The special value which Open Access (OA) journals provide users is that they will be able to enjoy the content of these works without impediment of paywall, password or authentication. However, that value – free access – is lessened if the works in question cannot be discovered by users in the first place. And, in fact, the very freedom of OA can impact that discovery adversely. For most libraries provide quality discovery metadata in their catalog records for titles which they own, i.e. in which they have invested resources. Open Access journals, by definition, demand no such investment. This leaves many quality OA journals running free, available to anyone, but without the library metadata for users necessarily to discover them and take advantage of that free access.
It is to ensure that these valuable Open Access journals can be discovered and used that CONSER began its Open Access Journal Project. CONSER is the Cooperative Serials Program of the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC) and serves as an authoritative source for bibliographic records, documentation, and training materials for serials cataloging. CONSER members work together to promulgate standards related to serials and they create, edit and authenticate high quality metadata records which are added to the OCLC database.
The CONSER Open Access Journal Project cooperatively targets the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) to ensure that CONSER records are available for all journals in DOAJ and is designed to provide on-going coverage of new titles added to it. These CONSER records are in turn used by electronic resource management and access systems to track e-journal collections such as DOAJ and other e-journal collections. Each year of 15-20 CONSER libraries participate in the project to create an average of 1,000 CONSER records for DOAJ titles that previously were not represented by a CONSER record.
While the focus on journals in the DOAJ is much narrower than the full range of OA journals, there are advantages to start here. DOAJ journals all have ISSN information for the journals (a requirement for listing in DOAJ). They are all scholarly publications with peer or editorial review, ensuring they are of research interest, and are highly cited: several CONSER libraries have noted they are heavily used through link resolvers. Just as importantly, journals in DOAJ have no embargo period so there is immediate access to all issues.
The benefits of this cataloging project have been apparent from the outset. One of the basic and fundamental benefits of a cooperative program such as CONSER has been to decrease duplicative cataloging efforts. This is all the more important when it comes to Open Access material. It can be difficult to make a case to assign resources to cataloging OA journals in a solitary fashion. But it becomes easier to argue when the return on investment is fifteen-to-twenty times the input. Moreover, such a cooperative project allows libraries with certain language or subject expertise to focus on the cataloging of those materials which play to their strengths.
Open Access journals are no different than their paid counterparts as intellectual resources and we all benefit from giving them the same treatment we give the e-journals for which we pay: e.g., ensuring accurate ISSN data is distributed for more consistent accessibility and providing a consistent set of titles and metadata across different user information environments. OA journals are an undeniably important part of our scholarly communication. To ensure that this scholarship is actually communicated will rely upon initiatives such as the CONSER Open Access Journal Project. We should encourage e-journals to run free – as long as we tag and track them for our users.
My thanks to Les Hawkins, the CONSER Program Coordinator, for his input on this post