Feedback from TU Delft Library

By Alenka Princic, Esther Plomp, Marta Teperek, Anke Versteeg

The EC Expert group on the ‘Future of scholarly publishing and scholarly communication’ is asking for feedback from the community on their report describing the vision for scholarly communication and the recommendations on putting this vision into practice. Below is the overall reaction from TU Delft Library, as well as answers to the two key questions from the perspectives of two roles – that of the university-own publishing partner and that of the research data steward.

Overall opinion:

At  TU Delft we envision the scholarly publishing and scholarly communication going back into the hands and under the auspices of academia rather than academic publishers. The report touched upon most of the crucial aspects of academic publishing in the new era.  

One issue left insufficiently addressed is enabling the publishing of a large variety of scholarly output thus stepping beyond the mainstream output forms: articles and research data. Infrastructures and workflows for publishing for example registered reports, negative results, or layman’s language publishing and science in a nutshell, are somewhat underrepresented.

Secondly, the journals receive an unbalanced attention.  The word-count of this report is as follows (Bianca Kramer and Alenka Princic responsible for all counts and errors therein): future is mentioned 43 times, scholarly publishing 62 times, scholarly communication 173 times. But also the ‘journal’ is mentioned 174 times in this report! The report identified journals and journal ranking as one of the key shortcomings in scholarly communication and related rewarding system (with which we agree wholeheartedly); and researchers as key actors in their role as journal editors. The emphasis is therefore on journals. The report does not address ‘life without journals’; life with articles rather than journals. We would embrace an elaboration of this report about why we need journals – today or tomorrow at all. The technology is sufficiently developed to enable article publishing rather than journal publishing without jeopardising the quality of the knowledge contained in an article. Scholarly communication requires a fundamental change. We wonder whether ‘article publishing’ would be a fundamental change happening in 15 years or in 50 year?

A major issue left unaddressed in this report is both, monographs and educational material such as textbooks make part of scholarly communication. These are for our university more and more related. Hence, the university publishing efforts should also incorporate educational output.

We value the fact that the first recommendation of the report is “When participating in research assessment, for example in hiring, promotion and tenure, and funding decisions, focus on the merits and impact of a researcher’s work and refrain from the use of metrics”. We believe this is key, and we worry sometimes observing the efforts put into the development of ‘open science indicators’, ‘next generation metrics’, ‘FAIR data metrics’ etc. If we introduce numerical metrics of that kind, these may become targets once more. Researchers and research communities themselves, on the other hand, ought to adopt the principles of discussing the merits and impact context rather than sticking to their so well-established principle ‘measuring is power’. The researchers, especially in their role as editors, have a huge stake in this matter. Along these lines we also value the recommendation to increase the recognition of peer-review work as a core research task and shall take all efforts to realize this recommendation. 

We’re impressed with the recommendation for institutions that “In deciding which infrastructures to use, support, and contribute to, choose platforms using free or open source software, offering open data via an open license, and leveraging open standards where possible. Acting in this fashion will also reinforce researcher-led initiatives that aim to facilitate scholarly communication and publishing.” This recommendations is in line with TU Delft ‘definition’ for Open Publishing: “…Open Publishing entails not only free access to- and reuse of scientific publications and research data, but also includes the infrastructures and the processes of creating content that are transparent to the authors and readers. Open publishing infrastructures use open source software wherever possible, thus reducing the intrinsic costs of the publishing process.….“ With regards to infrastructures, we’d welcome the collaboration of the (commercial) indexers for the findability of published scholarly output in our endeavours to index individual articles rather than journals and thus render these as visible and findable as the journals.
Furthermore, we think that the recommendation to use open source software is key if we wish to avoid what happened with the big deals before. But if this is left to individual institutions to organise, maybe not much will change. This needs to be addressed at a more strategic level. Currently there are no viable alternatives to commercial products, when it comes to most elements of scholarly communication / research management infrastructure (lack of mature, managed and supported open source based solutions). We desperately and urgently need these alternatives, and we need these at a pan-European level.

We think we should also reflect a little bit on the recommendation for funders and policy makers to “Develop policies – along with appropriate funding mechanisms – to ensure all research contributions arising from their funding are available to everyone, everywhere, without any barriers to access or restrictions on reuse”. This is really important and funders need to give serious consideration to this, which means issuing appropriate guidance and following up. For example, some funders ask researchers to make their data open by default, but also provide multiple options to opt out of such requirements. However, if researchers do opt out, funders tend not to follow up as to whether the reasons for opting out are legitimate or not. Even more critically, some funding bodies put a lot of emphasis on calls where in order to participate, researchers need to identify industry co-sponsors. This ‘requirement’ however means that commercial partners gain a huge advantage in contractual negotiations and academics are forced to follow their rules when it comes to IP protection.
This doesn’t mean that everything needs to be open by all means. But what we need is guidance explaining what needs to be made publicly available to ensure research transparency and reproducibility and researchers’ compliance with the Code of Conduct on Research Integrity. Funding bodies also need to follow up on what is deemed as reasonable opt out conditions.

