GAP - German Academic Publishers: A Network Approach to Scholarly Publishing

Kim Braun (Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem BIS der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg)

Abstract: GAP - German Academic Publishers (www.gap-c.de) is a project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) to create an infrastructure for a new model for academic publishing. One aim of the project is to create an organizational network of academic presses and other eligible academic publishing institutions, including a business plan to guarantee a sustainable "life" for GAP after funding expires. Another goal is to establish the necessary infrastructure for online publishing (including a peer-review process) and online management of persons, roles, and other elements of the publishing process. GAP will act as both data and service provider for the Open Archives Initiative. GAP's most prominent aim is to make what is published through its channels available for free on the Internet.

Résumé : German Academic Publishers (le GAP à www.gap-c.de) est un projet financé par le German Research Foundation (DFG) pour poser les fondements d'un nouveau modèle d'édition académique. Un des buts de ce projet est de créer un réseau organisationnel de presses et autres organismes œuvrant dans l'édition académique, ainsi qu'un plan d'affaires assurant une vie durable au GAP suivant la fin de son financement. Un autre but est d'établir une infrastructure permettant l'édition en ligne (y compris un processus d'évaluation par les pairs) et la gestion en ligne de personnes, rôles et autres composantes de l'édition. Le GAP agira ainsi en tant que fournisseur de services et de données pour l'Open Archives Initiative. Le premier but du GAP est d'offrir sur Internet un accès gratuit à tous les textes qu'il édite.

Introduction

GAP - German Academic Publishers (www.gap-c.de) is a project funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation, www.dfg.de) for the purpose of creating a new model for academic publishing independent of large commercial publishers. The pricing policy of the large commercial publishers has made it increasingly difficult for universities and university libraries to provide adequate scholarly resources to their students and faculty. This "journal crisis," especially in the area of scientific, technical, and medical (STM) journals, has led to a number of new approaches to scholarly publishing. GAP is one of them. The project consisted of the formation of an organizational network of academic presses, the necessary infrastructure for online publishing (including a peer-reviewing process), and a business plan to guarantee a sustainable "life" after the project itself has expired.

The project - An overview

This project began in December 2001. Funding of the first two-year phase ended on November 30, 2003, and two follow-up proposals to the DFG to continue the work in both organizational and technical areas have been granted (the GAP II project and the GAPworks project). Founding partners are Regionales Rechenzentrum der Universität Hamburg (Hamburg University Computing Centre, www.rrz.uni-hamburg.de/RRZ), Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg (State and University Library Hamburg, www.sub.uni-hamburg.de), Universitätsbibliothek Karlsruhe (Karlsruhe University Library, www.ubka.uni-karlsruhe.de), and the BIS Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem der Universität Oldenburg (Library and Information System of Oldenburg University, www.bis.uni-oldenburg.de).

Hamburg, as project leader, has the responsibilities of general project management, marketing, building the organizational and business models, as well as the technical work of authentication. Karlsruhe is responsible for setting up and maintaining the website and, later, the GAP portal. Oldenburg was tasked with defining specifications for the required workflow and designing GAPworks, the online publication infrastructure of GAP. The Institute for Science Networking (ISN) at Oldenburg University does the actual programming. Oldenburg's tasks furthermore include building tools to support authors in writing structured documents with a word processor that can later be converted into clean and platform-independent formats such as XML.

The goals of GAP

The "journal crisis" in many of the sciences continues to cause increasingly severe difficulties for libraries and/or universities as a whole to ensure their scholars' and students' access to up-to-date, high-quality scientific information. GAP aims to shape a consortium of academic university presses to make research quickly and freely available to students and scholars alike, to avoid unnecessary delays in the publication process, and to dramatically reduce costs. For a long period, university presses have been almost non-existent in Germany, but at the beginning of the project they were perceived to be in a renaissance period. Some universities had already founded their own academic presses; others were or are in the process of doing so. (Karlsruhe University has in the course of the project founded its university press.) GAP is targeted at existing academic presses wanting to make the transition to electronic publishing as well as new presses just being created. But GAP also addresses other scientific institutions, learned societies as well as individual scientists or groups of scientists publishing or planning to publish e-journals.

