While many of our customers and users were enjoying their summer break, our team in Berkeley, California, finalized a significant move for bepress and Elsevier.
Bepress creates solutions that help academic communities share what makes them unique. With the fully hosted, supported and integrated Digital Commons and Expert Gallery Suite platforms, users can expand the reach of all campus output, from technical reports and primary research materials to conference proceedings and student work. Campuses can promote faculty and their expertise with scholarly profiles and expert galleries. And administrators can use industry-leading readership analytics to track impact and share it with stakeholders.
Our new partnership opens up a ton of potential for both companies. With bepress, Elsevier gains the expertise of a company founded by scholars from the University of California at Berkeley, with over 17 years of experience and more than 500 customers. In turn, bepress gains access to valuable data and content, and increased scope to support universities and colleges outside North America.
Elsevier’s acquisition of bepress represents a validation of the work that our community has undertaken in building research showcases. Elsevier, which has been increasingly focused on technology and services in recent years, including the acquisition of Mendeley and SSRN, is taking another step toward an open future by investing in us. This event gives tremendous legitimacy to our community’s efforts and the bepress model — which, I want to stress, will not change.
Reaction from our community and the marketplace
Our community reaction has been divided with regards to the acquisition. Some are excited as they envision what Digital Commons might mean to their organization when fully integrated into campus life and the research lifecycle. They see this event as a commitment that bepress will continue to develop to meet their needs for the next 17 years, as it has for the past 17. They imagine what the Digital Commons Network could become with 5,000 participating institutions worldwide rather than 500 mostly in the US.
A larger segment is concerned that the magic of what bepress is will be lost, that we will compromise the product and the model. With Elsevier’s support, we have tried to assuage those concerns, but I understand that the proof is in the pudding. We need to show our customers that we are the same bepress in order to earn back the good will and enthusiasm we have enjoyed up to this point.
The bepress community approach to open access
Many people in the scholarly communications space would say that bepress builds and hosts open access institutional repositories. They are not wrong. However, our community has stretched the terms “open access” and “institutional repositories” to the point that they now deserve some translation.
Our customers’ sites represent a much wider swath of materials than the content traditionally associated with institutional repositories. In addition to green open access manuscripts and gold open access journal articles, libraries use Digital Commons to showcase the entire spectrum of scholarship their institutions produce. Libraries have built entire publishing programs on Digital Commons, including their own peer-reviewed journals, conferences proceedings and books. Beyond peer-reviewed publishing, libraries use our platforms to disseminate a plethora of research and teaching materials of all media types. This material is outside the commercial journal publishing model altogether; without the library’s work, it would be invisible to the outside world.
Today this body of work is available, discoverable, and connected to the institution that produced it. Our community has turned “institutional repositories” from siloes of research into marketing platforms for the entire campus.
As open access advocates have long argued, making scholarly work openly available means that more and different readers benefit from information. But in order to win support from university leadership, showcasing research needs to be more than an altruistic endeavor. With the library’s help, provosts, boards of trustees, offices of research, and marketing departments now use these showcases to share their value with the world. They have uncovered over 100 examples of the impact of open access. We want to see that number grow.
Joining Elsevier’s open access team
So what does it mean to be part of Elsevier and a key component of its larger open access initiatives? Clearly this domain is much broader than just bepress, and we cannot single-handedly effect change, but we have already seen that we have a critical role to play in sharing our community’s successful approach to open access. We are already working with Elsevier colleagues, having frank conversations about the way Elsevier’s open access messages come across and what our users need to hear instead. We’ve found our new colleagues to be smart, passionate and eager to collaborate. We see that we have an opportunity to influence the market leader. It is exciting.
I believe that bepress can help Elsevier do a better job of communicating about open access clearly and without caveats. The bepress team is also advocating for what we believe the broader community needs to see through action over time: platform-agnostic integration, increased portability of content, and easier ways to grow open access collections, for example. Yes, Elsevier is a big ship and therefore slower to turn, but its open access direction is clear and we are part of it. I am looking forward to charting the course together.