Question 1:

How do you see specifically the role of the Library as a university-own publishing partner and the role of researchers/Data Stewards in such an ecosystem?

The report and the vision aspects as summarized in the table in Annex 2 resonates with us. Particularly, we would like to give control back to the researchers providing that we give them the right support for this, “state-of-the-art” tooling and services.

We believe the Library should take upon a role of a university publisher and a steward of scholarly communication for its institution. Through setting up a holistic approach to scholarly communication the researchers and their needs will be at the heart of scholarly communication. A way of achieving this is by facilitating diamond open access route by setting up an institutional publishing platform and providing quality publishing services. We envision these endeavours being shared and adopted jointly on a national or international level in order to contribute to migrating the publishing back in hands of academia.

Above all these publishing activities should be done in partnership with researchers, the faculties and the university board. As a publishing partner we should be fully embedded in the research process of the research groups. We sometimes develop great infrastructures and services – but then they are not sufficiently used. Building fantastic infrastructure without our users is useless however, not having these infrastructures is no option either.

For the role of the Library as trusted partner in scholarly communication we should be strongly putting forward innovation. Innovation that goes beyond expanding or professionalizing the services along the publishing cycle, and beyond merely facilitating the publishing of high-standard mainstream scientific and educational material such as books, journals, and textbooks. Additional publishing streams should be facilitated such as a platform for ‘single article publishing’. This will allow authors to publish their articles without having to assign them to a journal in order to have these indexed and found. Innovation further entails integrating all relevant information in an ‘enhanced, dynamic’ publication in which a traditional publication is enriched with additional information and interlinked with different research outputs. Finally, Library in the role of partner in scholarly communication should install innovative ways to bring science to society in a form of lay-man’s language publishing. The creation of an ‘article in a nutshell’ in popular-scientific language, possibly enriched with a video, is one possible example but without trustful text-mining techniques requires additional and costly writing endeavours. As we aim to better use existing infrastructures, one possible platform for publishing, archiving, and dissemination of layman’s science is a hypothetical TU-Delft(wiki)pedia.

How do you see specifically the role of researchers/Data Stewards in such an ecosystem?

We agree with the report that “Researchers and their needs must be put at the heart of scholarly communication of the future” and that “knowledge and understanding created by researchers should be treated as public goods.” Because the current reward system focuses on research output in the form of publications, there is no incentive to make other research outputs available in a manner that is relevant to the discipline and the scholarly system as a whole. Researchers should take responsibility for improving the dissemination of their scholarly work, but they should be encouraged and supported by their institutes and funders to take these steps. Researchers should not have to re-invent the wheel by themselves and develop yet another form of excellence which will further increase their workload.

Here is where the supporting role of Data Stewards comes in: Although this role is not specifically outlined in the report, Data Stewards play a role in the recommendations that are listed under universities and research institutions (points 1 and 3 in particular). Data Stewards facilitate incremental steps towards a cultural change in the research system by focusing on research data management and sharing research outputs other than publications. The need for this cultural change is also acknowledged in the report (More than technology, the socio-cultural practices around evaluation of research is what lies at the heart of the problems faced by the present system of scholarly communication and publishing.”)

Which functions of scholarly communication will/should your group fulfil?

Researchers should be involved in all stages of scholarly communication (registration, certification, dissemination and preservation). Both Data Stewards and Library as a publishing partner should support researchers in these functions, particularly at the dissemination and preservation stage.

How does the evaluation of research and researchers look like in a system that evaluates a variety of research outcomes on their own quality and relevance?

Esther Plomp: “As both a researcher and a Data Steward I fully agree that “judgements over the value of research should be based directly on content rather than venue, and should encompass the full range of research outputs, including data and code,” and that these criteria should be transparent. I agree with the report that using the JIF for evaluation purposes is detrimental to scholarly system and that “research evaluations should never be based on metrics alone.” Instead, recommendations from DORA and the Leiden Manifesto should be incorporated in the assessment process, as described in the report”.

Instead of using indicators or metrics to evaluate researchers they should be assessed on the quality of their research outputs. Researchers could, for example, be asked for a statement on their achievements and support these statements with references as well as recommendations (comments or letters) from others within their field. They could highlight outputs other than publications, whether these outputs are open/FAIR, which would demonstrate their specific skillsets. In this way it becomes more apparent what individual researchers can contribute to a research team and hence stimulate and facilitate further collaboration in research.

What is the role of peer-review in general and in the evaluation process in particular?

