An Interview with DOAJ's Joanna Ball

Joanna Ball, Managing Director of DOAJ, looks at the importance of open infrastructure.
An Interview with DOAJ's Joanna Ball

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How long have you been at DOAJ, what is your background and what is your current role?  
I started in my role as Managing Director at DOAJ in January 2022, having spent my career until then in libraries. Supporting researchers has been a theme throughout my career, and of course in recent years, this has been synonymous with facilitating open research, ranging from developing Open Access policies and workflows to implementing research data management services. I also advocated for libraries to divert a proportion of their budgets away from purchasing and subscribing content to provide support for open infrastructures and initiatives, and set up funds for this purpose.

 My role at DOAJ is a new one, and I’m responsible for strategic leadership of the organisation: setting our overall direction and ensuring that our resources are properly managed to enable us to meet our strategic objectives, as well as advocating for DOAJ and Open Access on a global level. The organisation has grown organically over the past nearly 20 years, and now has a core team of over 20, supported by a global network of over 100 volunteers either acting as ambassadors or reviewing journal applications. An important aspect of my role will be to ensure a sustainable future for DOAJ - we’re proud that over 80% of our funding comes from libraries and other public institutions - but we’re an ambitious organisation with an index which is constantly growing - so there’s more fundraising to do.

What do you believe are the challenges when ensuring the discoverability of OA journals from across the globe?
Open Access discovery is an exciting space at the moment, with a proliferation of services that provide easier access to open access versions of research. Many of these services make use of DOAJ metadata. In addition, by integrating DOAJ into discovery services, many libraries can immediately open up a huge amount of OA content to their users.

But this only addresses half the problem. The Diamond Open Access Study showed that DOAJ is by no means comprehensive in its coverage. Of more than 29,000 titles worldwide, only 17,500 are currently indexed (and therefore discoverable via DOAJ). And many of these smaller journals do not use DOIs, which means that they are not discoverable via Crossref either. Overall we tend to see that journals from the humanities and social sciences, and research carried out  in languages other than English is less visible.


What is DOAJ doing to ensure more inclusiveness of OA from the Global South?
We are committed to ensuring that DOAJ is as comprehensive as possible, and are working to include more journals in our collection from marginalized or often excluded communities, and in languages and subjects which need greater coverage. Many of these are in the Global South. We currently have over 17,500 journals indexed in  DOAJ, covering  130 countries and 80 different languages, but are working on a daily basis to improve this. Last year alone we added over 2,000 new journal titles.

Through our ambassadors, a volunteer network of over 25 open access advocates working at a local level across the world, we work with journal editors and publishers to raise awareness of Open Access and standards in journal publishing, with a view to improving local and regional journals so that they are attractive venues for publishing local research. We also collaborate with other organisations in this space. For example we recently ran a series of webinars for African Journal Editors working with AJOL (African Journals Online), ASSAf (Academy of Science of South Africa), EIFL, LIBSENSE and UCT (University of Cape Town).  We also participated in setting up a platform for OA journals in African local languages with the late Prof. Florence Piron, as well as developing a set of criteria for inclusion.

Our focus is truly global: in Japan, we are partnering with JSTAGE, a platform which hosts over 3,500 OA journal titles, including many society journals, to provide them with support for the application process for inclusion in DOAJ. We have also organized a series of Chinese language webinars for journal editors and publishers in China, and have started a pre-evaluation program for journals to increase the number of Chinese language journals in DOAJ.

Do you have any projects or initiatives you can share with us around open access?
We are really excited to be partnering with a number of other organisations  in an upcoming EU project to deliver on the recommendations of the Action Plan for Diamond Open Access. This project will address some of the challenges faced by journals in terms of sustainability and infrastructure, with the vision of a scholarly publishing infrastructure that is equitable, community driven, academic led and owned.

The Diamond Open Access study identified digital preservation as a challenge for many smaller OA publishers, many of whom are at risk of disappearing from the web.. Another important initiative which DOAJ is a founding member of is JASPER, a project aimed at addressing inequalities within scholarly publishing in the area of digital preservation. The project has just completed its pilot and is now seeking funding to kick off the work in earnest.

We also work at a policy level with our ambassadors to raise awareness of the importance of open access with governments worldwide. In 2021, we successfully collaborated with the Academy of Science South Africa (ASSAF) and the South African Department of Higher Education and Training to get DOAJ included in the recognised list of journals, lists and indexes accepted by the South African Department of Higher Education and Training. This was the first time an open access listing has been recommended to South African university academics.. This recognition of the importance of Open Access publishing and DOAJ as an index of quality, peer-reviewed OA journals is something we will be working to achieve in other regions in the future.


What changes do you see happening in the open infrastructure ecosystem in the next 5 years? How will DOAJ evolve?
It’s such an exciting time for Open infrastructures: there’s real momentum and acceptance of their critical role in the research communication ecosystem. Sustainability is still a problem though. We’re very proud of the growing number of libraries from across the world that support us with financial contributions, but like other infrastructures need to diversify our funding sources to enable our service and other activities to continue to develop.

The number of open infrastructures is growing and there are now a plethora of interconnected and interdependent services in this area.  The organisations providing these services are often small and agile, which is of course an advantage in ensuring their services develop to meet the changing needs of a fast-moving environment. But they also operate very independently, and  I think there’s huge potential for greater collaboration between us, not just in terms of how our services interoperate and complement each other, but in pooling our experience, expertise and resources. Often we’re struggling with similar issues, many of which are administrative and not necessarily related to our core mission, and there are efficiencies to be made here. We are already collaborating informally with a number of other infrastructures and I would expect that organisations with aligned missions and purposes will develop more formalised collaborations in future.

There have been a number of high-profile acquisitions of previously open infrastructures recently and this has raised concerns about the independence of these services in future. As the community begins to take more interest in, and contribute more funds to, open infrastructures, there will quite rightly be more scrutiny in terms of our governance and operations. This is evident through initiatives such as the Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure and Next Generation Library Publishing’s FOREST framework. We developed a community-governance model at DOAJ in 2019 and will review and evolve this to ensure input from as diverse a range of stakeholders as possible.

What are you most excited about for this year? 
I’m still very new in the role at DOAJ, so to be honest everything is still exciting. It is a privilege to join a team which is so mission-driven, talented and so determined to make a difference. We will be bringing the entire team together for the first time since I started in September, and it will be great to meet people face-to-face.

Over the next few months we will be developing a strategy to guide our work over the coming years. This will be a collaborative process, bringing in the expertise of our Advisory Board and Council, as well as the wider DOAJ team, and it’s important that we create something which has a clear vision for the future, while allowing us the flexibility to accommodate changes in policy and developments in the OA landscape over the next few years. We will also be completing an important (but largely invisible) project this year: the improvement of our editorial workflow system. This will increase our efficiency at processing applications even further, and mean that we can continue to handle the increasing number of applications coming into the index - over 10,000 last year. We’re also expanding the team, bringing in additional administrative capacity to enable others to use their expertise on our core mission.

And finally, I am also really looking forward to the return of the in-person conference this year. I’m currently Chair of UKSG, and have just returned from an amazing Annual Conference in Telford, UK. I’d forgotten just how energising that environment can be. Although the digital format is incredibly flexible and makes for a more diverse range of participants, there’s nothing quite like the buzz of meeting up with colleagues and sharing ideas in person. I’m looking forward to attending LIBER here in Denmark in July and it will be a great opportunity for conversations with the library community.

Photo by Luca Micheli on Unsplash

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