Image: Typical publishing workflow for an academic journal article (preprint, postprint, and published) with open access sharing rights per SHERPA/RoMEO. Adapted by GenR from: Thomas Shafee – Own work; adapted from diagram by Ginny Barbour from Wikipedia. CC BY 4.0.
An Interview with Juan Pablo Alperin, Associate Director of Research, PKP
PKP have made their first release of the preprint server software Open Preprint Systems (OPS). Juan Pablo Alperin takes us through PKP’s vision of open-source and asks that we take a critical look at how open-source software can be used to benefit a wide range of communities around the world.
Simon Worthington (SW): PKP recently released the first version of its new preprint server software Open Preprint Systems 3.2 Beta. Can you describe what’s been released, the features, and some of the partnerships that have been made in its development?
Juan Pablo Alperin (JPA): Open Preprint Systems (OPS) has been a collaboration with SciELO (Scientific Electronic Library Online) who not only provided some initial seed funding to get things started, they also acted as a partner in identifying requirements and working with us to make sure that the platform has a global focus and is able to serve their Latin American community. We also had the support from a Stanford donor who has an interest in global information access and who has contributed to make this first release possible. I want to give acknowledgement to these two contributions as they have been instrumental in making things happen.
OPS is a beta release and this is the first time we have released a preprint system, but it’s built on top of the same infrastructure and same shared PKP code library as used by our other software, which means it has a really well tested and robust code base.
OPS itself is a complete editorial system going from submission to publishing. But being a preprint server there are some things that differentiate it from other publishing platforms. For example: the workflow is much more simplified with no peer review process and instead it has a customizable screening and curation process; also the authors are given a lot more control over their submissions like being able to upload revisions of their preprint.
SW: I wanted to ask how OPS beta relates to the other PKP platforms: Open Journal Systems (OJS) and Open Monograph Press (OMP)?
JPA: The three software packages share the PKP library, which is at version 3.2, and we have taken the approach to synchronize the releases of our applications. This is why OPS is at version 3.2 even though it’s still in beta. This synchronization allows us to share features across the platforms more easily, for example version control, which was built for OPS.
Another advantage of this shared library is that it makes it easier for the PKP community to translate the software for localization. Any words or phrases that are shared across the different softwares only need to be translated once. OPS is available in three languages, with other partial languages in progress, largely thanks to the terms they share with OJS which is available in eighteen languages.
Usage statistics and reporting is a feature people have been asking about for some time. We have now created a dashboard that is easy to use and we have been working with partners to make sure what is being reported is relevant and useful. This will also be useful to editors so they can survey content, know what is happening with reviews, and enable them to better serve their readers.
SW: How do you break down the value of preprints, for example in terms of advancing open access or for the scholar getting earlier review or feedback?
JPA: The first and most important value of preprints is the rapid dissemination of research as can be seen with COVID-19 and the role that preprints are playing. This demonstrates the value of publishing what the community is learning without obstacles or delays. But I don’t think this value is limited to dealing with global outbreaks. It is generally valuable to speed up discovery and dissemination.
There are two other areas where I see preprints presenting an opportunity for the whole community: One is to experiment and try to develop new technologies in an environment where there are no established tools, workflows, or platforms. This presents an opportunity to de-wed ourselves from legacy technologies and practices or traditional scholarly publishing.
In a similar vein, preprints might offer an opportunity to see the value of new publishing models. We have already seen this with ‘open peer review’ where the community can validate the work in different ways.
With preprints we are providing a playground to test out and see what can work in parallel to traditional publishing. If we were to start afresh with the scholarly publishing system and ask—what would it look like? I think that preprints would be part of that new equation.
SW: For PKP what are the accompanying developments and ideas that PKP makes use of and are helping move Open Access and Open Science forward?
JPA: On top of platform development and publishing services, PKP does research and advocacy to support open access. One thing I am particularly proud of is the work we’ve done to explore alternative economic models and our efforts to push back against the dominance of models that rely on APCs (article processing charges). APC models were not as prevalent in the earlier days of PKP, and we are proud that PKP platforms have enabled so many scholars and institutions to host their own journal free of charge. In this way, PKP has been a really powerful counterweight—an alternative—for APC models.
PKP has also helped experiment with various cooperative approaches. Most recently, John Willinsky (PKP’s Director) has been supporting a ‘subscribing to open’ approach—the idea that libraries continue to support journals as if they are paying subscriptions, but instead use the funds to make them open.
SW: I’d like to ask about what the PKP Community looks like and how is it organized?
