At the rainy end of September, I found myself in Washington DC for the first time, strolling along the National Mall and tentatively approaching the White House. But rather than making a bizarre pitch for the Presidency, I was in the US capital to attend the Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing (COASP) – taking place in the suburban surrounds of Virginia, close to the Pentagon and the Arlington National Cemetery.

COASP is in its eighth year. Judging from my two experiences – Cambridge has been a member for several years prior – it is skilfully convened, pushing its participants to consider scholarly communication beyond the obvious categories, whether that’s the mechanisms behind open access, authorship, or the formats that package research.

This prompt for deeper thinking seems important given the sometimes conflicting perspectives of those who feel they have a stake in open access, having extended beyond advocates, librarians and OA publishers to constituents that include traditional publishers like Cambridge and the increasingly important entities providing the infrastructure for publishing (CrossRef, ORCID, FORCE 11 and CASRAI were all mentioned in a stimulating panel about recognising the varied roles in the research process).

The complexity of the open access environment was the subject of the first keynote by Heather Joseph of SPARC. She insisted upon recognising open access as a social change movement with public good – democratizing access to knowledge – as the core value. Her talk brought to the fore some tensions in the room, about the extent to which reducing the stock prices and margins of commercial and other large publishers are a goal of open access, but it was a prompt think beyond “open for open’s stake” that became a recurrent theme of the conference.

Thinking of open access not simply as an end in itself but how it connects to other deep lying issues returned in various forms. Most obvious is the movement towards making data behind articles available as an open and citable research outputs, encouraging the transparency and reproducibility of research. At COASP there were many angles on data: from Authorea, an authoring platform that can incorporate interactive data; to the Wikidata project mining the literature about the Zika virus; to the work of the Dataverse repository (a partner for a number of Cambridge social science journals) to ensure that research data is not just available, but curated and discoverable.

A number of panellists demonstrated how open access is beginning to be realised in the humanities and social sciences. Kathleen Fitzpatrick blazed through the ideas behind Humanities Commons – a network and a repository – insisting that openness needs to hand-in-hand with interoperable platforms and the sense of community governed by its members. Initiatives such as this and Open Library of Humanities eschew article processing charge (APC) as a mechanism of payment for open access; the intriguing Alexandra Street Press uses a mixture of models to ensure that archive material in anthropology can be made openly available. (See also the Cambridge journals BJHS Themes and Journal of Classics Teaching).

COASP 2016. Image credit: OASPA (

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