Accés Obert: Modeling Open Access in Catalonia

Key Takeaways

  • For the past decade, Spain has been a European leader in the transformation to open access publishing.

  • About 70 percent of Spanish journals publish freely online — far higher than world averages.

  • Conversations with two of Spain's foremost scholarly communication experts describe the conditions that have been conducive to academic openness in the region of Catalonia in particular.

  • Among those conditions are stable public funding, an effective consortial library infrastructure, and supportive intellectual environments.

Abecedari catalàtper a nens by Xavier Nogués (Barcelona: Llibreria Nacional Catalana, 1920).

Abecedari catalàt per a nens by Xavier Nogués (Barcelona: Llibreria Nacional Catalana, 1920).

As an academic librarian responsible for acquiring publications from Western Europe, I have always been interested in how the transition to open access is evolving worldwide, particularly as we are unable to keep up with the skyrocketing costs that commercial publishers charge. In October 2016, I conducted interviews with Lluís Anglada and Ernest Abadal, two of Spain's foremost scholarly communications experts, about the state of open access publishing in Catalonia and in Spain more broadly. They explained the factors underlying OA's expansion in Spain despite lingering effects of the 2008 worldwide recession.

Biographies of Anglada and Abadal

From 1998 to 2013, Lluís Anglada directed the Consortium of Academic Libraries of Catalonia (Consorci de Biblioteques Universitàries de Catalunya, or CBUC) until it merged with an IT consortium to form the Catalan Consortium for Academic Services (CSUC). Presently, he is director of CSUC's Open Science area; he was previously director of the libraries of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and professor at the Jordi Rubió i Balaguer School of Library and Information in Barcelona. He served on the OCLC Global Council and is currently on the executive commission of the Association of European Research Libraries (LIBER). He is a prolific author and blogs often about technology and cooperation in libraries through Bdig and Blok de Bid.

Ernest Abadal is dean of the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Barcelona. He co-directs the open access to science in Spain (Acceso Abierto a la Ciencia) working group, the Spanish Network of Research Data (Red Española sobre Datos de Investigación-MAREDATA), and a consolidated research group on culture and digital contents. He is also editor of the OA journal BiD: textos universitaris de biblioteconomia i documentacióand serves on the advisory board of several other journals.

Here, I use my conversations with both men as a foundation for describing aspects of OA's development in Spain, focusing on Catalonia in particular. My hope is that those unfamiliar with Spain's progress on the OA front will be inspired by its achievements and contributions to global openness.


While open access (OA) publishing continues to expand throughout the world, the attendant technical infrastructure and movement leadership have been rooted primarily in Europe and North America. Many of its foundational documents emanated from European meetings: The Budapest Open Access Initiative (February 2002), the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing (June 2003), the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities1 (October 2003), and the Lyon Declaration (August 2014). The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the world's largest and most trusted community-curated registry of OA journals, was launched at Sweden's Lund University in 2003 and today is managed by a UK-based nonprofit entity. Further, OA 2020, an initiative organized by the Max Planck Digital Library in Germany, provides a viable framework for large-scale transition to open access.

Although southern European nations may have been slower to pass OA policies, their rapid growth in recent years is staggering. The DOAJ ranks Spain sixth after Brazil, Indonesia, Egypt, the UK, and the US for number of registered OA journals — that is, those that are available freely and immediately upon publication. According to the Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies (ROARMAP), Spain currently has 38 OA policies, behind only Germany (58) and Turkey (46) in continental Europe.

MELIBEA is a Spanish directory devised by Ernest Abadal's research group that goes one step further and assesses the strength of institutional OA policies. As an estimator, it subjects the policies to qualitative and quantitative analyses based on fulfilment of a set of indicators. Stable public funding, an effective consortial infrastructure, and supportive intellectual and cultural environments have been conducive to OA's success, especially in the autonomous community of Catalonia. A high concentration of public universities and research institutes, a robust bilingual publishing tradition, and an inclination towards openness set the region apart from other regions of Spain that have also made notable contributions, such as the heavily used directory and periodical index Dialnet launched by the Universidad de la Rioja in 1999.