JPA: Our community is hugely important in terms of guiding and supporting our work, with lots of different facets to it. In some parts of the world, academic and research libraries have been the key constituents (especially groups like the Library Publishing Coalition). In other contexts, it’s universities, including publishing divisions and academic units. Then, more broadly, we have scholars themselves who are users of the software. I mention these three examples to give a sense of the variety of where PKP software feature.
The way that they give us feedback and work with us is firstly through the PKP Forum. This is a very important place where we really hear from all of these constituents. It’s a channel back to us where we are able to see and understand people’s needs and if there is something that the software currently doesn’t do—then we can build that into our roadmap. This then gets operationalized into PKP on GitHub which is where we turn these requests and problems that people are having into actual actions for the development team.
Something that has been a successful and vibrant part of the community is helping to translate the software interfaces. We moved to a new platform called Weblate that is helping to manage those translations and is why we have such a robust set of complete translations already. I think this speaks to the strength of PKP suite as really being a global community.
Another aspect of the community are user groups that have been established in several different countries as well as journal portals that act on a national level and gather all of the journals from within a country and provide support. There are examples of these around the world (e.g., in the Nordic countries and in Latin America).
SW: What is the support for institutions or individuals wanting to use PKP tools, does PKP act as a service provider?
JPA: First I would say PKP does have a PKP Publishing Services arm, where we offer managed hosting with support and is done as a ‘cost recovery’1 mechanism where we provide a high quality hosting service, run by us with our expertise. There are other hosting service providers out there, charging on both a for-profit and non-profit basis. The existence of various service providers are, in our view, a sign of a healthy open-source ecosystem.
But the majority of installations out there are being run in one of two ways: 1) The majority are hosting individual journals on installations at their institutions. 2) The second is through centralized installations, where an institution or a country hosts a larger group of journals. This latter group is essentially receiving publishing services from their community instead of paying for it through a third-party organization.
SW: What additional support for open-source in research and scholarly communications is needed? We can see that the trend is to replace the commercial publishing infrastructure suppliers with public sector open-source innovation.
JPA: You’re right that there is a lot of interest in open-source in the scholarly communications and research space right now. In answering this question, I really want to distinguish the approach that PKP has to open-source from what many of the other open-source solutions out there. PKP’s approach to open-source is one which the community can take and run the software on its own—independent of us. To us, open-source is not just about popping our source code up on GitHub for others to look at it. I think this is important because it allows the community to adopt the software, it allows the community to direct software development, and it empowers others to have control of their own publishing. As a result, it really amplifies and changes who it serves, which is why we see such a global community using our software.
In thinking about what is needed, I’m obviously not going to deny that more money and resources wouldn’t help. PKP is now starting a fundraising campaign after receiving an endorsement from SCOSS (Sustainability Coalition for Open Science Services) to crowdsource support to become fully self-sustainable. But this is not the only way to support us. Supporting PKP can be as easy as sharing your feedback on the forum, filing a bug report, helping with a translation, or writing a few lines of code.
What we often see happening in decisions to adopt new systems is that people are willing to pay for a solution or they want the open-source version completely free. What we think is a better approach is to examine open-source solutions and, if they cannot do exactly what you want, then put the funds towards making that open-source solution meet your needs. Doing so will benefit a wider community and can have an outsized global benefit. This is why I started off answering your question with what differentiates PKP software: when someone invests in PKP software, they are not investing in PKP as an organization, but in the thousands of people who use our software every day.
1. ‘cost recovery’ mechanism – Cost recovery, defined as the method for recovering an expenditure which a business takes on. The Strategic CFO https://strategiccfo.com/cost-recovery/
PKP News. ‘The Road to Preprints (Part 1): Introducing Open Preprint Systems | Public Knowledge Project’, 24 February 2020. https://pkp.sfu.ca/2020/02/24/the-road-to-preprints-part-1-introducing-open-preprint-systems/.
Tony Ross-Hellauer, ‘What Is Open Peer Review? A Systematic Review’, F1000Research, 31 August 2017,
John Willinsky, ‘Subscribing to Open Access for Research and Scholarship – Slaw’, 13 January 2017,
Launch webinar: Open Preprint Systems
Infobox: Open Preprint Systems
- Download – https://pkp.sfu.ca/ops/ops_download/
- Demo – https://pkp.sfu.ca/ops/demo/
- PKP Publishing Services – https://pkpservices.sfu.ca/
PKP is a multi-university initiative developing (free) open source software and conducting research to improve the quality and reach of scholarly publishing.