However, as the past two years did not show the expected founding of university presses in large numbers, GAPworks will be adapted to be used as open source software under a public licence in an additional, parallel development to the original intentions. Thus it will be available to the public to use, for example, for an institutional repository. Users of this open source software do not have to become a member of the GAP network (as described below), but will not benefit from the additional support and know-how offered within that network.

One of the most important and essential goals of the GAP network is that the publishers and authors grant permission for users and readers to have free Internet access to the full texts of everything that is published utilizing GAPworks, the workflow system, and its components.

What has been done to date

During the first phase of the project, preliminary models of the network and the organization were set up. These are the basis for a sustainable organization after funding by the DFG ends.

User requirements were gathered and a corresponding workflow designed. Taking the workflow pattern as a foundation, a first prototype was designed and programmed. In the course of its implementation, various improvements and new features were added to the workflow and the application. Evaluations were carried out to prove functionality and ergonomics of the workflow interface. At this time a consolidated prototype is online and being Beta-tested by the partners. The BIS Publishing House of Oldenburg University has begun to enter the monograph titles of its series into the GAP catalog through the GAPworks software. The GAP portal is expected to go online in May 2004. The prototype will be refined and finalized as GAPworks.

At the outset of the project, marketing activities were kept at a low level to first attract universities and their publishing institutions, faculties, learned societies, and scientists to GAP and its aims. These activities have been steadily increased during the course of the project as the results of the work became more tangible and visible to potential participants in GAP and users of GAPworks. The recommendations from initial user evaluations have been incorporated in the prototype. In March 2004 a workshop was organized to interest other universities in GAP.

Since January 2003 new partners have joined the project. Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen (Göttingen University Library) and the German Medical Science project have become additional content providers. The Computer and Media Services (CMS) of the Humboldt University in Berlin and the Centre for Information Management (ZIM) of the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science have joined the project with their expertise in document modelling and processing. The library of the Essen-Duisburg University will add its expertise in content management systems. Additionally the SME (small and medium enterprise) academic publisher Duehrkohp und Radicke, Göttingen, has become a partner as both content provider and contributor to further developments.

It is not yet clear how many journals will be published via GAPworks. Not all of the aforementioned partners are currently publishing journals and will have to interest scholars to do so. (The BIS Publishing House, for instance, publishes mostly monographs.) Others publish electronically, but in mostly hands-on processes, and yet others are publishing only in print and would have to make the transition to electronic publishing. To make GAP a success, one of the most prominent tasks of the next year is to attract publishers and scholars to publish within the GAP network.

The organizational model of GAP

GAP is a consortium of academic and university presses. It does not, however, exclude commercial publishing houses from participation, as long as they adhere to the rule of free online access to all objects published via GAPworks.

GAP is not intended to be a large new publisher. It will not compete with existing publishers on a commercial basis. It does not aim for commercial profit, but strives to realize a co-operation of independent publishers "under one roof." Independent academic presses and other publishers may join GAP to utilize what it has to offer for their publishing purposes. GAP has set up a network structure in which all participants are equal partners. The main two elements of this structure are the so-called Back Office and Front Office (see Figure 2).

The Back Office as a central servicing unit maintains the technical and organizational infrastructures. (For the business aspects of the Back Office, see below.) Besides the use of the technical infrastructure GAPworks (see below), participants will be eligible for support in various areas. The Back Office will function as a Centre of Competence or Service Centre for Academic Presses. GAPware, as the whole of what GAP offers is termed, will include (and in part already does) the following:

Templates for author-publisher contracts - While most existing publishing houses do of course have contract templates, GAP will offer templates to those academic presses that are just being founded. Instead of hiring expensive external expertise, members of GAP will be able to take advantage of ready solutions. These can be adapted to serve the individual Front Office's needs. The contract templates will be worded as to maximize and protect authors' rights, for example, in the area of self-archiving. Currently the contracts used by the BIS Publishing House and Hamburg University Press serve as role models.

