An interview with Dr Max Vögler and Dr Heiner Schnelling
Interview by: Margaret Adolphus
Dr Max Vögler (MV) works for Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), Germany. He is programme officer in the group Academic Libraries and Information Systems.
Dr Heiner Schnelling (HS) is director of the University and State Library at Halle, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany and chair of the library committee of the German Research Foundation.
Mark Hindwell (MH) is head of External Relations at Emerald.
Could you each say a bit about your respective roles?
MV: My name is Max Vögler, I am programme officer at the German Research Foundation, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). We are the central self-governing research council for Germany, which means we fund mostly research, but we do have one division called Scientific Information Library Information Services which funds the activities of libraries, archives, computer centres, media centres, and all sorts of content producing parts of the scholarly process. Within this we began about four years ago to fund what we called national licences. We buy back files archives of publishers and make them electronically available to the German public, and by that we really do mean the public. The goal is to provide access to every registered citizen or registered person who has residency in Germany. We haven’t been able to do that for all products and when it gets too expensive we’ve restricted it to research and higher education institutions, but the starting point is to be able to provide to every resident of Germany.
HS: I’m Heiner Schnelling, I’m director of the University and State Library at Halle, Martin Luther University, Halle-Wittenberg, and for quite a while I’ve been chairing the library committee of the German Research Foundation.
Can you say a bit more about the sort of projects you’re involved in? You mentioned the e-content initiative. How do you go about acquiring e-content?
MV: The DFG has been involved for a couple of years now in something called Knowledge Exchange, which is a project where we work together with JISC in the UK, with SURF in the Netherlands, and with the Danish Electronic Research Library in Denmark. Our aim is to try to work on a whole variety of levels on information procurement and access for the research and higher education communities in those four countries, and we are engaged in a number of activities from open access policy to institutional repositories to a whole range of other things.
One of the activities that we identified earlier on was the idea of licensing. We all buy content, and we all figure out new and interesting ways to provide access to content for our communities. And so we decided to take that next step and try and think about how we can do this internationally. The reason I’m here today [at UKSG] is to talk with publishers within the framework of the Knowledge Exchange licensing tender to try to figure out new ways of providing wider access and develop business models with international rather than purely national structures.
HS: DFG has been engaged in that field for three years now, spending in the region of 60 million euros on quite a number of databases and back files of journals across all disciplines. There are three challenges for the coming year. The first one is to continue that programme into a fourth year, the second is to transfer our attention from back files to current content, and the third Max has already referred to, the international perspective, Knowledge Exchange, that’s why we are here.
MV: Maybe we can talk about the history of the national licensing initiative. It began as a special programme of the DFG because we saw the need and we wanted to try it as a pilot project. As Herr Schnelling said, we have been doing it for three years and this is now the fourth year. In the first year we spent 6 million euros, mostly on humanities and social sciences; in the second year we spent approximately 21 million euros on mostly STM content, and then last year was more of a mixed bag, some social sciences, we tried to widen the scope and spent about 17 million euros.
These funds were used to buy archives of journals and databases that would then be provided to – in the best case – all registered citizens of Germany; in the worst case to all primarily publicly funded higher education and research institutes. Right now there are three strands, there’s the original idea, which really has to do with archives, we don’t buy current content, we buy, we don’t rent, we locally hold the materials within Germany, and we give certain libraries the money to purchase them with the mandate that they must provide access to the broader community. The second part is to try to widen the scope of that to current content to see how we can work together with other institutions and larger structures within Germany to create different financial models to purchase current content. The third is to work internationally, with other partners to see what happens when you try to bring this national licensing idea to the next level and talk about multinational licensing.
How do you see publishers’ business models evolving over the next five years?
HS: You have to get rid of this one-way perspective whereby libraries subscribe to print or electronic content. We have to think about new models such as that put forward by DFG, providing a certain amount of funding for the electronic content of journals which libraries subscribe to in printed form. This is something we have to negotiate with publishers.
MV: I think that is really the question at the moment, what is the role of funding organizations, what is the role of publishers in this new direction in which scholarly communication is going? I don’t think any of us know where we are going to get to, but it’s a very interesting time to be participating in the process. One of the things national licences have taught us is that some sort of mix between national opt-in models and central financing is the key thing to talk to publishers about.
We also need to think repositories – institutional repositories. The role of green and gold open access is going to be key, although it’s still evolving and we are watching the evolution of these fields. We are not very sure yet what the role of the publisher will be in an open access environment, though they certainly can have a valuable contribution. Also exciting is the link between open access publications and primary data, and how you create really integrated information systems that go from publications down to the research data. You need to be able to control the data, and to have systems that are open enough to facilitate all sorts of information flows.
HS: Why don’t we overturn the tables for a moment? Let me put this question, the crucial question, to the publishers.
MH: Where do I think things will be in five years’ time? I don’t see things being terribly different in terms of the models that are happening at the moment. I see the international licence as being an improvement, I am sure that this is going to be a big success and move things along to the next level, but I think things are going to continue as they have been, and hopefully we will get to the stage where we do have the research online, behind the journals, in an integrated environment, with everything much more cohesive, and simple and easy to use by as many people as possible. But I don’t see major changes in terms of the models of publishers.
I think that the authors will still want to get published in particular journals, and those journals will be the same ones that fortunately or unfortunately they wanted to get published in for 20 years, so from the author’s point of view the pressure is going to continue.
What do you think about the "author pays" model?