We agree with the report that “Peer reviewers [sh]ould be properly recognised as important contributors to a line of research. The scholarly record [sh]ould include not just a version of record, but a record of versions of all the different kinds of contributions produced.” However, we still have a slightly different opinions towards the value of blind peer review and many forms of open peer review. We thus considers embarking on including many forms – from pre-publishing feedback,  to blind or open peer review, and to post-publishing commentary. Ideally the peer-review process will become more transparent, stimulating the accountability of researchers and rewarding their efforts in this respect. The role of peer-review is now often attributed as a service that only publishers offer, closed to public scrutiny. In the view of some, the closed-off peer review system cripples the movement away from alternative forms of sharing research output and further re-establishes the current focus on JIF. The current implementation of closed peer-review has its value but is at the same time overrated in the evaluation of the quality of research. The different review processes should be complementary; trust should also be placed in the general research community to be able to judge scholarly outputs by themselves, whether or not they have already been reviewed by other scholars.” The sharing of scholarly outputs in the form of pre-prints and software sharing should be further stimulated and rewarded as “Effectiveness and speed of communication within and between research communities are vital to both cooperation and competition, and there should be no barriers to rapid and effective research communication.”

Scholarly communication business models

In our view there are two main issues with the present scholarly communication business models:

  1. Monopoly by big publishers

It is important for the dissemination of scholarly research outputs that there are a range of organisations involved (including universities and research institutes), allowing for fair competition and stimulating innovation of services provided. In the current system these initiatives are at a disadvantage compared to the big publishers.

  • Paywalled research in subscription based/hybrid journals

We fully support the move towards open access in scholarly publishing and we support initiatives such as Plan S that stimulate the disruption of the business models of subscription and hybrid journals. However, we agree with the report that flipping these journals to open access “does not address deeper, underlying, problems such as the conflating of prestige rankings with economic value and research quality. It also maintains journal titles (or “brands”) as a flawed proxy for research evaluation.” More attention should be paid to these underlying problems in order to gain support for initiatives such as Plan S and successfully implement them.

Question 2:

Taking as a point of departure the recommendations of the Expert Group that may affect your stakeholder group, concretely how can they be implemented so the vision of the EG materializes?

Esther Plomp: “As an Early Career Researcher (ECR) I agree that we should take more responsibility of scholarly communications, as we are indeed “at the centre of this ecosystem”. As an ECR I can:

  • Choose to publish (open access under an open licence) multiple research outputs on platforms that use free/open software, instead of just focusing on publications.
  • Publish publications in open access journals with diverse editorial boards/communities.
  • Use community developed metadata standards to maximise the accessibility and reusability of my research.
  • Follow trainings on improving the quality of peer review, as I agree with the report that “better training and inclusion, and focus on quality of the research in peer review” should be supported.
  • Only review publications that are submitted to full open access journals, and make the signed reviews available when possible.
  • Refuse to participate in conferences/meetings that have exclusive panels and preferentially collaborate with female researchers/researchers of colour.
  • Stop evaluating other researchers based on their impact factor and instead focus on the quality of their work (despite lack of influence in peer review/committees of ECRs)
  • Communicate my results to a broader public, and encourage others to do so”.

Our Data Stewards are involved in the promotion and construction of policies that focus on making available all research outputs (such as data and software). TU Delft’s Research Data Framework Policy ensures that research outputs by TU Delft researchers are made openly available when possible, under an open licence, in accordance with the FAIR principles. Currently publications and other research outputs are very disconnected, disparate and dispersed. By providing support to make other research outputs available in according with the FAIR principles and supporting researchers with setting up Data Management Plans as required by funders and institutes, Data Stewards can contribute to the envisioned scholarly communication ecosystem.

Are there other/more/different specific actions to be implemented beyond what the Expert Group recommends by your stakeholder group?

  1. Stimulate the publication of research work at an early stage such as in registered reports and stimulate the publication of negative results.
  2. Stimulate the publication or full description of research protocols (on platforms such as
  3. Stimulate the publication of individual articles rather than journals. Journals are pre-technological.
  4. Promote work of female researchers and researchers of colour by citing them in research outputs and pass opportunities to them (e.g. authorship on publications or conference talks).
  5. Create an inclusive environment by publically speaking up when female researchers/researchers of colour are undermined.

How could the EC support your actions in order to move closer to the proposed vision?

We agree with the report that the EC should:

  1. Develop policies to ensure that all research contributions are open access/licensed
  2. Ensure that all research/teaching/reviewing contributions and activities are considered in the evaluation of researchers
  3. Develop funding mechanisms to support open scholarly publication infrastructures
  4. Work towards inclusivity of research
  5. Work together with other actors to ensure that research is relevant and transparent

The main barriers for researchers are 1) the focus in evaluations on publications as research output and 2) the costs as well as efforts to make research outputs openly available. Researchers would require access to open infrastructures that are relevant to their disciplines which are user-friendly, as well as incentives (at the same level as traditional publications) to share software/data/education materials/contributions to policies/reports or presentations aimed at the general public. In order for these open infrastructures to be sustainable they should not be monopolised and services should be “provided by a range of organisations and initiatives, both public and private” in order to provide room for experimentation and innovation in the scholarly communication system.