than 200 institutions from 19 countries contributed money to DOAJ, in part by virtue of recommendation and coordination by SCOSS. When asked about the benefits of being a SCOSS-endorsed service, DOAJ managing director Lars Bjørnshauge said that the service both attracted new contributors and helped convince existing supporters to contribute more. He also noted nonmonetary rewards of working with SCOSS, which, he said “encouraged us to re-examine our governance to connect more closely with the community we’re serving, which has worked well.” Finally, Bjørnshauge observed that through SCOSS, DOAJ has “been able to gain the support of national consortia and more members due to their supporting the fuller SCOSS concept.”

While the United States does not have a national licensing body or a national library consortium, it does have active regional consortia with strong collaborative programs in such activities as cooperative collection development, digitization, and shared print collections. As part of a 2019 national forum funded by the US Institute of Museum and Library Services, ARL partnered with James Madison University Libraries to hold a series of focus groups about cooperative collection development of open access (OA) content. The forum was designed to surface principles and requirements for such a system, and resulted in a white paper OA in the Open: Community Needs and Perspectives. Among the paper’s findings were that (1) separating OA content from open infrastructure is difficult, and (2) “consortia were seen as obvious and desirable agents” to do the work of developing or certifying criteria, vetting funding targets, and contributing to some kind of clearinghouse of OA content providers. Another finding of the forum, consistent with similar studies, was that investment in open resources (whether content or infrastructure) was still “nice to have” rather than essential, from the perspective of individual institutions.

But as a recent SCOSS blog post noted, 2020’s global health crisis, with associated physical access restrictions and financial hardship, has brought the value of open into sharp relief. Attending to at-risk open science infrastructure now, through initiatives like SCOSS, helps secure a competitive market for scholarly innovation. If we cede the market exclusively to large commercial entities, those entities will control the direction of open scholarship and open access.

As the academic and research library community engages in new thinking and new strategies to ensure a robust, global, open scholarly environment, ARL congratulates SCOSS on meeting a milestone with DOAJ at full funding, and demonstrating that its global, evaluative mechanism combined with crowdfunding is an important part of the solution. SCOSS has a current funding call for the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB), the Public Knowledge Project (PKP), and OpenCitations—all of which were deemed essential services for open scholarship and open publishing by the SCOSS Advisory Panel and Board. Sherpa Romeo is also still in need of funding at only 42% of its funding target. If open, community-governed infrastructure services are going to succeed as core resources for scholars today and in the future, they will need institutional support even in times of budget constraint.

* See, for example: Invest in Open Infrastructure (IOI), Investments in Open: Canadian Research Libraries’ Expenditures on Services, Staff, and Infrastructures in Support of Open Scholarship, Mapping the Scholarly Communication Infrastructure, and OA in the Open.

Judy Ruttenberg is senior director of scholarship and policy for ARL and represents ARL on the SCOSS Board.