I have been writing about open access (OA) for at least five years now. During that time I have found myself becoming increasingly interested in the topic, and more and more convinced that it is important that the OA movement should succeed in its objectives.
When I started, many of the publications I wrote for were experimenting with the new online medium, and as a consequence my articles were generally made freely available on the Web. Over time, however, I found more and more editors were becoming reluctant to release their content in this way — a development that increasingly frustrated me.
Of course journalists — unlike the authors of academic papers — write for a fee, and I understood that in order for editors to pay me they had to make money somehow. Nevertheless, it seemed unfortunate that I was writing about open access but my articles were being put behind a walled garden, and an entrance fee charged for anyone who wanted to read them. Not only did it mean that the number of people who could potentially read what I had written was reduced but, in the new hyperlinked world, it felt counterintuitive
Last year, therefore, I started this blog, which was a very liberating experience. Finally I could write what I wanted, when I wanted, and I could make it available to anyone who had an Internet connection.
The downside, of course, was that I was not being paid for my articles, except in those rare cases where enlightened publishers like INDICARE were happy to pay me for an article (e.g. on digital rights management and OA) that I also posted on my blog.
While I am keen to continue writing about OA, and in a way that will enable me to maximise the number of people who can read what I write, it would clearly be helpful if I could earn a little money from that writing too!
To this end I have decided to try a little experiment: to self-publish some of my articles about OA via my blog, and then invite readers to pay to read them. No has to pay to read them, but those who find some value in them, and feel they would like to help, can do — on a strictly voluntary basis.
I am publishing the first such article today. This looks at the history of the institutional repository, and its relation to the OA movement.
Below are the first 800 words of the article (which is 10,500 words in total). Anyone wishing to read it in its entirety can click on the link at the bottom of this post. If after reading it you believe that doing so was of value to you then you might like to consider making a small contribution to my PayPal account. I have in mind a figure of $8, but whatever anyone felt inspired to contribute would be fine by me. Likewise, if they chose not to contribute, that would be fine too. Payment can be made quite simply by quoting the e-mail account: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that it is not necessary to have a PayPal account to make a payment.
What I would ask is that if you point anyone else to the article then you consider directing them to this post, rather than directly to the PDF file itself.
Clear blue water
While the concept of the institutional repository is not new, there has over the past year been a sudden upsurge of interest in the topic. This in turn has led to considerable disagreement about the nature and scope of an institutional repository, and its role within the academic institution.
Indeed, when JISC recently created a mailing list for those wishing to discuss issues related to the topic, the initial flurry of posts suggested that there are as many definitions of an institutional repository as there are those with an opinion on it.
So where did the institutional repository come from, and why has it become the source of so much disagreement — at the very moment when it looks set to enter the mainstream? More importantly, how should the OA movement react to these developments?
Reshaping the scholarly communication process
The seminal text on the subject was a paper — The Case for Institutional Repositories — written by Raym Crow in 2002.
In that paper Crow defined institutional repositories as "digital collections capturing and preserving the intellectual output of a single or multiple-university community."
Their role, he suggested, should be twofold. First: to "serve as tangible indicators of an institution's quality and to demonstrate the scientific, societal, and economic relevance of its research activities, thus increasing the institution's visibility, status, and public value"; Second: to provide tools to assist universities "re-shape the scholarly communication process".
As Crow put it, "While institutional repositories centralise, preserve, and make accessible an institution's intellectual capital, at the same time they will — ideally — form part of a global system of distributed, interoperable repositories that provides the foundation for a new disaggregated model of scholarly publishing."
Essentially, Crow envisaged that institutional repositories would enable universities to exploit the new digital networked world to regain control of scholarly communication. This, he said, would mean rethinking the relative roles of authors, librarians, and publishers, and "unbundling" the traditional model of publishing.
As a consequence, access to research would expand, and the monopoly power of journal publishers broken — monopoly power that publishers acquired, he maintained, as a result of their insistence that researchers hand over copyright in their scholarly papers as a condition of publication. This then allowed publishers to sell the research back to universities in the form of ever more expensive journal subscriptions.
By unbundling the publishing process into its constituent parts ("Registration, Certification, Awareness, and Archiving"), and reasserting ownership of the raw material (the papers), Crow argued, universities could break the chokehold that publishers had acquired over scholarly publishing.
"The purpose of a disaggregated scholarly publishing model," he explained, "is not to destroy the current journal system, but to weaken the monopolistic impact of that system on academic institutions and their libraries."
His perspective was not perhaps surprising: a managing partner at Chain Bridge Group, Crow’s thoughts were published as a position paper for The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) — an organisation created in 1997 by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) "to be a constructive response to market dysfunctions in the scholarly communication system."
It was clear that something had to be done: With static or falling budgets, libraries were struggling to cope with the escalating cost of journals. Between 1986 and 2000, for instance, serial prices increased by 196%, compared to a rise in the Consumer Price Index of just 57%. The consequent "serials crisis", SPARC complained, had "reduced dissemination of scholarship and crippled libraries".
Crow's thesis was that if researchers retained copyright in their papers (merely granting publishers a non-exclusive licence), and deposited them in institutional repositories, the publisher's role could be restricted to activities like managing the peer review process, creating value-added "overlay" journals based on the content of the repositories, and providing services like "citation linking, controlled vocabularies, and the like". And this would allow universities to restore a more equitable power balance.
In other words, institutional repositories would allow universities to create a more cost-effective model, and force that model on publishers.
The evidence so far, he argued, "suggests that the resources required [to create the necessary infrastructure for the new model] would represent but a fraction of the journal costs that libraries now incur and over which they have little control."
In short, institutional repositories were viewed as a way in which librarians could address the affordability problem posed by the constantly rising, and eventually unsustainable, costs associated with buying serials.
But while the library community may have produced the defining document on institutional repositories, the concept was originally developed by academics.
Crow's ideas, for instance, owed a great debt to the e-print service arXiv, which had been developed in 1991 by Los Alamos physicist Paul Ginsparg. A central subject-based repository where researchers could self-archive preprints of their physics papers, arXiv had by the time Crow wrote his paper in 2002 been widely embraced by the physics community and spawned a number of imitators. Ginsparg had also published a number of papers and talks in which he had developed the idea of overlay journals..…..
To read the article in its entirety (as a PDF file) click here.