CBUC and the University's Role in Open Access

CBUC was established primarily to facilitate interlibrary discovery and lending between more than a dozen regional academic library systems and cultural heritage institutions, including the National Library of Catalonia, National Museum of Art of Catalonia, and the Catalonian Government's Ministry of Culture. Anglada credits its success to an early adoption of new technologies, such as interoperability protocols and journal publishing systems. "We were practicing OA before we even knew what OA was," Anglada said. "We developed a platform to publish digital dissertations in 1999, and since 2001, have still used that same platform today." Theses and Dissertations Online (Tesis Doctorals en Xarxa, or TDX) was Spain's first institutional repository and a direct outcome of the Digital University in Catalonia 1999–2003 (La Universitat Digital a Catalunya 1999–2003) agreement, which was signed in 1999 by eighteen universities. Since 2011, TDX has participated in the cooperative MetaArchive network and uses the interoperability protocol Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH). This increases TDX's visibility in more far-reaching discovery platforms such as DART-Europe E-theses Portal or OpenAire. "While it is now required that all graduate students archive and make their dissertations public, they retain their copyright as authors and are allowed to embargo and elect the Creative Commons license of their choice," Anglada explained.

Abadal first became interested in open access in 2006 while working on a European Commission–backed OA project for the University of Barcelona's chancellor's office. "I had a political responsibility for the project's implementation, but also took a personal interest in it," he said. Since then, he has published more than two dozen articles and reports and several books on scholarly communication in Spain, including the book Acceso abierto a la ciencia (Open Access to Science), which is now in its third edition and bears the same name as his working group.

Scholarly Topographies

While Abadal's responsibilities as dean have distanced him from the OA frontlines, he spoke knowledgeably about the evolving landscape of scholarly publishing in Spain. "Each university system in Spain has its own OA policy, not every professional school or campus like in the United States," Abadal explained. It was after the June 2011 passage of The Law of Science, Technology, and Innovation, which required all researchers receiving state support to make their work publicly accessible one year after the date of publication, that universities really began to pass their own policies and build institutional repositories.

Although many universities in Spain had been interested in open access, it wasn't until this law passed that the movement really gained traction. Still, as Anglada noted, "to publish in OA is not and has never been the top priority of most faculty in Spain. Like scholars everywhere, they aspire to publish in the top journals in their fields, regardless of whether or not they are OA."

Anglada described the research publishing dichotomy in Spain using a popular metaphor: "There are two kinds of publishing in Spain. There's the national league, like in football, which is indexed by Scopus and Web of Science — and then there are the rest." In his opinion, it is these significant (but not necessarily top-tier) scholarly journals in Spain that have created an enormous opportunity for open access.

"People who work in very narrow fields — like Catalan archaeology, for instance — are able to reach the entire world by removing the pay walls from their journals," he said. Indeed, a study by Abadal and his colleagues shows that, in 2015, about 25 percent (448) of the peer-reviewed Spanish journals from the Spanish national Dulcinea database had articles indexed by Scopus or Web of Science (see figure 1). Of these, about 48 percent were open access.2

Figure 1. Spanish journals in the Web of Science and Scopus indexes in 2015

Figure 1. Spanish journals in the Web of Science and Scopus indexes in 2015

"Despite a lack of motivation or indifference of most faculty, there remains an overarching desire to have one's research read by one's colleagues — but also beyond, and this is beginning to catch on," explained Anglada. An article recently published by the Accesso Abierto research group, which also maintains Dulcinea, analyzed all of the 1,728 scholarly journals in the Dulcinea index. The group found that Spanish publishers have become increasingly open in the past two years, with more than 70 percent publishing freely online. This is three times higher than the global average.3 The researchers also posited that OA policies create a long-term demand for compatible publication outlets and transparent rights information available through directories such as Dulcinea and SHERPA/RoMEO.4 These online tools help authors, librarians, and repository managers check journals' reuse rights and self-archiving allowance policies.

The Crucial CRIS

Abadal emphatically explained how the implementation of a Current Research System Information (CRIS) faculty profile and research ID platform has made all the difference in OA uptake in Catalonia. Such platforms, which scarcely exist in most North American universities, let an institution's faculty members list all of their publications in one database and link those publications to OA versions. The University of Barcelona's CRIS, called GREC, stores and manages data about research and links to a European-wide database where other EU scholars can discover or verify a complete list of someone's publications. The standard for CRIS is the Common European Research Information Format (CERIF), which was proposed by the EU and developed by euroCRIS, the international body that maintains it.

"More than any policy or pressure from peers, GREC has motivated researchers to deposit their publications in IRs [institutional repositories]," Abadal said. "It is here where researchers are required by post-tenure review [to archive their work] and here that one notices the biggest growth in green OA compliance in the region."

