Fast, free and fifty: an open access star
What is it?
The Information Bulletin on Variable Stars (IBVS) is an open access journal for the academic astronomical community. Founded in 1961 as a bulletin board to facilitate rapid communication between scientists in the field, it has gone from a pamphlet printed and freely distributed to 500-600 addresses to a fully online, refereed small journal achieving thousands of downloads within its very narrow field of astronomy.
An early pioneer of open scholarly communications, IBVS was available on the web as an electronic publication from 1994, although it took a few more years for the full html version to be developed. Now at issue 6000, all past issues from its 50 year history have been digitised and are available online, and the journal remains free for both the reader and the author.
How is it a success?
“This journal is being read by everyone, everywhere in our field. For example, we published a particular paper on a star and, much later on, we noticed that a journal in India had published a paper on the same star. We can see from their observation log that they started observing that star the very next day after the paper in IBVS was put online. So that’s the advantage of open access – it’s fast and it’s free for all,” says Andras Holl, technical editor of IBVS.
When Holl says fast, he really does mean fast. IBVS is an “express journal”, which is essential in a field of science that deals with time-dependent phenomena and where others in the field need to be alerted to changes quickly. IBVS can publish a short paper within 24-48 hours if it can be reviewed in-house or via a fast referee. Very complex papers or slower referees can take longer, but it’s rare that a paper has to wait more than a month to be published.
Speed, however, does not come at the expense of quality. Rejection rates are higher than mainstream astronomical journals, and Holl puts this down to “rigorous refereeing”. In addition to the pre-publication reviewing, the journal benefits from “unofficial” reviewing from readers of the journal.
“Readers act as a kind of second line of referees and we get feedback from them. They point out errors and mistakes and what we issue errata. These are attached to the original papers so the next reader downloading the paper will get the errata but is still able to see the original article,” explains Holl.
This, again, happens quickly. Within minutes of uploading a new paper to the journal, Holl can see that a few people have downloaded it, he says, laughing.
“Of course, it is a small community so even from the domain names I know who it might be. The guys working on that particular project or star are keen to find out the latest, and that’s what open access offers – you really benefit from fast publication cycle and the fact that everyone can read it,” he concludes.