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New Year’s Resolution: Let’s Self-Archive

2013 January 17

Helen Rogers (Liverpool John Moores Univeristy, Editor of Journal of Victorian Culture)

In July 2012 the British government declared the UK would take the lead in accelerating the drive towards Open Access. It would kick-start a stuttering global movement by mandating that publicly-funded research in the UK must be published in open access journals. This was a bold policy turn, taken it would seem with little international consultation, to the so-called ‘gold’ or ‘author pays’ open access model where publication costs are met by authors, their funder or university.[1]

Six months on and it is clear that other countries are not rushing to follow Britain’s pioneering stance.  Instead, it looks increasingly likely many will adopt the ‘green route’ to open access whereby authors of government-funded research are required to archive their findings and papers in an open institutional digital repository.

As the Irish Government noted when it adopted this policy during Open Access Week, October 2012, the repository route was in line with recent recommendations by the European Union and the Budapest Open Access Initiative.[2] This month the Australian Research Council announced that all papers resulting from its funded projects must be made available to the public in an open institutional repository within twelve months of publication.[3] There are no signs that the US, never mind China and other emergent academic powerhouses, is set to imitate the UK.

So, this is not quite the open access revolution that Britain’s Minister of Higher Education seems to have anticipated. Indeed, in December 2012, at a conference on implementing the Finch Report, upon which his policy was based, speaker after speaker lined up to caution that the transition to gold open access would be gradual. There was much reassurance for the members of the predominantly social science based audience that measures would be taken to ease the process of transition in order to protect the ‘complex ecology’ (a much-used term) of non-STEM based subjects and their journals. As Professor Dame Lynne Brindley told the author of the report, Professor Dame Janet Finch:

Your brief was to ensure sustainability through a long or very long transition: not for your group an option to lead a revolution, to overturn a complex but known scholarly communications ecology, even if you had wanted to; but to nudge forward what would seem to be inexorable progress towards the goal of open access, of publicly funded research being freely accessible to all across the globe (my emphasis).[4]

We are right to be concerned. But ‘nudge forward’? Surely we should be acting with more resolution, conviction and urgency to foster open access?

Historians have been among the most vocal and active critics of the author-pays system and on Friday, 18 January we are meeting at the Institute of Historical Research to debate the implications of the Finch recommendations for history journals.[5] While I share many of the objections raised by fellow historians over recent months and remain opposed to author-pays, I fear we are in danger of becoming voices not of caution but reaction.

In December, the Journal of Victorian Culture was asked to sign an open letter by editors of history journals on open access. We declined since, in our view, the position outlined by the statement and signed by 21 journals, undermined the open access principle. The history editors agreed they would accept gold article processing charges and would also make provision for green publication but with the proviso of an embargo period of 36 months.[6] To me, a three-year embargo flies in the face of open access. If scholarship is to be open, then publication also has to be timely.

To be fair to the history editors, their insistence on a lengthy embargo is not to sustain the inflated profits made by some commercial publishers but to allow them to recoup legitimate costs of publication: copy-editing, editorial board expenses, maintaining scholarly platforms and so on. But this could all be done with a much shorter embargo period—probably without an embargo period—if the academic community agreed as a profession to ‘go green’.

It now appears that policymakers and managers have accepted that for the foreseeable future, the UK will operate within a hybrid system of green and gold. This raises the prospect of ‘double-dipping’ where UK universities have to support APC charges for projects with Research Council funding while also paying journal subscription charges so they can access the rest of the world’s research. Instead of paying twice, why don’t we just make things simple and deposit all of our work in our institutional repositories?

The Finch Report and Government concluded that the green route had been tried but had failed to deliver open access because of disappointing levels of participation. But academics had never been mandated to deposit their work and, let’s face it, many of us were unaware of the existence of institutional repositories or too pressed with other commitments to populate them.

But, as Stevan Harnad has advised, all we need to do is:

‘Adopt an effective mechanism to ensure compliance with the mandate to self-archive in UK institutional repositories (Green OA). . . . And scale down the Gold OA to just the affordable minimum for which there is a genuine demand, instead of trying to force it down the throats of all UK researchers in place of cost-free self-archiving: The UK institutional repositories are there, ready, waiting — and empty’ (my emphasis).[7]

Let’s be realistic. There is no real danger that digital repositories will undermine the subscription base of academic journals. Which of us will want to trawl through hundreds of university repositories, let alone send our students to them, in search of articles that will soon be available in electronic journals?

