Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

18 December 2018

Open Access Discovery Workshop at the British Library


The solid foundation of the open access movement is the importance of public access to research, but it is clear that discovery of this open research remains one of the barriers to fulfilling this goal. There are many organisations making progress in this space and it is not always easy keeping up to date with the projects that are currently underway, or even knowing about what is in the pipeline. In order to improve opportunities for collaboration and alignment, the British Library and Arcadia Fund brought together key organisations in this space to discuss what we want to prioritise as a group and what challenges are being faced.

On Friday 21 September 2018, the following organisations met at the British Library:

  • Arcadia Fund
  • BASE: Bielefeld Academic Search Engine
  • British Library
  • COAR: Confederation of Open Access Repositories
  • CORE
  • Crossref
  • DOAJ: Directory of Open Access Journals
  • EMBL-EBI: Europe PMC
  • Impactstory
  • Internet Archive
  • Jisc
  • Open Access Button
  • ORCID (unable to attend on the day but involved in preparations and post workshop collaboration)
  • University College Cork (attendee also the Chair of the Infrastructure Working Group of the Irish National Open Research Forum)

Three major themes arose from the day’s discussions: identifiers and metadata, user experience and sustainability. Poor licence metadata is an ongoing problem for organisations such as Crossref and DOAJ, who find that many publishers do not understand what is required in the licence field. However, while everyone in the room would like to see this situation improve, many of the discovery tools have found alternative ways to check document access. That being said, improved licence metadata would allow for an enhancement of Crossref services, such as an Open Access (OA) flag on records.

A more urgent issue was that of user experience, this encompassed many facets including versioning, repository deposit, and the challenge of reaching those outside of academia. There is increasing competition from commercial solutions which reduce the number of clicks to the full text of an article, and we must keep pace with these improvements. The idea of a design-jam was raised as a possible way for organisations to look at better user experience. As for the challenges of reaching those outside of academia, it was acknowledged that we need to engage in new communication channels. One suggestion was to outreach to school librarians who can incorporate OA discovery into digital literacy education.

Open-access-button-ccImage by Sara Thompson (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Sustainability was the biggest topic of the day. This raised two different angles, the need to reach a maturity to create paid services, and a cultural change in libraries to redirect some of their budgets to supporting open infrastructure. Unpaywall is a great example of a service that has a free offering and a paid for service (which currently integrates with Web of Science and Scopus). BASE also receives money from EBSCO for their data feed into the discovery service.

As not all services have a paid service offering, the issue of funding was a concern for many around the table. Universities, and more specifically university libraries, are seen as the group that should be investing more in open infrastructure. The first place to start is a better connection between the builder of services and the user of services. Unpaywall’s link resolver is used by 2000 libraries, which is far below the market potential.

If libraries are going to have a role in protecting open infrastructures, then they need to engage more with the various open services available. Work is already being done in Canada and Germany to look at redirecting funding from subscriptions to tools that support access to information. SPARC are also trying to motivate members to redirect big deal cancellation funds to open infrastructure. It is also heartening to see more groups join the Global Sustainability Coalition for Open Science Services (SCOSS), of which DOAJ is a current beneficiary.

While improved funding will help ensure longer term sustainability of these infrastructures, there is another area of trust that needs to be considered and that is preservation of content. The British Library commented that (open access) publishers do not always meet their legal deposit requirements. There may be a role here for national libraries to better support discovery services, by ensuring that the content remains accessible for future generations.

The emphasis on sustainability shaped the decisions made about the next steps after the workshop. In order to attract more funding for open infrastructure, there is a need to efficiently convey all the important work these organisations are currently undertaking. Therefore, the group collaborated on a document to outline the major projects in the pipeline over the next two years..

For those in universities and funding organisations who already champion open access discovery services, they will have a brief document to point to which outlines the work being done in the space. For organisations who want to play an active role in discovery, they will be able to look for potential areas of collaboration. It also offers an opportunity to receive more feedback from the open research community.

While it is essential to gather support for the projects that are being pursued, we also hope that people will get in touch to offer suggestions to improve this work. It is our intention that we will produce this roadmap annually so that it may become a reliable way for the community to stay up to date with the progress that is being made and the priorities for the future.

The other outcome of the day was a short set of recommendations that participants agreed would help improve the discovery of open access content. As more research is published open access, the urgency of tackling these issues increases, particularly if the scholarly community wants to see more community owned solutions rather than commercially owned.


  • Funders commit to paying APCs only to those publishers that provide accurate article licence information to Crossref.
  • Funders must articulate values of open science, not just open access, and express a clear preference for infrastructure to be open source and have open APIs.
  • This funding should also support open infrastructure interoperability to contribute to long term sustainability rather than showing a preference for the development of new services.
  • Libraries need to engage more with open infrastructures, both through service integration and funding.

Facilitating access to knowledge is the essence of librarianship and at the heart of the mission of the British Library. Perhaps now more than ever, libraries must aim to understand the technologies through which our users discover knowledge and help support an open and transparent approach to discovery that opens up more relevant content. That is why we see great value in collaborating with open access discovery providers.

Through understanding the priorities of the organisations in this area, we are better able to see which services could integrate with our own systems, and the projects that we wish to support through partnership. We hope that the provision of this Open Access Discovery Roadmap 2018 will allow others in the community, particularly universities libraries and public funders, to do the same.

Dimity Flanagan, Scholarly Communications Lead at the British Library.


Any requests for information on the workshop can be sent to [email protected]. For enquiries related to specific projects mentioned in the roadmap, please contact the relevant organisation directly.