Polar Research

A journal transitions from closed to open with spectacular results


What is it?

Established in 1982 by the Norwegian Polar Institute, which is part of Norway’s Ministry of the Environment, Polar Research is an English language, peer-reviewed multidisciplinary journal publishing international papers about the Arctic and Antarctic regions. As well as original research articles in disciplines such as oceanography, glaciology, biology, geology, and atmospheric science, the journal also features papers from the social sciences.

It was produced in-house until 2007 when it joined forces with Wiley Blackwell. In 2010 the partnership with Wiley ended and Polar Research successfully became a fully open access journal, funded by the Institute.

How is it a success?

Helle Goldman, editor of Polar Research

“As the editor of Polar Research I want the journal to be read as widely as possible. Scientists work hard to write these articles, and to carry out the research reported in them, and then I sweat over editing them. I want them to be read so they will contribute to further research by other scientists. Making the journal open access seemed like a great way to make it even more accessible,” explains Helle Goldman, who has edited the journal for 14 years.

The three-year partnership with Wiley provided a “big boost” to the journal in terms of visibility, reputation and professional production values. It allowed publication frequency to increase from two issues a year to three, and gave Goldman the resources to establish international editorial and advisory boards. However, in a crowded field of polar journals, Polar Research needed something extra to make it stand out.

“There are about half a dozen other polar journals and we all have about the same impact factor, in the 0.6 to 1.6 range. We all struggle in that we are all geographically defined and multidisciplinary and it’s a difficult sell. However, none of the other journals is completely open access and that was definitely one of the motivating factors to do this now,” says Goldman.

The process took about a year, from issuing tenders and choosing to work with Co-Action Publishing, to launching the new website. Wiley had digitised all the back issues of the journal and Goldman negotiated an agreement that allowed the entire Polar Research archive to be freely available online.

The new journal officially launched on January 1 2011, and Goldman describes herself as “gobsmacked” by the results of becoming open access. By October 2011 there had been 93,000 full text downloads of the articles, with the 100,000 barrier expected to be broken by the end of the year. When the journal was pay-to-view, the annual total number of downloads was never more than about 13,000. The journal is now accessed from 143 different countries worldwide.

The journal has LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts where each article is announced as it is published. Followers are increasing “slowly but surely,” says Caroline Sutton, publisher of Co-Action Publishing, who handles social media for Polar Research. “Something that I personally think is a bit fun with Polar Research is that some of the polar explorers use Twitter actively and as we follow them, we are re-tweeting their adventures along with our content,” she adds.

The response from authors and other interested parties has been enthusiastic and while submissions have remained stable for now, Goldman is relieved because “it would have been difficult to handle a huge spike in submissions”.

As well as publicising the accessibility benefits of open access, Polar Research is also billed as “green”, and the carbon footprint of the journal in its printed incarnation was a concern for Goldman.

“Much as I like printed things, it pained me to have the issues printed – just think of the paper and the ink and the coatings on the paper and the coatings on the cover and the plastic used to wrap it and the shipping of it – the whole thing made me queasy! It was very much in keeping with our philosophy at the Institute to make the journal greener by making it electronic.”

The next stage for the journal is to move from the Scholar One online tracking system inherited from Wiley to the Open Journal System used by many open access journals. Goldman also has plans to encourage authors to put their supplementary data online with their papers, along with video clips and other multimedia. She is also curious to see the impact of the move to open access on citations, and the response of the other polar journals.

“They are mushrooming all over the place! We’ve just had an International Polar Year and there is great interest in this area – as there should be. The polar regions might be remote but they are crucial for our understanding of the changes in climate that are happening to the world, such as global warming. Some of these changes are having their earliest and most dramatic effects in the polar regions. When things change in the Arctic and the Antarctic it profoundly affects the rest of the world. These are the pressing issues of our time, and by being open access we are helping to make scientists’ efforts to make sense of them accessible to everyone,” concludes Goldman.

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