Support for authoring tools - As regular use of native XML word processors will be unlikely for quite some time in the future, GAP will provide templates for the common word-processing applications (MS Word, OpenOffice, StarOffice). At the moment, GAP offers one minimal template (providing structural elements only on a rather low but, for inexperienced authors, manageable level). GAP is also adapting the more elaborate templates for electronic dissertations built in the German project DissOnline (www.dissonline.de), which enable (relatively) easy conversion to XML according to the DissOnline DTD (document type definition). Additionally, the original DissOnline template will be linked to from the GAP website. GAP closely monitors the integration of XML into MS Word (advertised for MS Office 2003 Professional) as well as for the open source OpenOffice Suite (and therefore StarOffice, as well).

Having the publications available in Extensible Markup Language (XML) allows for long-term storage and availability of the publications independent of platform and output format. The structural elements of, for example, a text are stored without any information about layout, which in turn is stored in one or various XSL files (Extensible Style Sheet Language). Depending on the desired output medium, the respective XSL file is chosen. This does, however, require highly disciplined, consistent "structural writing" by the authors.

High visibility for publications through the GAP portal - The GAP portal will list all publications that went through GAPworks. This allows for publisher-independent search and retrieval of scientific information and publications. Front Offices will have this option of listing their publications in addition to their own catalogues and websites. They will also have the option of hosting their publications on their own server or on a GAP server. GAP does not mandate that the full text of a publication is available on the GAP server. Only the metadata must at all times be available from the GAP server.

Automated indexing for improved retrieval of publications - GAPworks provides for automated extraction of metadata and their presentation in the Open Archives Initiative's (OAI, www.openarchives.org) XML format. Metadata will be extracted from the author's set of data entered into the system when registering (name, affiliation, and so on) as well as from the metadata pertaining to publication containers (for example, an e-journal's title, editor's name, ISSN, et cetera) and the publications themselves (title, abstract, et cetera). Fields to be filled in by the authors upon upload of a publication have been prearranged to reflect the metadata structure of the German National Library (Die Deutsche Bibliothek, www.ddb.de). In the future, this will be adaptable to other metadata structures as may be required by certain sciences or communities.

GAP functions as data provider and service provider in the OAI's sense. As a data provider GAPworks extracts the metadata according to the Dublin Core standard and offers them for harvesting. As the data required for this OAI.DC are minimal, GAPworks will as a service provider enhance these with additional metadata (for example, those about the publication container) and offer them as OAI.GAP. Front Offices are free to harvest these metadata for their own catalogues and enhance them according to their needs and wishes.

Consulting and networking - The Back Office's staff will offer consulting services to universities and other academic institutions planning to set up academic presses. Should the required know-how not be readily available in the Back Office, the requests will be forwarded to other GAP partners able to provide the knowledge. These services will be available through the GAP portal either through documents published on the website or contact addresses.

Participants as so-called Front Offices can make use of what software, know-how, templates, technical support, and so forth GAP offers. The scientific community can profit from this collaboration by having faster and free access to scientific information on the one hand and by publishing much faster than previously without loss of quality on the other. For example, the workflow system sets a tight schedule to facilitate control especially during the peer-review process (for instance, by automatically sending out e-mail reminders when a date is not met). Publications can be processed much faster. High-quality standards are retained by providing the functions for a peer review. Editors of academic presses or e-journals will recruit peer reviewers from various universities and/or other institutions in the classical way, but once these are registered as peer reviewers in the workflow system, it makes management of their work easier than in the past. Again, the workflow system speeds up the work without loss of quality.

All participants will retain their independent statuses, names, brands, et cetera. They will be free to use all of what GAP has to offer or to single out elements or modules of it that suit their individual needs. Participants are encouraged to introduce into GAP new tools they find useful. These will then be evaluated and possibly be integrated into GAP's portfolio. To highlight their participation in GAP and their commitment to free scholarly publishing, participants may show the GAP logo (see Figure 1) on their websites and may use it for their print publications as well. The content they publish by making use of GAPworks must be freely available on the Internet. For other publication forms (for instance, printed copies) outside GAP's scope, publishing houses may charge a price.

