Why did we stop collecting and showing the open access start date for journals?

When we released our new website and application form, people were quick to notice that some elements of information were no longer being collected or displayed. These elements all relate to questions which we removed from the application form, details of which were published in March 2020.

Of all the questions removed, emails to our Helpdesk show that the most missed is the open access start date or, to be more accurate: ‘What was the first calendar year in which a complete volume of the journal provided online Open Access content to the Full Text of all articles?’ People are wondering why we no longer collect and display that information. 

At DOAJ’s launch in 2003, it was easier to tell open access journals from closed access ones: they had always been open access, or they were launched as open access, and there was no hybrid model or other “free” content. Finding the earliest date that content was published open access was easy. As time progressed, open access models became more complicated, the number of retrospective digitisation projects increased, and journals moved websites and didn’t always take all their content with them.

Over time, it has become harder to find the right answer to that seemingly simple question: when did open access start for this journal? Finding the true date could be time-consuming. And what is the correct date to use? 

Since 2003, the data that we have collected for this question has varied to the point where it was no longer reliable or useful. Is the right answer the start date of the journal, the date that the journal went online, the date that the journal flipped to open access,  the date that the first scanned article PDF is available online?

The last one is a common error we see: “Here is all my journal’s content right back to Volume 1, Issue 1 and it’s available for free.” Yet, open access didn’t really start until 2003 so does scanned content from 1856 really count? DOAJ’s definition of open access means that content must have clear copyright and open access licensing attached. Content made open retrospectively rarely has this but we had accepted dates for these cases with our previous application form; the dates that we listed had no common meaning and we decided it would be better to remove them altogether. 

We’d be interested in hearing what the community thinks of our decision to stop collecting this data. If you have use cases which relied on that date and that you can share with us, we’d be grateful. DOAJ is in constant development and we are always open to change. Time and our users will tell us if we need to reconsider our decision.

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