And how many members of the public are so keen to access our research that they really want immediate access to Informa World or Project Muse? We can satisfy those who truly thirst for our work through our university repositories and by making our libraries’ electronic content available to those who want it, just as we now allow the public to visit our libraries.

I doubt the commercial publishers feel threatened by institutional repositories. Taylor & Francis have decided they can recoup their costs within an 18 month embargo period and thus doubtless could manage with 12 months, 6 months, or none.

If Humanities and Social Science journals insist on lengthy embargos they will lose the support of many in the academic community. Already, there are moves to provide alternative platforms to those offered by the commercial and university presses, witness Martin Eve’s call for the establishment of a Public Library of Science model for the Humanities and Social Sciences.[8]

The development of a hybrid system of author-pays combined with long embargos will drive a wedge between those holding on to traditional modes of academic research and dissemination and those experimenting with new ways of doing and spreading scholarship in the digital environment. We must not let this happen.

On Friday I will be meeting other historians to debate these issues at the Institute of Historical Research, home of the Digital History seminar. Since I am based in the North-West of England, I have never attended the seminar but I am working my way through its programme, thanks to History Spot which podcasts all the seminars at the IHR. Last night I listened to Jason M. Kelly talk on ‘An Ecology for Digital Scholarship’ and on experiments in pre-peer review publication.[9] That is what we should be talking about this Friday – and the modes of traditional scholarship that we want to hold onto as we become more embedded in a digital world.

I am no digital humanities pioneer. I have no idea how to do html. I have had to learn very fast (and belatedly) about open access. But I am excited about the possibilities of developing the scholarly journal in the online world. Open access advocates probably overestimate the degree of public interest in our work. But there is a growing body of people out there who are doing digital history, from the massed ranks of genealogists to the small armies transcribing Bentham’s papers, correcting the OCR script of Australia’s historical newspapers, or tagging Britain’s oil paintings.[10] They are sharing with us and we should be sharing with them.

It’s not too late for a new year’s resolution. Let’s go green.

Helen Rogers is a Reader at Liverpool John Moores University. You can follow her on twitter @HelenRogers19c


[1]https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-to-open-up-publicly-funded-research 16 July 2012. For my earlier discussion of this policy see http://myblogs.informa.com/jvc/2012/11/21/open-access-and-the-future-of-academic-journals/

[2]http://www.iua.ie/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/National-Principles-on-Open-Access-Policy-Statement-FINAL-23-Oct-2012-v1-3.pdf

[3]http://www.arc.gov.au/applicants/open_access.htm

[4]Implementing Finch Open Access Conference, Academy of Social Sciences, London, 29-30 November 2012. http://www.acss.org.uk/docs/Open%20Access%20event%20Nov%202012/OAWorkshop.htm

[5]See, for example, letters from the President of the Royal Historical Society, October 2012, http://www.royalhistoricalsociety.org/RHSPresidentE-letterOctober2012.pdf, and January 2013, http://www.royalhistoricalsociety.org/RHSPresidentE-letterJanuary2013.pdf. The Finch Report, Open Access and the Historical Community, http://events.history.ac.uk/event/show/7871

[6]http://www.history.ac.uk/news/2012-12-10/statement-position-relation-open-access. In addition the editors oppose the version of copyright mandated by the RCUK (CC-BY – the most liberal form of copyright) in favour of the most restrictive license (CCBY NC ND).

[7]StevanHarnad Adopt an effective mechanism to ensure compliance with the mandate to self-archive in UK institutional repositories (Green OA), in collaboration with UK institutions. And scale down the Gold OA to just the affordable minimum for which there is a genuine demand, instead of trying to force it down the throats of all UK researchers in place of cost-free self-archiving: The UK institutional repositories are already there: ready, waiting — and empty.

Adopt an effective mechanism to ensure compliance with the mandate to self-archive in UK institutional repositories (Green OA), in collaboration with UK institutions. And scale down the Gold OA to just the affordable minimum for which there is a genuine demand, instead of trying to force it down the throats of all UK researchers in place of cost-free self-archiving: The UK institutional repositories are already there: ready, waiting — and empty.

http://www.eprints.org/openaccess/ 6 Dec 2012.

[8]https://www.martineve.com/2013/01/09/call-for-participants-to-build-a-plos-style-model-for-the-humanities-and-social-sciences/; http://www.plohss.org/

[9] 4 December 2012, http://historyspot.org.uk/podcasts/digital-history/ecology-digital-scholarship

[10]http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/transcribe-bentham/category/digitisation/; http://trove.nla.gov.au/general/participating-in-digitised-newspapers-faq/; http://tagger.thepcf.org.uk/

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