The GAP business model

The GAP project is not intended to end with the expiration of funding from the German Research Foundation. A business model stills needs to be designed to guarantee long-term sustainability. This is a part of the project that is still very much in a working stage, with no final results imminent. The recently granted GAP II project will address this issue in the coming 12 months. Currently, three different options are under examination; the final decision will have to be made after arriving at the greatest possible consensus with all partners, associates, and interested parties. Special funding has been requested and granted for this singular and singularly important purpose, as acceptance of the business model by the community involved is a crucial factor for the success of GAP. Regardless of the model chosen, the financial scenarios and solutions will have to be examined very carefully (how much money is required to finance the start-up phase, day-to-day operations, and so on). Naturally this will eventually have implications for the organizational model and vice versa.

Option 1: A peer-to-peer network

In this model of a loosely organized peer-to-peer network, tasks and responsibilities are shared among the members of the network based on informal agreements only. There is no financial backing for the network, and co-operation within the network has no financial consequences. One partner might operate the main server, another be responsible for the website, but work would be carried out by full-time employees of the respective institution(s) at no charge to the network. Aspects of technical or organizational support and/or further developments are not covered by this model of co-operation. Should new requirements emerge or be developed by one of the partners, a consensus will have to be found as to how to implement this and how to finance the implementation.

Option 2: A membership organization

Alternatively, GAP could become a membership organization (eingetragener Verein, e. V.), which according to German law is one of the options. GAP would be a not-for-profit organization, enjoying several benefits in the area of taxes. A charter would have to be drawn up, according to which the affairs of GAP would be managed. As GAP plans for a Back-Office/Front-Office structure, the Back Office could function as a central managing unit. GAP would levy an annual fee on each Front Office to maintain the Back Office. Various forms of memberships enjoying different benefits and paying different membership fees are possible: regular membership, supporting membership, associate membership. Presumably, individual fees could be independent of the number of individual publications; consequently, as more members join, the fees could be lowered. This will, however, have to be studied in detail to present a fair and feasible financial plan that allows not only for a Back Office that functions well, but also for affordable publishing.

Option 3: Limited liability company

Another possible option is the founding of a limited liability company, Ltd. (Gesellschaft mit begrenzter Haftung, GmbH). This could guarantee a structure with clear responsibilities and contractual assignments of services and responsibilities to certain partners (for example, determining who physically runs the hardware for the Back Office and receives a reimbursement for this service). Potential problems in this model may be the lack of "member involvement" and the willingness or unwillingness of possible partners to take the financial risks involved in running a company. Additionally, this more commercial approach to GAP may hinder acceptance in academia.

GAPworks - The technical infrastructure

GAPworks is the online publication system within GAPware (everything that either is software or can be used within software, such as templates). GAP technology provides the necessary infrastructure for Web-based electronic publishing of monographs, journals and/or magazines, reports, and other forms of electronic publications. This infrastructure, called GAPworks, covers the entire publication process, including a peer-review process and an option for a print-on-demand output. Indexing functions, OAI-compatible metadata extraction, and a portal for search and retrieval are also elements of GAPworks.

After the first draft of the workflow had been designed, a choice regarding the system had to be made. Various relational database management systems were evaluated; PostgresQL was selected, as it adheres closely to Structured Query Language (SQL) standards, which can make a possible later migration to another system easier. PHP was chosen as scripting language. Setting up the database and writing the PHP scripts was and is done by the ISN (www.isn-oldenburg.de) at the Oldenburg University. ISN is very involved in PhysNet (www.physnet.net) and has expertise in scripting OAI harvesting services. GAPworks is a Web-based application for:

  • full online publication of information objects of any kind;

  • management of multiple publication containers;

  • management of peer reviews and pools of peer reviewers;

  • management of "personnel";

Currently GAPworks is in a stable Beta state. The BIS Publishing House of Oldenburg University has started to use GAPworks for production in April 2004. The BIS Publishing House already offers nearly all of its print publications at no charge on the Internet and has done this since 2001. However, the publication process itself is still managed traditionally with a number of hands-on activities. GAPworks will enhance the process and at the same time increase visibility for the content published.

Online publication system

As an online publication system, GAPworks covers the entire workflow from the upload of objects, necessary conversion of files and a technical review, prepublication (preprint) without a peer review where applicable (a medical publication for obvious reasons may not favour prepublication of un-peer-reviewed objects), a peer-review process managed by an editor or chief editor, to automated output of OAI-compatible metadata, and indexing and portal functions for the dissemination of publications. The workflow is based on roles, objects, and object statuses.