Anglada posits that the effects of openness and greater discoverability of research cannot be disputed, offering the following anecdote: The editor of Reduccions, a journal of contemporary Catalan poetry published by the University of Vic, was initially skeptical about switching to an OA model. Ultimately, however, the editor was so overjoyed by the unexpected reach that open access allowed this specialized journal — now in its 40th year — that he proceeded to make all 107 existing issues openly accessible (figure 2). Because of open publishing, Reduccions now has readers as far away as Canada, Japan, Russia, and the US.

Figure 2. Catalan poetry openly accessible worldwide

Figure 2. Catalan poetry openly accessible worldwide

La Vía Dorada (Gold OA)

"Catalonia is quite unique in Europe in that both academic and cultural journals have chosen the gold path, or gold OA, and are utilizing the same publishing infrastructure without charging [article processing charges] (APCs)," said Anglada. "If one looks closely at the 476 journals available on Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert [RACO] — a joint project of CSUC and the Biblioteca de Catalunya, with support from the Generalitat de Catalunya [the Catalan Government] launched in 2006 — one will note an idyllic blend of the two."

Museums, archives, institutes, research centers, government agencies, and universities have all found a publishing home in this successful journal repository. It relies on Open Journal Systems (OJS), an open-source publishing platform developed by the Public Knowledge Project in 2001. According to RACO, 38 percent of its users access it from Spain, while other users access it from Germany (12 percent), Mexico (6 percent), the US (6 percent), the UK (3 percent), France (2 percent), and various other Latin America countries. While all are published in Catalonia, the most consulted journals worldwide are notably in Castilian (Spanish) and vary by discipline (see figure 3). With the exception of Dialnet and Red Iberoamericana de Innovación y Conocimiento Cientifíco (REDIB), RACO is the largest OA journal portal in Spain. Not only does it provide a publishing platform for Catalan journals, but it also aggregates journals published in other regional repositories, such as the University of Barcelona.

Figure 3. The 30 most popular journals on RACO in 2017

Figure 3. The 30 most popular journals on RACO in 2017 (View larger image)

The question of whether it poses problems when journals are simultaneously published on the institution's websites and on RACO gave Anglada an opportunity to address Catalonia's noncompetitive spirit: "These individual portals are not so important," he said. "What is important is that we are creating a movement and that we are innovating and facilitating. It doesn't matter who is first or who is archiving the most. We share with one another no matter who implements first."

This cooperative and collegial ethos is perhaps another reason for OA's success in the autonomous region. Whether or not the publications originate from the University of Barcelona, the Institute of Catalan Studies, or Ramon Llull University, there is a shared belief among librarians, archivists, and the research community that if research is open, everyone benefits.

Perhaps it is this attitude, combined with a collective impulse to preserve and promote a language and a culture that was methodically suppressed for a good part of the 20th century under the Franco regime, that has contributed to circumstances in which open access can flourish. According to a 2014 study by Abadal and Miguel Navas-Fernández, of the 344 scholarly journals produced in Catalonia, 67 percent are freely accessible and 80 percent permit self-archiving in repositories.5 The vast majority of these journals (44.8 percent) are in the social sciences, followed by the health sciences and humanities (see table 1).

Table 1. Breakdown of journals in RACO by discipline

Table 1. Breakdown of journals in RACO by discipline

Innovation and Public Support

At the systemic level, university-based centers — such as University of Barcelona's Office for Knowledge Dissemination (Oficina de Difusió del Coneixement del CRAI), which oversees the university's 17 libraries — disseminate and facilitate access to information resources, provide a range of quality services, and collaborate in knowledge creation processes in many ways.

When asked about Catalonia's big players in open access, Abadal also cited the achievements of CSUC. "It is these well-organized distributed efforts to bring everyone to the table that have been fundamental to OA's development," he said. Without RACO, for instance, individual universities and research entities would be fumbling to reinvent the wheel. Abadal also explained that open access will continue to succeed only if it respects the needs of different disciplines and their various formats. There is a path for via verde (green OA) and another for via dorada (gold OA), and both remain important.

"Journals and books are inherently different, and we will continue to run up against resistance when pushing for open access monographs in distinct fields like the fine arts, law, and economics," Abadal observed. Anglada added that Spain's university presses continue to feel threatened by OA monographs. Nevertheless, The Spanish National Research Council (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, CSIC) and the University of Valencia — perhaps in an attempt to test the market — sit at the vanguard in publishing academic OA e-books. Some cultural institutions, including Barcelona's Royal Academy of Fine Arts, have made their backlists of monographs open access, but most have not.

