Érudit-CRKN (RCDR) partnership in support of scholarly journals and free access

Clare Appavoo, Executive Director, Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN) and Tanja Niemann, Executive Director, Érudit.

Niemann and Appavoo presented an overview of the work completed and remaining in the framework of the CRKN-Érudit partnership. Whereas open access is constantly growing in importance, there is not yet consensus on the model or models to be developed, so Érudit and the CRKN have been wondering whether a collective, collaborative solution could be found to meet the needs of both university libraries and the publishers of scholarly journals. Indeed, in order to find means to fund open access publishing and dissemination in a sustainable manner, we need to move away from the commercial relationship characteristic of the subscription system to a partnership system based on voluntary contributions in which each stakeholder works to achieve shared objectives.


The change has involved the following process. Érudit provided detailed information on the current economic model and set an annual objective. The CRKN then established a voluntary minimum contribution, with a lower threshold for smaller institutions. The idea is that the contributions by institutions that have been paying for subscriptions until now should be for the amount of their subscriptions, while some wealthier institutions would be asked to contribute more. The planned transition phase is from September 2014 to December 2016. Finally, another major component is the reduction of the embargo on accessing articles and searching data from 24 to 12 months.


The partnership is also intended to support the Canadian and Québec research communities. According to data obtained by Vincent Larivière, Canadian scholarly journals are used first and foremost to publish and nurture research done in Canada on local and national issues. Thus, what is in question is how to support this specific national ecosystem. When the first 2008-2014 licence agreement was signed between Érudit and the CRKN, the platform was considered in more or less the same way as major commercial publishers, and this overlooked the fact that there were constraints flowing from its specific vocation as an organization supporting small independent journals: limited commercialization potential, uncertain funding, dependency on subscription income. When the agreement was renewed, it was time to change the terms, and go from a commercial relationship to a partnership.


In order to make the partnership concrete, we first had to bring together the stakeholders in the scholarly industry in order to raise their awareness of the need to collaborate within a new model. We also had to strengthen the dialogue with funding agencies (the FRQSC, SSHRC, Canada Foundation for Innovation) and other partners (the CALJ, Canadian Association of Research Libraries, Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences). Studies had to be conducted to gain a better understanding of the present context; we saw to studies on the financial situations of Canadian journals, article downloading and the effects of the embargo, researchers’ use of collections, and the feasibility of cooperative scholarly publishing by PKP. The data deliver indicators that are indispensable for providing funding agencies with arguments in favour of the project. Finally, we also had to develop new technological tools to reduce Érudit’s digital journal publication costs. In parallel, Érudit is in the process of revamping its governance structure so that the cooperative consortium can open to other Canadian universities. In order to bring its technological development projects to fruition, it is still working on a number of funding applications and on various strategic partnerships.


Many challenges arise out of the creation of a cooperative multiparty organization. First, transforming a commercial relationship into a partnership will lead librarians and publishers to reconcile their respective long-term strategic visions. Next, although Canada is a bilingual country, the majority of the universities that are members of the CRKN are purely English-speaking, which leads them to subscribe only to English-language journals. We will thus have to manage this imbalance when we transform subscription income into voluntary contributions. Finally, since Érudit and the CRKN are exploring a new form of agreement, success depends on the commitment and trust of each partner in the others. This partnership has already attracted the interest of a number of American learned societies owing to its innovative, collaborative nature; the Canadian experiment and the expertise we will acquire could thus, over time, inspire those involved in research and scholarly publishing elsewhere in the world.


In conclusion, the development of the partnership depends on maintaining open channels of communication among CRKN libraries, scholarly journals and Érudit. It also requires defining a new model that will come into play following the transition phase, which ends in 2016. We also have to continue including more Canadian research communities and content on the platform. Indeed, major institutional mobilization is underway because it is crucial to obtain the support of university faculties and administrations for the partnership – not just the support of libraries – in order to have greater negotiating power when facing commercial publishers. Finally, the present agreements will be expanded to include other consortiums and partners outside Canada. The present CRKN-Érudit partnership, which Niemann and Appavoo presented at the seminar is thus the first stage of a far-reaching long-term project that will transform the face of research and scholarly publishing in Canada.