Once registered in GAP, users must be assigned one or multiple roles in relation to at least one publication container. (Container is the term chosen in GAPworks for a variety of entities such as publishing house, journal, monograph, et cetera. Since all these entities either hold - or are - publications, it was decided container would be the term best describing this.) Connected to these roles are privileges (see Table 1). Publication objects in the workflow have a defined status at all times (see Table 2). To move an object through the workflow, this status is altered according to set rules. A status transition, therefore, signifies a move of the object in the workflow. These status transitions are triggered by roles having predefined privileges to invoke certain status transitions and thus move an object to the next step in the publication workflow. A version management for the documents has been implemented. While the original remains intact and untouched at all times throughout the publication process, designated roles may work on the document and submit a new version.

The sets of roles, privileges, and object statuses allow for the complete publication of any given object. As GAPworks does not work on the objects, but rather with them, it is of no concern to the system what type of file it processes. While more often than not the objects will be textual documents, the term object was chosen for its neutrality. Naturally, there are variances that apply to each Front Office, and although some of the elements of the workflow will be customizable, it is possible that not all desirables will be met. Currently GAPworks offers only one fixed path from upload to publication for the documents/objects, but the implementation of the customizing options is one of the elements of the follow-up proposal to the German Research Foundation. For a simplified view of the publication workflow (omitting the peer review), see Figure 3. For the peer-review workfow, see Figure 5.

Table 1: Roles and their privileges in GAPworks

Role

Privilege to alter object status to

Author/submitter

Submitted

Publishing house employee

Converted

Under technical review

Technical reviewer/lector

Accepted (technical)

Rejected (technical)

Chief editor

Under content review

Rejected (content)

Accepted (content) under conditions

Accepted (content)

Published

Additional privileges (manage editors, manage peer reviewers, assign reviews)

Editor

Under content review

Rejected (content)

Accepted (content) under conditions

Accepted (content)

Published

Additional privileges (manage peer reviewers, assign reviews)

Peer reviewer

None (only commentary to editor)

Formal reviewer

Accepted (formal)

Container administrator

Configuration of container(s)

Assign role(s) within container

System administrator

Maintain system

Introduce new container(s) at root level

Table 2: Statuses and roles in GAPworks

Status

Description

Role involved

Submitted

Metadata and data of an object have been uploaded into the workflow; an object identifier has been assigned and returned to the submitter for future reference. An additional internal identifier has been assigned.

Author/submitter

Converted

(Where applicable) the uploaded data (files) have been converted into the primary publishing format (e.g., PDF, HTML) of a container.

Publishing house employee

Under technical review

An object is reviewed for technical integrity of its file(s).

Publishing house employee

Accepted (technical)

The object has been accepted (technically) for further processing.

Publishing house employee

Rejected (technical)

The object has been rejected (technically) and returned to the original submitter for resubmission.

Publishing house employee

Under peer review

This status covers a subworkflow in which the peer-review process is taking place.

Editor, peer reviewer(s)

Accepted for publication

Result of the peer-review process.

Editor, peer reviewer(s)

Rejected for publication

Result of the peer-review process.

Editor, peer reviewer(s)

Accepted for publication under conditions

Result of the peer-review process.

Editor, peer reviewer(s)

Returned

A status following various predecessors (rejected technically, rejected for publication, et al.).

Editor, peer reviewer(s)

Returned for final okay

After an object has successfully passed the peer review and is ready for publication, it has been sent to the original submitter for a final check.

Editor, peer reviewer(s), submitter

Published

Final okay for publication by the original submitter has been given. The object has been published in the specified container. Metadata are amended accordingly.

Editor, peer reviewer(s), submitter

An object history is kept to allow monitoring of the publication process at all times. Each transition is visible to the author/submitter and the editor of the publication container, as well as to other designated persons/roles. A combination of manually and automatically triggered procedures (for example, e-mail notifications) ensures the fast and efficient processing and publication of objects. Future developments will include processing of files into XML for long-term storage and structural search and retrieval, as well as supplying a DTD and/or schema to be incorporated into applicable authoring tools. The use of open source tools that already offer this feature, such as OpenOffice, is encouraged.

