Overlapping Lay and Professional Constituencies of Open Access Publishing in Specialized Research Domains
Open Access content involves multiple constituencies that converge or diverge based on the priorities, needs and roles of their constituent agents likely having dissimilar perspectives on the publishing sector.
The situational and relational analysis that Emily Nunn (2019, pp. 138-146) presents in her unpublished doctoral thesis suggests that, on the demand side of Open Access output, it is possible to differentiate between discrete, professional and lay information seekers, relevant, sector-specific organization staff members, target research field practitioners and various research-related constituencies ranging from university-affiliated investigators to press editors, community workers or policy-makers.
While these partially overlapping groups, as consumers of Open Access content, are served by largely similar information infrastructures, such as academic databases, publisher websites, academic repositories, search engines and media platforms, their defining characteristics have been found to be qualitatively different. Thus, Nunn (2019, pp. 138-139) constructs information seekers as socio-culturally distinct from scientists, not well-versed in the economic aspects of scholarly publishing, oriented toward lay summaries or media reports, using libraries as venues for research access and utilizing digital tools for content browsing and sharing.
As opposed to that, Nunn (2019, pp. 141-142) has found that relevant organization staff members are socially proximate to research communities, have various expertise levels concerning Open Access funding, are concerned about institutional access limitations and publisher embargoes and not infrequently engaged in practices surrounding scholarly publishing, such as writing literature reviews and funding article processing charges. These groups stand in contrast to both field researchers and practitioners anchored in discipline- or profession-specific communities, concerned about access-affecting budget cuts, experiencing temporal or organizational pressures vis-à-vis research engagement or processing, policy timelines and addressing partially overlapping stakeholder circles as part of their direct responsibility areas and beyond (Nunn, 2019, pp. 143-146).
From the perspective of the supply side of the academic publishing market, this study further suggests that postprint repositories perform intermediary functions with respect to target-sector organizations, university libraries and publishing houses, in addition to other information exchange mechanisms that connect the corresponding communities in their overlap areas. These links are further reinforced by the Open Access mandates of research funders, which is driven by either organization missions or policy imperatives and facilitates the dissemination of research results to the lay public and other constituencies (Nunn, 2019, pp. 159-160).
Yet, as Nunn (2019, p. 161) also notes, Open Access constituencies can also be non-overlapping if their interests, e.g., in research results vs. news coverage, are divergent. On the one hand, media or press communication can be simplifying significantly scholarly arguments or empirical findings. On the other hand, external client, affiliate or interest groups participate not infrequently in the administration of service provision and research funding. These linkages, thus, between agents implicated directly or indirectly in scientific research, such as practicing professional, are likely to be shaping attitudes toward Open Access (Nunn, 2019, p. 162).
Likewise, research-related practices across a wider gamut of Open Access constituencies, such as higher education consultants or actors, further multiply the contexts of its use and interrelations with researcher communities. This is additionally reinforced by the impact of academic journal subscriptions that non-university libraries in many cases cannot afford. Whereas the involvement of private companies or industry players in research-related practices can be not uncontroversial, viable models for access to research publications may require their participation, given significant costs with which subscription content is associated and the cause-driven discourse around Open Access (Nunn, 2019, pp. 167-169).
In this respect, Open Access journals can act as anchors for multi-stakeholder communities, e.g., state or third-sector policy-makers, forming around area-specific research (Nunn, 2019, p. 170).
By Pablo Markin
Featured Image Credits: The John Rylands Library Reading Room, Manchester, England, UK, June 18, 2013 | © Courtesy of Robert Hörnig/Michael D Beckwith/Flickr.