The Pathways blog series highlights CDL’s efforts on various pathways to open access and illustrates how diverse approaches can complement and reinforce each other–and how they can raise productive tensions that push us to think more critically about the work we do. We believe this kind of approach can move us toward true and comprehensive transformation of the scholarly communications landscape.

What is the strategy described in this post?

In this post, we focus on open infrastructure. While this topic is not always prominent in discussions about open access, it has become an essential part of our strategy at CDL and underpins our other open access strategies in publisher negotiations, library publishing, and repository services. In this post, we aim to make the role of open infrastructure more visible, and emphasize the importance of CDL’s investments in this area. 

Open infrastructure for open access

A fundamental objective of the Pathways approach is to ensure research is openly available to all. This includes supporting strategies for publications to be open access in addition to other research outputs being as open as possible and only closed when necessary. 

As more research circulates online and across different platforms, the work of organizing, disseminating, and discovering research becomes more challenging and more complex. Libraries, academic institutions, research administrators, and other stakeholders face a daunting task when it comes to tracking and supporting research at scale. This situation has created an opportunity for vendors to sell services that will do this work for us. Institutional stakeholders thus end up in a position of purchasing licenses to support the basic services required for their own researchers and research outputs—services that support publishing, data management, discovery, and evaluation, among other activities. While such services are not uncommon, their implications and limitations are less widely recognized and understood—namely, the fact that these services are often developed on closed and/or proprietary infrastructure that prevents stakeholders from unlocking and repurposing key insights and data. This places limits on the interoperability of research information and results in duplicated efforts and siloed work.  

At the same time, the platforms researchers use to publish and disseminate their work have become increasingly consolidated in the hands of commercial entities. This consolidation prioritizes profits over the open dissemination of knowledge, and excludes many researchers and disciplines from participating in scholarly communication if their scholarship is seen as less profitable or marketable, as Catherine Mitchell discusses in her earlier post about library publishing and institutional repository services

Across the broad landscape of scholarly communications, the challenges and limitations of the infrastructure we rely upon to navigate the research landscape present a unique conundrum: while the goal of the approach is to end up in a place where UC research outputs are openly available, the infrastructure we rely upon to get there is not always open and often requires lock-in. The strategic focus we have developed at CDL has emerged in the context of this tension, recognizing that our commitment to opening up access to research also means opening up the infrastructure that we use to publish, describe, discover, and connect this research. 

Open infrastructure at CDL

Open infrastructure that supports UC’s open access strategy means infrastructure that is openly licensed, community owned, sustainable, and interoperable. Recent initiatives, such as the Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure (POSI), have outlined guidance on what openness and sustainability mean and how they can be implemented and practiced by those building or using scholarly infrastructure. 

To advance the infrastructure component of our Pathways strategy, CDL is involved and invested in a number of initiatives to build and support open infrastructure, including:

Open infrastructure has the power to enable connections, and it is most effective when developed at scale and in a collaborative context. Therefore, the scope of involvement and investment in these initiatives must necessarily be broad to optimize the opportunities to facilitate a large-scale transformation of the scholarly communication landscape. 

For example, in the context of tracking and discovering research, open infrastructure specifically means not only that the research outputs themselves are openly available but that the metadata (descriptive information) about the research is openly licensed, optimized for reuse, and linked to open persistent identifiers. A key way to achieve this is by ensuring that research outputs are associated with DOIs and that the metadata for each DOI is openly licensed and linked to other standard identifiers that are openly available, e.g., ORCID for researchers and ROR IDs for institutions. Rich and open metadata can be easily harvested and repurposed by downstream services and cannot be locked away in closed systems.

What are the productive tensions underlying the effort?

On the surface, there may appear to be a disconnect between what might be perceived as the front-line work of advancing the Pathways approach, such as high-profile negotiations with publishers and investing in library publishing and repository services, and the less visible work of building or supporting the infrastructure that operates behind the scenes. Shedding light on the role of infrastructure is not meant to diminish or shift focus from other important work, but rather to open a wider lens on the landscape, and to underscore how infrastructure is essential to these other efforts.

In fact, our experience has been that all approaches can and should be mutually reinforcing, as discussed in Ellen Finnie’s post about transformative agreements. Negotiations with publishers have been an important opportunity to incorporate, advance, and advocate for open infrastructure in publishing workflows, such as the adoption of openly licensed ROR IDs for researcher affiliations. This intersection underscores the importance of establishing standards for opening up scholarly metadata in addition to opening up access to scholarship. As described in Catherine Mitchell’s post, our efforts to support library publishing and repository services include strategic investments in the development of open source publishing platforms. In this way, we see open infrastructure initiatives not only as a utilitarian mechanism for enabling scholarly communication, but also as a strategic tool that can inform our overall approach and widen the horizon beyond the question of access. 

Open Infrastructure underscores the need for—and in fact depends upon—partnerships and collaborations and community action, each central to advancing a comprehensive transformation of the landscape. An initiative like ROR, for instance, will not be successful if it is not adopted by publishers (of all types and sizes), if it is not integrated into indexes and databases, and if libraries and research offices do not prioritize open and interoperable metadata in the tools and systems they license and use. 

Why is it worthy of our investment?

Open infrastructure is a core pillar of our open access strategy. Investing in open scholarly infrastructure is a key part of CDL’s portfolio not only because it is a practical necessity, but also because it aligns with our values as the systemwide digital library for the University of California. Closed and commercial research infrastructure for scholarly communication is fundamentally at odds with the values of open and equitable access to information that are central to the University of California libraries.

Investing in open scholarly infrastructure is not only a reflection of our values at CDL, it can also be seen as part of a growing movement to formalize support for open scholarly infrastructure and outline practical guidelines for open infrastructure services that are in line with the values of openness, such as the Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure or the FOREST Framework for Values-Driven Scholarly Communication.

Investing in open scholarly infrastructure also makes sense because it is a better use of our limited resources. Academic institutions, UC included, commit significant amounts of time and money to tracking research, relying on private companies to manage our own information in ways that don’t always serve our needs. Open infrastructure alternatives have the potential to make this work more efficient and less expensive. When research metadata is enriched with open data and persistent identifiers, it becomes more possible to generate more accurate, comprehensive, and usable insights about scholarship. Given what’s at stake, fellow mission-driven institutions may want to look carefully at who is controlling publishing platforms, and who is aggregating, managing, and controlling data about our research and its impacts, and carefully consider investments in open infrastructure.

How does this pathway advance us on the overall transition to open access?

We see investment in open infrastructure as a strategic means of realizing the possibilities of a full transition to open access. Clean, open, and usable information about research is crucial in the many contexts in which the Pathways approach is being deployed. For example, negotiating transformative open access agreements with publishers hinges on the ability to measure accurate publication volume across UC. Identifying UC research to be made openly available in our institutional repository requires accurate identification of UC-affiliated authors. Identifying author affiliations in the articles published through our library publishing program can showcase the reach of the program’s publishing activities. None of this work is possible without open and interoperable identifiers for affiliations (ROR) and researchers (ORCID). 

We can’t achieve structural change in how knowledge is published and accessed without also transforming the structures within which scholarly communication operates. Developing, investing in, and focusing on open infrastructure is essential groundwork for building, connecting, and ensuring all our strategies take us in the direction of a more open future.

Access to UC research is about more than simply opening the research outputs themselves. It also needs to be about opening up the structures around and the metadata about research outputs, and opening up the infrastructure that connects them. This effort benefits our own work at CDL and across UC but also optimizes UC’s research for broader discoverability and usability around the world.


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