Wednesday, 12 September 2012

As good as gold? How and why to publish open access research

By Rachel Playforth

 The scholarly publishing revolution that has been steadily building for the past decade may now have reached a tipping point - the UK Government has pledged that all publicly funded research will be open access by 2014; the World Bank, UNESCO and many other major international organisations and funding bodies are backing open access; and a new set of recommendations updating the original Budapest Open Access Initiative is due out this year. But the corresponding media interest in open access hasn’t necessarily increased understanding – we’re all talking about it but do we really know what it is, what it’s for, or how to do it?

What is open access?
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The free and irrevocable availability of research outputs on the public internet, permitting any user to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full text of these outputs, without financial, legal, or technical barriers.

What is not open access?
Content that requires registration or is offered free for a limited period only. Formats that prevent downloading, saving, printing or copying. Arguably, content where text mining or indexing by web crawling tools is prevented.

Why open access?
Because removing access barriers will enrich and accelerate research. Because scholars in poorer institutions and poorer countries shouldn’t be excluded. Because publishers shouldn’t make huge profits from research, peer-reviewing and editing work done by academics for free. Because we shouldn’t have to pay twice for publicly funded (and potentially vital) research, once through our taxes and once through subscriptions and fees paid to commercial publishers of scholarly journals.

Why else open access?
Because many funding bodies, including the Wellcome Trust, RCUK and DFID, require it as a condition of funding. Even if you are half-hearted about the ideology, you may have to embrace the reality.

Gold or green? 
There are two routes available to researchers who want (or need) to make their work open access, known as ‘gold’ and ‘green’. The costs of publishing in peer-reviewed journals are currently met by the reader (probably via their library), though subscription charges and pay-per-view fees.

Gold open access shifts the cost to the author, who pays (probably via their research funding or their institution) to publish in an open access journal. This was the approach most strongly recommended by the recent Finch report on expanding access to published research findings, and is the ultimate goal of the UK government. Based on the idea that full gold OA will eliminate the ‘paying twice’ problem with subscription journals, it’s been estimated that it could lead to whole system savings of around £80 million per year.

The other route is known as green open access, represented by research repositories. The majority of commercial scholarly publishers allow some form of ‘self-archiving’ in subject or institutional repositories, usually but not always with an embargo period to protect their revenues for the first few months after publication. If all journals were open access, there would of course be no need for embargo periods, and arguably, no need for repositories. (The Finch report sees their role shifting more towards preserving/sharing research data and grey literature). But in the current transition period where the subscription model coexists with the OA model, repositories are working successfully with both.

Repositories also offer advantages to researchers and institutions beyond open access policy compliance:
  1. Impact: research shows that open access articles tend to be more cited than comparable material behind paywalls 
  2. Discoverability: the protocols used by repository software are international and interoperable to facilitate data exchange and reuse, and the metadata standards mean the content is quickly indexed by Google and repository indexes. 
  3. Preservation: the repository can store copies of research for posterity in a way that is independent of the original format (which may become obsolete). 
  4. Reputation: a repository provides both an accurate record of, and shop window for, an institution’s (and an individual researcher’s) intellectual output. 
  5. Flexibility: repositories can contain all forms of work including peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, working papers, presentations, images, audio, and data. 
But what about my intellectual property? 

True open access is compatible with protecting copyright and intellectual property – the one restriction on reuse is that the work should be properly attributed. There are various Creative Commons licences that can help make this explicit. An author who retains their copyright and makes their work open access has more control over that work than if they had transferred the copyright or given exclusive rights to a publisher, as is standard in many publishing contracts.

And my impact? 

Many researchers worry about diluting the impact and credibility of their research by taking the open access route. The number of established open access journals is currently too small to rival the impact factors of the major subscription offerings, it’s true, but this will change as open access is mandated more widely. As for repositories, self-archiving a copy of your article does not necessarily have an adverse effect on citations of the published version. It will certainly increase the number of times it is read, and many repositories provide a DOI and specify that the published version should be cited.

More information 
Find open access repositories on OpenDoar
Find open access journals on DOAJ 
Check journal self-archiving policies on SherpaRomeo  

Rachel Playforth is Repository Coordinator at the British Library for Development Studies, based at IDS. To find out more about the IDS Repository, hosted by OpenDocs, contact Rachel.