An interview with EBSCO’s Tamir Borensztajn

In February 2021, EBSCO became a sustaining contributor of DOAJ. I sat down with EBSCO’s Tamir Borensztajn, Vice President of Saas Strategy, to chat about EBSCO’s role as a discovery service, what Tamir thinks about “open” and where he thinks scholarly publishing is heading.

Hello Tamir! 
I want to start by thanking you because under your guidance EBSCO agreed to become a sustaining supporter of DOAJ. I try to do an in-depth conversation/interview with as many of our sustaining supporters as we can so thanks for agreeing to do this interview with me.

Let’s start with you first. How long have you been at EBSCO, what is your background and what is your role?

I have been at EBSCO since 2014, serving as our Vice President for Software-as-a-Service Strategy. Prior to joining EBSCO, I worked for Infor Global Solutions’ Library Division, where I held a variety of roles from marketing, sales support, product management to analyst relations. At Infor, I also served as the Executive Director, Public Sector Innovation. I am a librarian by training, holding an MLIS from Simmons University in Boston. 

So as a librarian, you are very familiar with open access then. What’s your take on it?

I would address this rather as my interest in different aspects of ‘open’ and the ways in which we – librarians and vendors alike – can work towards supporting ‘open’ across multiple areas. Here I am thinking of: the discoverability of open access literature alongside traditional journals; the sharing of research outputs such as datasets; ensuring the interoperability of disparate applications, as well supporting open-source projects to provide libraries with more choice in how to provision, deploy and extend their services. My role at EBSCO includes working with our customers to understand the different needs across these areas of “open” and to align these needs with our ongoing product development efforts.

And if we look to the future, what are your thoughts on the future of open access publishing and/or academic publishing in general?

Open Access will continue to evolve and change the landscape of academic research and publishing. As a result, we will need to evolve and change to continue to support all efforts to disseminate scholarly research globally. We need to find a way to ensure that we can bridge the digital divide to ensure that all research is discoverable and accessible to researchers and students around the world. 

I think that we need to focus attention on “open” outside of just the journal article and ensure that the underpinning of research – data, code and methods – are discoverable and also freely available and reusable globally. 

There are many gaps that need to be addressed in the realm of academic publishing. For example, how do we bridge the gaps in research from how research is conducted to its collection and dissemination? How do we understand and remove some of the barriers and administrative work that is put on researchers especially in the areas of research data management and compliance with Open Access goals and mandates? Another aspect of course is looking at the trustworthiness of journals and research overall as open access and open science proliferates. These are all areas that we as an industry need to work together to address if we want open access publishing and open science to truly be successful.

I think that’s right. There is so much more to open than just journals and there is a lot of focus on publishers right now but it’s the researchers that are bearing the brunt of decisions around mandates, transparency and compliance. Supporting researchers and increasing transparency in workflows is essential. 

Tell us a bit about EBSCO’s history and its connections to the scholarly publishing communities. What services does it provide? 

EBSCO has partnered with libraries and publishers to improve research by providing equitable access to diverse and trustworthy content for over 70 years. Our goal is to index the world’s scholarly literature and ensure it can be found and accessed. We invest heavily in the curation and indexing of research as well as our underlying search technology and knowledge graph, and the experiences that users have on our platforms such as our EBSCOhost and EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS). 

Our criteria for inclusion comprise the quality of the content we index– whether it is for-fee or Open Access. We also provide services for libraries to order and manage journals, including the support of ‘subscribe to open’ models via our EBSCONET service. We thereby support the emerging Read & Publish / Publish & Read deals, positioning our services to be able to further assist customers and publishers as these options continue to take hold.

EBSCO just became a DOAJ sustaining supporter for 2021 and in previous years was a gold sponsor. Why is it important for EBSCO to support DOAJ?

The EBSCO/DOAJ partnership stems from a shared mission to expand access to the world’s scholarship. I should emphasize here that both organisations focus on the curation of trustworthy, quality research, the underlying search technology and the experiences on our platforms.

EBSCO adheres to these key principles; first, we look to support equity in research. This means, for example, the indexing of content from all over the world and in different languages. We also support multi-lingual, natural language searching from any device, so any user, regardless of their background, can find and access research. 

The second principle is that of versatility; delivering our customers the necessary flexibility to, in essence, customize the research experiences for their users. Here, you can think of integrating the research experiences within different environments where users may in fact do their work already. 

The last principle is to offer choice. We look to ensure that our customers can choose applications from different service providers and be assured that those applications, when interoperable, will also interoperate with the EBSCO applications.  

It comes down to helping researchers discover and access content in an equitable way – and this, we believe, aligns well with DOAJ’s mission. Together, we seek to advance the discoverability of the world’s scholarly output and make positive, impactful changes to society as a whole.

It’s interesting to see how aligned the two organisations’ objectives are and I don’t think I’ve ever thought of DOAJ’s mission in the terms you describe. DOAJ is after all a discovery service too. 

So, EBSCO uses DOAJ metadata in its products. What advantages does this bring to EBSCO customers and to the organisation itself?

