Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Open Access Interviews: Paul Royster, Coordinator of Scholarly Communications, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Paul Royster
Paul Royster is proud of what he has achieved with his institutional repository. Currently, it contains 73,000 full-text items, of which more than 60,000 are freely accessible to the world. This, says Royster, makes it the second largest institutional repository in the US, and it receives around 500,000 downloads per month, with around 30% of those going to international users.

Unsurprisingly, Royster always assumed that he was in the vanguard of the OA movement, and that fellow OA advocates attached considerable value to the work he was doing.

All this changed in 2012, when he attended an open access meeting organised by SPARC (The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) in Kansas City. At that meeting, he says, he was startled to hear SPARC announce to delegates that henceforth the sine qua non of open access is that a work has to be made available with a CC BY licence or equivalent attached.

After the meeting Royster sought to clarify the situation with SPARC, explaining the problems that its insistence on CC BY presented for repository managers like him, since it is generally not possible to make self-archived works available on a CC BY basis (not least because the copyright will invariably have been assigned to a publisher). Unfortunately, he says, his concerns fell on deaf ears.

The only conclusion Royster could reach is that the OA movement no longer views what he is doing as open access. As he puts it, “[O]ur work in promulgating Green OA (which normally does not convey re-use rights) and our free-access publishing under non-exclusive permission-to-publish (i.e., non-CC) agreements was henceforth disqualified.”

If correct, what is striking here is the implication that institutional repositories can no longer claim to be providing open access.

In fact, if one refers to the most frequently cited definitions of open access one discovers that what SPARC told Royster would seem to be in order. Although it was written before the Creative Commons licences were released, for instance, the definition of open access authored by those who launched the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) in 2001 clearly seems to describe the same terms as those expressed in the CC BY licence.

What this means, of course, is that green OA does not meet the requirements of the BOAI — even though BOAI cited green OA as one of its “complementary strategies” for achieving open access.

Since most of the OA movement’s claimed successes are green successes this is particularly ironic. But given this, is it not pure pedantry to worry about what appears to be a logical inconsistency at the heart of the OA movement? No, not in light of the growing insistence that only CC BY will do. If nothing else, it is alienating some of the movement’s best allies — people like Paul Royster for instance.  

I no longer call or think of myself as an advocate for ‘open access,’ since the specific definition of that term excludes most of what we do in our repository,” says Royster. “I used to think the term meant ‘free to access, download, and store without charge, registration, log-in, etc.,’ but I have been disabused of that notion.”

For that reason, he says, “My current attitude regarding OA is to step away and leave it alone; it does some good, despite what I see as its feet of clay. I am not ‘against’ it, but I don't feel inspired to promote a cause that makes the repositories second-class members.”

How could this strange state of affairs have arisen? And why has it only really become an issue now, over a decade after the BOAI definition was penned? To answer these questions one needs to re-examine the history of the OA movement.

That is what I try to do in the first part of the attached PDF file, where I also attempt to explain why CC BY has become what Royster calls “the shibboleth for the OA in-group”. The second part of the PDF consists of a Q&A with Royster in which he explains in greater detail why he no longer describes himself as an advocate for open access. 

The PDF file can be downloaded here


amberthomas said...

I have worked for, and with, some of the key organisations developing open access approaches. Though I've not been directly involved for some time I've watched with growing concern.
I didn't agree with the RCUK requirement for CC BY. I think CC BY NC would be better protection from potentially parasitic publishers. I think CC BY NC ND would better protect the more cautious from use of scholarly resources by people not familiar with acceptable use of research papers, while still enabling copying, translation and accessible versions. I think there are other ways to enable textmining, as creative commons has said, and as updated copyright law in UK now allows.
So I am inclined to agree that this is all becoming skewed towards publishers needs and could turn many academics against what should be in their best interests: the greater dissemination of their scholarship.

Stevan Harnad said...

What OA Needs Is More Action, Not More Definition

For the record: I renounce (and have long renounced) the original 2002 BOAI (and BBB) definition of Open Access (OA) (even though I was one of the original co-drafters and co-signers of BOAI) in favour of its 2008 revision (sic) as Gratis OA (free online access) and Libre OA (free online access plus certain re-use rights, e.g., CC-BY).

The original BOAI definition was improvised. Over a decade of subsequent evidence, experience and reflection have now made it clear that the first approximation in 2002 was needlessly over-reaching and (insofar as Green OA self-archiving was concerned) incoherent (except if we were prepared to declare almost all Green OA — which was and still is by far the largest and most reachable body of OA — as not being OA!). The original BOAI/BBB definition has since also become an obstacle to the growth of (Green, Gratis) OA as well as a point of counterproductive schism and formalism in the OA movement that have not been to the benefit of OA (but to the benefit of the opponents of OA, or to the publishers that want to ensure -- via Green OA embargoes -- that the only path to OA should be one that preserves their current revenue streams: Fool's Gold OA).

I would like to agree with Richard Poynder that OA needs some sort of "authoritative" organization -- but of whom should that authoritative organization consist? My inclination is that it should be the providers and users of the OA research itself, namely peer-reviewed journal article authors, their institutions and their funders. Their “definition” of OA would certainly be authoritative.

Let me close by emphasizing that I too see Libre OA as desirable and inevitable. But my belief (and it has plenty of supporting evidence) is that the only way to get to Libre OA is for all institutions and funders to mandate (and provide) Gratis Green OA first — not to quibble or squabble about the BOAI/BBB “definition” of OA, or their favorite flavours of Libre OA licenses.

My only difference with Paul Royster is that the primary target for OA is peer-reviewed journal articles, and for that it is not just repositories that are needed, but Green OA mandates from authors’ institutions and funders.

PS: To forestall yet another round of definitional wrangling: Even an effective Gratis Green OA mandate requires some compromises, namely, if authors elect to comply with a publisher embargo on Green OA, they need merely deposit the final, refereed, revised draft in their institutional repository immediately upon acceptance for publication -- and set the access as "restricted access" instead of OA during the (allowable) embargo. The repository's automated email copy-request Button will allow any user to request and an any author to provide a single copy for research purposes during the embargo. (We call this compromise "Almost-OA." It is a workaround for the 40% of journals that embargo Gratis Green OA; and this too is a necessary first step on the road to 100% immediate Green Gratis OA and onward. I hope no one will now call for a formal definition of "Almost-OA" before we can take action on mandating OA...)

Richard Poynder said...

To add to the confusion over what exactly open access is, consider also the use of the term "public access" -- see, for instance, the discussion here.

Richard Poynder said...

For some commentary on, and criticism of, this introduction and Q&A see here.