Turning toward the future and OA 2020, both Abadal and Anglada stressed the indispensableness of sustained public support for technological innovations and infrastructure enhancements.6 "Without technologies like OJS and organizations such as SPARC Europe and the Centre for Research Communications in Nottingham," Abadal explained, "none of this would be possible." He noted that, while the back-end systems that have been in use for nearly 20 years still work, they are antiquated. Still, he said, "We are fortunate that we have robust tools like RACO and RECERCAT [the Research Repository of Catalonia] and that policies and repositories are both in place.

"What is still lacking in Catalonia, in Spain, and throughout the world," he added, is a viable business model. "It's one thing to say that commercial publishers like Elsevier are making too much money, but they are adding value. With professional editing, the article or the book becomes more readable and has greater impact."

Although the global financial crisis of 2007–2008 did not reach Spain until later, it lasted much longer and was more severe than in other countries. Most economists agree that Spain is still recovering from "la crisis." When asked how this grave economic depression affected open access, both scholars asserted that it had little effect on the movement's momentum because the budgets sustaining these initiatives were already committed and could not be cut. Although libraries were forced to cancel subscriptions and suspend materials budgets, the infrastructure and policies were already in place, so adverse effects on open access were minimal. "We must remember that in Spain and throughout the world, we are still in the era of consolidation for OA," Abadal pointed out. "Progress in changing the models of publishing will be slow but constant."

Last year, one of the highlights of OA's evolution in Catalonia was the launch of the much anticipated Portal of Research for the Universities of Catalonia (Portal de la Recerca de les Universitats de Catalunya, or PRC), coordinated by CSUC. Leveraging the surge in researchers populating local CRIS systems, the portal displays and disseminates research activities carried out in Catalonia. PRC streamlines the process of making scholarly output openly accessible to researchers, the scientific community, and the public in general, collocating the work of more than 8,826 researchers and 1,442 research groups from eleven Catalan universities, making 421,564 publications and 23,653 dissertations available. Another PRC goal is to unify the process of managing research data, while emulating local and international good practices of portals such as FUTUR, Portal for Scholarly Production of the Polytecnic University of Catalonia (UPC), and the Danish National Research Database (NARCIS), which is the gateway to scholarly information in the Netherlands.

UPC's launch is the most recent example of the commitment in Catalonia to OA publishing and the preservation of the scholarly record for the common good. It symbolizes not only the accomplishments thus far, but also the promises the future holds.


The assumptions surrounding open access are as plentiful as the verifiable truths. To focus on one nation or one region's achievements is beneficial only if it inspires us to learn, share, and continue to build. The OA movement has never been about anything other than that. The myths or actual accounts of the progress, innovation, and openness of one region over another are not an end in themselves. Instead, we must look at the conditions of these success stories — that is, how they arrived at where they are now.

In Catalonia, as in much of Spain, the success of open access has largely resulted from stable public funding, an effective consortial infrastructure, visionary thought leaders such as Lluís Anglada and Ernest Abadal, and supportive intellectual and cultural environments that value the free flow of ideas. These are just a few of the necessary components for improving and guaranteeing access to research and scholarship for generations to come. Wherever we live, it is up to us to ensure that such conditions, or variations of them, prevail so that scholarly openness endures.


  1. Peter Suber, Open Access (MIT Press, 2012), 1.
  2. Ernest Abadal, Remedious Melero, Rosângela Rodrigues, and Miguel Navas-Fernández, "Spanish Scholarly Journals in WoS and Scopus: The Impact of Open Access," Journal of Scholarly Publishing, Vol. 47, No. 1, 2015: 15
  3. Remedious Melero, Mikael Laakso, and Miguel Navas-Fernández, "Openness of Spanish Scholarly Journals as Measured by Access and Rights," Learned Publishing, Vol. 30, No. 2, 2017: 146.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ernest Abadal and Miguel Navas-Fernández, "Scientific Journals in Catalonia," Observatory Yearbook Library, Books and Reading, 2014.
  6. "Open Science, Open Access," Horizon 2020, The EU Framework Commission for Research and Innovation.

Claude Potts is the librarian for Romance Language Collections at the University of California, Berkeley.

© 2017 Claude H. Potts. The text of this EDUCAUSE Review online article is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0.