Scholarly literature includes open access content and that is what we index.  Through the inclusion of DOAJ metadata in EDS, we are able to offer researchers seamless access to the content they need. DOAJ is an important, strong partner and a leader in Open Access aggregation that brings value to our databases and discovery services for researchers.

We understand that we are one of the leaders in driving usage to DOAJ. We are proud of this and appreciative of the relationship we have with DOAJ.

It is also important to note that we have many other partners across the publishing landscape, and work hard to curate, index and drive usage of the world’s scholarly OA content.

How many partners does EBSCO work with?

We work with nearly 30,000 data partners and publishers where we index content.

That’s a huge amount and DOAJ is comparatively small when you think of other indexes, other data sources.

If we look at open access in particular, what impact do you think that DOAJ has had? 

We talked earlier about the direct impact of DOAJ partnering with aggregators, such as EBSCO which supports the advancement of science as well as scholarly publishing but to evaluate DOAJ’s impact alone, we need to look at how far the open access movement has evolved since 2002, with the Budapest Initiative

From its inception, DOAJ has partnered and been in alignment with the scholarly publishing community and has adapted, in a variety of ways, to allow for the advancement of Open Access publishing. An example that comes to mind is when DOAJ transitioned to a community-curated platform in 2014. These volunteers are dedicated to reviewing journal submissions (using your very transparent application process) for inclusion within the platform, ensuring that all the content is peer-reviewed and thereby raising the profile of open access, open access publishers, as well as DOAJ itself. 

Another direct impact that DOAJ has had is helping to remove barriers in research and providing more visibility to research being conducted around the globe. I think you achieve this by partnering with other open access platforms such as SciELO, Redalyc and more. This ties in with the current focus on ensuring that research is equitable and inclusive, and expanded to include non-English, non-Western research. EBSCO is also focused on this area, ensuring we are truly providing access to the world’s scholarly literature. EBSCO looks forward to seeing how this evolves in 2021 and potentially how we can work together here.

The overall impact that DOAJ has had on OA, is clearly visible when you look at the DOAJ platform and see over 15,000 peer reviewed scholarly open access journals indexed from around the world. Suffice to say that DOAJ is having a discernable impact on research. But it’s also exciting to know there is more to come, and that we are working together to make this happen.

And DOAJ’s growth really took off when three things came together: we added an API; we started using the volunteers network; and made all the journals in the Directory reapply under an expanded set of criteria. That was the start of huge growth and usage at a pace that we a still experiencing today and that shows no sign of slowing down. It’s been an exciting time.

Does EBSCO have any exciting projects or new initiatives you can share with us?

I keep coming back to this point that our goal is to index and disseminate the world’s scholarly research and literature and that this is at the centre of our initiatives around “open”. And, as “open” has evolved, so has the way that we look at it.  We view “open” more holistically and aim to address the different areas I noted earlier. These areas in fact intersect at times and we therefore also look at ways to remove any silos and deliver solutions to support open workflows and requirements. For example:

  • Open Access: trustworthy scholarly literature goes beyond journals. Through partnerships with universities around the world, together with a company called BiblioLabs, we are making millions of theses and dissertations available at no cost. We are pushing for this tool to become a one-stop shop for the world’s theses and dissertations. This will alleviate a cost burden for university libraries that are accustomed to paying to have access to these works. What’s more, the tool helps drive additional traffic to ETDs in institutional repositories as well. 
  • Open Science/Research: we go beyond the article and look at the underpinnings of research as well. Here, we support open science through a number of partnerships that facilitate the collection, preservation and dissemination of freely available, reusable and reproducible data, code and methods.
  • Open Infrastructure: libraries need to readily connect different applications to support the collection, management and discovery of research. We continuously develop our APIs to meet this need, focussing on the interoperability between disparate services to collect, preserve, manage and disseminate research and gain insights into the research that is being done.
  • Open Source:  we ensure that there is a choice in how libraries can deploy, support and extend software within an open infrastructure in support of research, teaching and learning at their institutions. We continue our work with the FOLIO project and provide implementation, support and hosting for the FOLIO platform.

We also have a variety of products that align well with our attention to open. Examples include Panorama which is an analytics solution that leverages data from different sources. We partner with Code Ocean and to support the creation of research and the dissemination of code, data and methods. Finally, there is Perpetua by Arkivum, a software solution that preserves, safeguards and provides access to digital content types. 

It seems as though, with all these great collaborations and projects, that EBSCO is really adapting for a future where open access may become the default.

Through our ongoing work on our platforms, the various collaborations, as well as our support for open source, we strive to facilitate the different areas of ‘open’ as we discussed so far. In terms of open access, as the open access landscape evolves, we continue to focus our efforts on providing users with the most optimal ways to access, find, choose and use trustworthy and meaningful content for their research.

Tamir, thanks for chatting with me and I look forward to some exciting collaboration between our organisations.

1 comment on “An interview with EBSCO’s Tamir Borensztajn

  1. Pingback: Roundup (March 10, 2021) | LJ infoDOCKET

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: