A Global View of Open Access (1) : A French perspective on Open Access and the Episciences Initiative

This second series of blog articles on Open Access will look at the global perspective. In order to give an authoritative view the entries are by invitation and authored by relevant researchers in the different countries. I am very pleased that to open this second series with a view from France, contributed by Claude Kirchner, Executive Officer for Research and Technology Transfer for Innovation, and colleagues Laurent Romary and Pascal Guitton. In true Napoleonic fashion, France has a centralized research repository called HAL and is participating in ambitious plans to create ‘epi-journals’ – a new type of overlay journal based on peer-reviewed pre-prints (http://episciences.org/ )


Tony Hey

31st May 2013

A strong Green open access policy for France… and even more for Inria

2013 will probably appear as an important milestone in the developments of Open Access in France. On 24 January, during an open access awareness event organised by the CNRS and the national consortium of University libraries (Couperin), the French Ministry for research and higher education, Geneviève Fioraso, expressed a support to the Open Access movement, stating that « L’information scientifique est un bien commun qui doit être disponible pour tous » (“Scientific information is a public good that should be available to all”) and showed a strong preference to the green route to open access and in particular to the use of the national publication repository HAL (maintained by CNRS). She also strengthened the role of the national coordination on scientific information (BSN – Bibliothèque Scientifique Numérique) and its role to help higher education and research institutions coordinate their policy in this domain. Following this, a major memorandum of understanding was signed by 25 national institutions to state their willingness to work together in making HAL a reference repository for all research productions in France.

Inria, the French research institution for computational sciences and applied mathematics actually played a seminal role in making such progress possible. It has had a long-standing involvement in the open access movement. It was an early signatory of the Berlin Declaration in 2003 and as soon as April 2005, it officially set its own portal (HAL-Inria) on the national HAL repository. At that time, it recommended that all publications from its researchers should be deposited there. In 2006, being a signatory to the national agreement on open archiving, it accelerated its involvement in designing additional deposit, presentation and dissemination services to the HAL platform at the benefit of its researchers.

In the recent period, Inria has identified how difficult it has become to work in collaborative partnership with publishers (private, but also professional associations and learned societies) in defining new publishing business and editorial models. In this context, Inria decided to take the bull by the horns and to proactively contribute to the elaboration of such models. In the beginning of 2013 it issued a deposit mandate, whereby HAL-Inria becomes the only source of information for all reporting and assessment activities of its researchers, teams and research centres.

Going even further, Inria is now engaging forces in experimenting new publication frameworks. It is thus involved in the Episciences initiative, which aims at creating a peer-reviewing environment coupled to the deposit of pre-prints in HAL, with reduced overhead costs and maximal dissemination efficiency.

The underlying vision is that of a research infrastructure where no fee is applied to its users (whether author or reader) and which offers a set of basic services facilitating an efficient dissemination and review of scholarly papers. Like traditional journals, scientific quality is ensured by the recognition of the editorial committee that carries out the peer-reviewing process.

The epi-journal platform is conceived in the spirit of traditional peer-reviewed journals, with additional facilities resulting from its leaning against a publication repository. Indeed, open archives are now widely available and can be used by any researcher to store, index and make freely available any of his publicly accessible research documents. These documents can be for instance research papers, experiments, data, programs, videos. Such archives as arXiv or HAL are widely accessible and provide a sustainable and free service. In the case of the HAL platform for instance, papers are finely associated with affiliation information for authors, with generic long term archiving facilities, as well as additional services facilitating the creation of personal or institutional web pages.

In order to support the editorial committees for the journals hosted on the platform in their day to day business, a support in terms of editorial management will be provided. This will comprise:

  • Management of the peer-review process, comprising the channelling of community based feedback;
  • Handling the management of the journal volumes and issues;
  • Contribution to some basic quality checking tasks (bibliography, meta-data, cross-references);
  • Community management: advertising papers to various channels and social networks, moderation of online discussions;
  • General visibility: interaction with major indexing services and databases (DBLP, Thomson Reuters, Scopus…), as well as adequate mirroring on relevant thematic repositories (ArXiv, PMC, RePEc,  etc.).

Through the hosting on the national repository infrastructure HAL, all journals will benefit from a high quality technical environment comprising 24/24 7/7 services, long term archiving and proper authentication and authorization infrastructure.

As to the copyright policy, we want the IP to remain with the authors, who will only grant the journal (and hence the platform) a non-exclusive right to publish under its brand. Besides, the journals will decide on the licence to be applied, but a strong recommendation will be made to adopt a generic creative commons CC-BY (attribution) licence, which is quite adequate for scholarly purposes.

Finally, we will ensure that journal titles be freed from any private ownership. When the title is not properly hosted by an academic institution or a scientific society, a consortium of supporting organisation should be able to take ownership of such orphan titles at the service of editorial committees.

In order to provide a sustainable service, we will put together step by step a consortium of interested parties that may provide further cash or in-kind contribution to the further exploitation of the platform. It is anticipated that such contributions can be taken out of the existing scientific information budget of the interested institutions (e.g. subscriptions).

This is to our view the only way not only to master our scientific information budgets, but also to master the services we need to disseminate our research results in good conditions. Indeed, investing in such new services is just a step towards the definition of more integrated virtual research environments facilitating eScholarship.

Laurent Romary, Pascal Guitton, Claude Kirchner


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