MV: This is a difficult and challenging discussion for funding councils at the moment because looking just at the maths, for example: we fund coordinated research programmes, where there are 30-40 researchers working together over 12 years, they get on average 1.2 to 1.5 million euros a year.
The open access or open choice model from Springer for example is about US$3,000 per article, and if you do the maths – 30 researchers writing a few articles each per year for 12 years – there wouldn’t be much money left to do research. So I think that author pays and open choice models are definitely a way to go, but the current pricing schemes are not something that we can sustain within our current funding structures. But we need to keep having the discussion and publishers should spend more time trying out author pays models and working with the funding agencies to see what works, what doesn’t work, where can you create economies of scale.
HS: Mixed feelings about that, sorry. Speaking as a university librarian I wouldn’t endorse that. The Government, or the university, is paying the professor for his research, and the library subscribes to the journal, either from its own funds or funded by DFG, and then the library budget or the university budget would again be drawn upon for the publication of an author’s article, so it’s a three times funding for something you should only have to buy once.
MV: One of the things we are talking about with the DFG is a discipline specific time period after which things are made available by green road open access. We are not very stringent, yet, about enforcing that, partly because I don’t think that the institutional repositories and cataloguing mechanisms exist to make that a worthwhile activity on a large scale. But I think that’s one way to go. Working together with publishers’ golden road open access, there’s also a lot of potential there. But at the moment everyone’s getting steamed up about the things that could possibly happen, which hinders progress.
Do you think that our attitudes to what is freely available on the Internet are changing? Ten years ago everyone was talking about chargeable models for killer content which would be closed access
MV: I think that the discussion isn’t about open access but access, and what sort of access structures can we provide for a national community, so in that sense it’s not black and white, it’s shades of grey. On the other hand, things like Wikipedia really have been taken up. That’s very much open, web 2.0 participatory web, and does create very meaningful content. And there’s the open content alliance, too. The DFG has funded digitization projects in the region of 26 million euros over the past 10 years (and this will increase over the next couple of years, as we have identified that as a priority area), as well as Google’s digitization activities. Everybody’s working very hard to make more and more available. And the idea of open access and open content is very strong, especially when you are coming from the public side.
Open access of course is the principle that everything should be available for everybody all the time, the Internet makes it so. So our licensed content, for example, is available to anyone living in Germany. There’s no charge at all except to the people who provide the infrastructure. Those costs are quite a bit, open access is not cheap in that sense, but between open access and access there are lots of different strategies, and I really do believe that the National Licensing Strategy of the DFG has shown some momentum because it has the citizen model, if we want to create a German research community that has the modes of access to content it needs to stay competitive.
HS: From 2006, our back file initiative has made content from all major publishers available to everyone in Germany.
How do you go about deciding which content you are going to fund?
MV: In Germany, we have a system of special subject libraries, there are 23 libraries, which are responsible for deciding what sort of content would be interesting. Those are then put to a set of eight libraries which have the lead in talking to publishers for national licensing deals. So, the 23 libraries make proposals, they are then bundled, put together, for example the subject basis doesn’t work for Elsevier or Springer, which publishes in many subjects, so it goes to the 8 libraries, they make a set of proposals, those then go to a set of reviewing committees within the DFG, composed of librarians, scholars, scientists, academics from different disciplines, and they then do the maths, make the decisions, talk to other people within those disciplines to see whether the content is worthwhile etc. Those different groups make funding recommendations to the head committee of the DFG – the Joint Committee – which then decides whether to spend the money or not. There are lots of committees involved. But on the whole it’s a very transparent process and one that leads to good results, or has so far.
HS: The best we can do is to wait and see if there are any people who may have suggestions for further acquisitions. Everyone is welcome to make suggestions. For instance, my library receives a lot of suggestions for its own special collection within the DFG collection, that is Middle Eastern and North African studies, and scholars and enthusiasts from all over the country send letters to us.
MV: I should add here that the whole principle of the DFG is to react to the needs of the community, that is our highest goal, we are not part of the Government, we are an independent body governed by the universities and scholars who are our members.
The role that you are describing for the librarian is a fairly reactive one. Do your librarians ever go out and work alongside people to determine what their requirements are, or do you expect people to come to you, as do some subject librarians in the UK?
HS: We rather expect people to come to us, we are dealing with research libraries.
MV: Also, I think it’s a question of scale, on a national scale the ability to react to that sort of need is limited. And so we do rely on our special subject libraries who have a good grasp of what’s available in their subjects. They have been buying the print material for about 60 years, they know their stuff and they know their scholarly community. On the other hand, and here I would make a pitch for another programme of ours, which is called "libraries and archives working together with researchers". It’s mostly geared at historians or people from the fields of literature and language, who really have a need for old books, old manuscripts and old archival material. The programme’s aim is really "What are your needs, researchers?". How can we help fund those things and have really structured digitization activities, for example, in which you as a research group work together with libraries and archives to really digitize, catalogues and enrich those things with metadata to feed your research needs. It’s also a way of deciding which content is important for the national community.
What do you see as the role of the specialist library in the digital age?
HS: Procure as much content and facilitate access to as many items as possible on the most reasonable terms, financially speaking.
What do you think the library will look like in five years’ time?
MV: It will probably have a coffee bar.
But what will be the proportion between the digital space and the physical space?
HS: The digital space is certainly growing but the print is still in the majority, much larger, even in five years, than the digital portion of the library. The digital portion is certainly increasing, but even in five years’ time the print portion will be larger than the digital one.
What will the physical library be used for?
MV: There will be more places for Internet access, instead of stacks. But I don’t know, I am not really good at predictions.