Management of publication containers

GAPworks allows management of multiple publication forums/units, the containers. While it is possible to manage just one e-journal, it is also possible to organize various journals, monographs, and so on of a publishing house, or to manage the publications of a faculty or department of a university. Like all other functions GAPworks offers, this process is Web based. The system administrator will create a container on a system level and assign it to a container administrator, who will be responsible for maintaining and managing this container. This person will most likely be an employee of the Front Office holding the container. Through a Web interface (see Figure 4) persons can be assigned roles in this container, and subcontainers can be created, configured, and deleted. Applicable metadata of the containers may be extracted for cataloguing or other purposes.

Part of GAP's work plan for 2004 covers a more refined management allowing a combination of containers, the copying of documents from one container to another (for example, to create new compilations), or the merging containers.

Management of peer reviews and peer reviewers

Peer review has been the one "big issue" that well-established publishers bring to the discussions of quality assurance in publications. GAPworks offers a Web-based solution for the management of pools of peer reviewers such as their registration, assignment to publishing houses and/or journals, and communication with the peer reviewers during a review. The entire reviewing process is modelled in a subworkflow (see Figure 5). It covers assignment and de-assignment of reviews to reviewers and an automated notification service within a predefined review schedule. "Acceptance" and "rejection" are possible outcomes as well as "acceptance under conditions" with the option for resubmission by the author.

The editor of a journal assigns the role of peer reviewer to a person already registered in the system. Once this has been done, review requests can be sent to this peer reviewer, who then has a variety of reaction options. An assignment can be rejected, which will entail assignment to another peer reviewer; it can be accepted and the review will be undertaken and, when finished, the results will be sent to the editor. Options for extending the time needed for the review have been integrated in GAPworks, as have reminders to the peer reviewers when reviews are overdue. GAPworks will send these reminders automatically. The decision whether or not to publish remains with the editor, which is a strong factor for editors considering the use of GAPworks (or any other publication system). The peer reviewer role is limited to doing (or rejecting) reviews and communicating with the editor (and maybe the author); it does not carry any privileges to trigger a status transition for any object.

Management of personnel

Management of personnel in a Front Office and of external persons participating in the workflow has been implemented within GAPworks. The users themselves register via a Web interface; the administrator of a Front Office or a publication container will then assign the necessary role(s) to the individual. Only then can they become active within GAPworks. Roles can be inherited from high-level containers, but although this is currently a default setting, selection and deselection of specific roles in containers and subcontainers are regular features. Figure 6 shows that assignment of roles is done using a simple select-box interface. Figure 7 shows how to filter objects by selecting the role to work in.

Outlook

With the Beta version installed, the next goal is to examine the system in a "real life" working environment to evaluate performance under normal workloads. As mentioned above, the BIS Publishing House of the Oldenburg University has started to do so. Hamburg University Press and Karlsruhe Universitätsverlag are preparing to begin shortly. While the system is further stabilized, it will at the same time be prepared to allow for customization of the workflow according to Front Offices' needs, a requirement that has been listed by a number of (potential) Front Offices. Refinement of container management, that is, the sequencing, merging of containers, and the integration of a version management for the documents, has also been identified as a desirable. The granting of the GAPworks project will enable GAP to implement these features in the upcoming 12 months.

On the administrative and business side, a decision about the internal organization of GAP will have to be reached and a business plan will have to be drawn up that offers a viable solution to finance the Back Office to enable it to effectively provide support and service to GAP users. These are some of the elements of the GAP II project.

As more and more emphasis is given to the creation of so-called Institutional Repositories, GAPworks will also address this issue. While at the outset, the project was intended for use by GAP participants only, it has become apparent over the past year that GAPworks may be used for Institutional Repositories and should be adapted for that purpose. For that reason part of next year's work will be dedicated to making GAPworks an open source software under one of the applicable open source licences as a development parallel and in addition to its original purpose. GAPworks would enable universities and other scientific institutions to set up, manage, and maintain their institutional repositories. It could be used not only in Germany but in other countries as well, as the database is constructed in such a way as to allow incorporation of any number of languages. When completed, GAPworks will be Germany's first open source institutional repository software, representing another step toward a new digital, open access publishing model.



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