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University Libraries' new partnership increases open access to scientific journals

University Libraries is starting to cover more open access fees for UNC-based authors in a newly formed partnership with the Public Library of Science, an open access publisher  established in 2001.

The new PLOS partnership is part of the University Libraries’ Sustainable Scholarship initiative that runs on four values: affordability, sustainability, transparency and open access. 

"We are excited about working with PLOS because they are a nonprofit publisher of high-quality research journals and they are dedicated to open access," Director of Library Communications Judy Panitchsaid in a statement. 

This announcement of this partnership comes after a recent announcement from Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz that University Libraries will be directed a total of $2 million in funding annually through facilitates & administrative costs, which are built into research grants to support core University operations. 

That restoration of $2 million to the University Libraries’ annual budget follows news that the library will face a total of $5 million in budget cuts over the next two fiscal years.

Nerea Llamas, associate University librarian for collection strategies and services, worked closely on the agreement with PLOS and the Sustainable Scholarship initiative. 

“We believe that Sustainable Scholarship is the way that we get ourselves out of this cycle of budget crises and that we truly need to be focusing on how we change the way that we provide scholarship to our campus,” she said.

Panitch said that the crux of the problem that University Libraries faces today is the high cost attached to journals, specifically science journals. These high prices and extreme inflation are major challenges for all universities, she said, not just for UNC.

Since the University Libraries' budget could not sustain the high costs of journals, they cancelled Elsevier in 2020 — their biggest publishing contract. 

“We really went from having all of their journals to having a small number of their journals,"  Llamas said. "And as we did that we also initiated something we call Sustainable Scholarship."

She said the Sustainable Scholarship initiative pushes back on the traditional scholarship model that is built on profit and putting content behind a paywall. 

“(Scholarship) should be open. It should be open to our researchers, but it also should be open to researchers around the world because we believe and we know that the more open content there is, the more that it is shared amongst researchers,” Llamas said. “It spurs innovation, it spurs development and it spurs collaboration.”

A few years ago, PLOS contacted University Libraries due to the development of the Sustainable Scholarship initiative, Llamas said. PLOS wanted to gain input on their models from University Libraries and whether a partnership would be possible.

Journals like PLOS rely on authors to pay for publishing fees. In light of this, University Libraries will support their authors on campus by paying these fees, allowing authors to focus on the publishing process itself, rather than the costs, Llamas said. 

Victoria L. Bautch, Beverly Long Chapin distinguished professor in the Department of Biology, is a published PLOS author. 

“This agreement to waive fees is huge because it will allow many UNC researchers — students and faculty — to get their exciting peer-reviewed work into the public domain, even if they do not have funds to support the fees,” she said. “It will allow groups with funds to use them for further research.” 

University Libraries is looking to engage in more agreements similar to PLOS as they become available. 

“PLOS’ values really align with ours quite well, so we are using this not just as a pilot as we go forward but using it as a model so that we can continue to build these relationships with other publishers,” Llamas said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated how UNC grants and aid factor into the University's restoration of $2 million to the University Libraries’ annual budget. University Libraries will be directed a total of $2 million in funding through facilitates & administrative costs that are built into research grants.

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