Right inside the main entrance to the Buch campus of the Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC), a low, flat-roofed building with two wings is tucked away behind the cafeteria: the library. Its four employees and two trainees supply the MDC’s two campuses with scientific literature and other resources. The MDC library is much more than a repository of information in the traditional sense. It plays an important role in the research process. It funds open-access science publications and sees to the secondary publication of all MDC articles in the . All publications by MDC authors are stored there. This database is used to generate publication lists for the websites of all the research labs, and it is the basis for the library’s publication and citation analysis.
The MDC library has about 37,000 printed volumes. In addition, the reference libraries of the research labs contain more than 2,000 monographs, and the library has licenses for about 5,000 online journals and various databases. In general, the focus is now primarily on putting digital information at every individual scientist’s fingertips.
Library in the digital transformation
Wolf Schröder-Barkhausen is overseeing the library’s digital transformation. The scientific documentalist has been working at the MDC library since 2014. As the contact person for the topic of open access – i.e., free public access to scholarly and scientific publications – he represents the MDC in the Helmholtz Association Working Group on Open Science. Its central task is to advise local actors and to continue developing the Helmholtz Open Science Policy. This covers not only scientific publications but also research data, science software, and other products of research.
The word “library” comes from Greek and means something like “box of books.” Does that concept still apply today?
The library’s job is primarily to collect scientific literature and other sources of information and make them available. Today that means mostly digital media – although not usually ebooks, because then scientists prefer to have the printed version. We also continue to acquire printed media for the MDC’s administration and infrastructure departments. Our collection of scientific journals has been completely online for more than ten years. Furthermore, our library is increasingly taking on the role of a service provider that supports scientists in the publication process. We help to find quality-assured journals, research the terms of license agreements, and provide support and advice when people have questions about submitting their work for publication. Finally, we have our own publication fund – part of the library budget – to finance publications in open access journals.
How can authors apply for support from the fund?
There’s an electronic system that makes it all very easy. Authors have to make a note there when they want to publish an article in a gold open access journal. The “golden” road to publication refers to articles that are openly accessible immediately upon publication. The application is then automatically forwarded to the library and reviewed by us.
What gets funded? What doesn’t?
First we check whether it really is a quality-assured gold open access journal. The scientists can check for themselves in advance in the . All scientists who have an employment contract with the MDC can apply. Visiting scientists are thus not eligible. Moreover, the applicant must be listed as the corresponding author of the paper. If money is alreadyapproved for publications in a grant, this budget must be exhausted before we can take money from the open access fund.
Another thing we don’t cover are the fees for publication in so-called hybrid journals, which only make certain articles available in open access and require payment for full access. The MDC does not support this publishing strategy, as it makes us pay twice – once for the publication itself, and a second time to read it. We also don’t pay the costs for publishing photographs on the cover of the journal. Some publishers charge thousands of euros for that.
The big goal: 100 percent open access
Is this the work flow for all publishers?
No, there are a few exceptions. The MDC has cooperation agreements with Frontiers Media, PLOS, and BioMed Central. When authors submit a publication to them, all they have to do is list the MDC as the paying institution. Then the library automatically gets the bill.
Two other big exceptions are Springer Nature and Wiley. We have DEAL agreements with them. Those work flows are described in detail on the intranet.
What are DEAL agreements?
DEAL is a project of the Alliance of German Science Organizations, of which the Helmholtz Association is a member. It is a transformative open access agreement between German scientific and research institutions and the publishers Springer Nature and Wiley; it is the biggest of its kind worldwide. DEAL agreements make it possible for all scientists in Germany to publish in open access journals, and they provide full access to nearly all the journals published by the companies named. They let MDC authors publish for free in open access journals as well as in hybrid journals. The costs for articles are usually covered by the library.
The agreements between the Alliance of German Science Organizations and Springer Nature and Wiley are a success for German science. The negotiations took months. By the way, the academic publisher Elsevier was also involved, but those negotiations failed, at least for the time being, due to the publisher’s exaggerated demands.
The DEAL agreements were preceded by a multiyear debate. At issue were the constant, steep price increases for scientific publications. The German Rectors’ Conference tirelessly denounced this practice. Increasingly, publishers only offer their journals in large – and expensive – bundled subscription packages (“big deals”). At the same time, they make enormous profits. For example, the London magazine Times Higher Education estimated Elsevier’s profit margin at 36.8 percent in 2017. As part of DEAL, the German Rectors’ Conference negotiated nationwide “publish and read” agreements for the Alliance of German Science Organizations with the biggest science publishers. The alliance is composed of more than 700 institutions, including the MDC. An agreement was reached with Wiley in 2019, and with Springer Nature in 2020. The agreements grant scientists at the MDC full access to the entire portfolio of those publishers. In addition, all the manuscripts accepted by them are automatically published as open access articles. The copyright stays with the author and is no longer transferred to the publisher. The MDC library usually covers the costs for articles.
Is the publication fund limited? How much money does the library dispense each year?
The consensus at the Helmholtz Association is that scientists should receive as much support as possible in the publication of their research findings. So the fund is not limited. In 2019, MDC scientists published a total of 50 open access articles. The cost for that was over €100,000. Of that sum, the library provided about €89,000.
The Helmholtz Association decided back in 2004 that ideally all publications without exception should be open access. How much progress have we made at the MDC?
The goal was announced in 2016 in a new set of open access guidelines. Helmholtz institutions decided that at least 60 percent of publications should be open access articles by the 2019 publication year. MDC reached that goal. We want to increase that by 10 percent each year. That means we envisioned 70 percent for the 2020 publication year, then 80 percent for 2021, such that by 2023 we’ll have reached 100 percent. Open access is also becoming more important because many major research funders, above all the European Union, have made their support conditional upon the final results appearing in open access publications.
Have all publishers switched to open access in the last three years?
No, not at all. But our scientists can also take the “green” road to open access publications. That means that we also deposit all the manuscripts accepted by a publisher in the MDC Repository, an open access online database. It is a very labor-intensive process that can only work if the authors give their manuscripts to the library right when a publisher has accepted an article.
The Helmholtz Association, to which the MDC belongs, wants its researchers to make their findings available in open access (OA) publications – that is, free of charge and without license restrictions. There are two possibilities: the golden road and the green road. On the “golden road” to OA, the article is openly accessible immediately upon publication. Of course, authors should make sure the journals they choose are credible and serious. For example, they should be listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). On the “green road” to OA, a secondary, open access publication of the article appears in the MDC Repository.
In this primarily digital library, do you ever miss working with print media?
No, absolutely not. Digital technology lets us provide scientists with a range of information that would never be possible in print. Plus, my work is much too varied for me to ever miss anything. My participation in the Helmholtz Association Working Group is very rewarding, as it allows me to discuss ideas with people from other centers about the shift to open science. What is more, we get to help shape the process. For example, in 2017 we drew up the “Recommendations for Guidelines at the Helmholtz Centers on Handling Research Data” – a very interesting and creative experience.
Jana Ehrhardt-Joswig conducted the interview.