The Rights Registry: Moving in the right direction

In our previous blog post we discussed the Entitlement Registry and its role in SafeNet. Librarians are spending large amounts of time trawling emails, paper documents, websites and contacting publishers to ensure the licenses they have comply with institution policies, and to determine their access rights when budgeting renewals. Having a registry to discover publisher’s stated perpetual access rights will help save time and effort and be of benefit to both libraries and the academic community as a whole.

Over recent months, we have been reviewing publisher licenses and have started recording the perpetual access rights information found within. Our goal at this early stage is to understand the information end-users require with regards to perpetual access. What information do you need at your fingertips in order to save time? What information would help you make well-informed decisions?

We aim to provide a clear window onto information provided by publishers with regards to perpetual access. This will require not only the analysis of the rights for each publisher, but also access to license documents or at least links to these to help prove that the information is authoritative.

We’ve established an initial database which allows us to record key information about a publisher and its license, and how that license or policy covers perpetual access. For example, is perpetual access permitted? To what range of material do the rights apply? Are fees required?

Having started to populate the database with information from NESLi2 licences found in KB+ and non-NESLi2 policy information found directly on publisher websites we are revising the flexibility of the database design to handle specific conditions and exceptions. As we continue to look at publisher license documents and terms and conditions we are getting a better understanding of the information we have to record which, in turn, informs us on the design of a system that handles the variations.

Photopgraph of a road sign beside a road, showing a windy gravel road for the next 10 km.

Winding roads ahead!  Direction. Jackie.Ick, 2013. Available under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Challenges

As we dive into the details we are encountering numerous challenges. It has been very informative to explore the different publishing policies and how they cover perpetual access. Small and medium size publishers, such as some University publishers and scholarly society publishers, often host their journals on one or more platforms, each with different policies. Publishers have their own license agreements, as well as their NESLi2 ones, and each license can differ in their expressions of their policies.

Even at this very early stage, it is very apparent that there is a great need for clarity on perpetual access rights, especially when it comes to non-NESLi2 licenses. These rights are either not specified or are not specific enough. Open Access publishers and publishers who are registered participants in the NISO SERU initiative in particular recognise the importance of continued access to journal content, but here again the specific arrangements by which rights can be satisfied are not specified or are ambiguous.

As we attempt to populate the Rights Registry we are ending up with a high number of ‘unknown/unspecified’ fields in the database. This reflects our conversations with librarians who are finding it difficult to determine what rights they have for what journal, if indeed they have any rights at all. It is therefore vital to get clarification from both publishers and journal platforms. If this can be achieved then this will be of real benefit for everyone concerned.

Next step

Having gathered information for several different kinds of publishers the next step is to speak with librarians, demonstrating the Rights Registry as it stands, getting feedback on it and making sure that the service proposition will help improve library workflows and save effort. These discussions will help identify the essential building blocks needed and will feed in to the design and future population of the database.

We will also speak with publishers to discuss the issues raised by our findings so far. We would like to understand what we could do to improve clarity of rights: clarifying the publisher’s position and the interpretation of their licenses will help us, and will also encourage this clarity to be translated into future license language.

Ultimately, the Rights Registry has to provide clear and authoritative data on perpetual access rights which will be easy to find and interpret, and fit in with existing workflows of end-users. This can only be achieved if both publishers and librarians come together and move forward in the same direction.

If you would like to help by contributing to our design and testing, please get in touch at edina@ed.ac.uk and we’ll arrange a short conversation to outline our plans.