to what one might expect, not all the items in open access repositories are publicly available. Estimates of the percentage of the content in repositories that is not in fact open access tend
to range from around 40% to 60%. This will include bibliographic records containing only metadata, plus full-text documents that have been placed on “dark deposit” — i.e. documents that are present
in the repository but not freely available, either because they are subject to
a publisher’s embargo or because the author(s) asked for the full-text to be deposited
on a closed access basis. To enable researchers to nevertheless obtain copies of items that have been placed on
dark deposit OA advocates developed the request eprint button. But how does the button work, and how
effective is it? Below Eloy Rodrigues, Director of Documentation Services at the University
of Minho, discusses the issues,
and outlines the situation at UMinho.
RP: How many scholarly items are currently deposited in the University
of Minho’s institutional repository RepositóriUM, and
what are the growth rates?
Currently we have more
than 32,600 items in RepositóriUM
, with around 5,000
being deposited yearly since the upgrade
of our policy
(effective since January 2011). Since 2011 more than 20,000
items have been deposited.
RP: Of these, how many are full text and freely available to the
public (i.e. they are not metadata alone, not currently subject to publisher
embargo, and not restricted to members of the university — as in requiring
Almost 26,000 (25,932)
are freely available, which is more than 79% of the total.
RP: As I understand it, repository users can ask that a private copy of
any document on dark deposit is made available to them by using the request eprint
button built into the repository. In 2010 you co-authored a paper about this button,
which was then more frequently called the “Fair Dealing” button. Your paper included
data on “approval success rates” (i.e. the frequency with which authors
sanctioned a copy of their work being made available to those requesting it).
These data came from three universities: Southampton, Stirling and UMinho (your
institution). The approval success rates were, respectively, 47%, 60% and 27%,
with many requests simply ignored or lost. How has the situation at the
University of Minho changed since then? What are the current figures?
The overall response
rate has remained basically the same, or even a little lower. In 2014 we had a
global response rate of around 23%, with 21% sending the requested documents
and 2% denying the request.
However the global response rate is highly “biased” by the effect of
theses and dissertations. Theses and dissertations (T&Ds) account for around
21% of the total number of documents in RepositóriUM, and around 30% of the
total number of restricted or embargoed access documents (currently around 6,700),
but I estimate (based on some small “samples”) they represent far more than 50%
(probably around 60% to 70%) of the requests received.
Because most authors of T&Ds don’t maintain any connection with the
university after completing their thesis and dissertation, and they often
change the email that was registered at the time the document was deposited in the
repository (which is the email used to send the requests to authors), the T&Ds
response rate is very low (probably lower than 10%), and that obviously affects
the global response rate.
But we really don’t have data on this (we would need to “manually” look
into the request logs we have, as we are not registering the document type from
the requests) but based on some anecdotal evidence I estimate the response rate
from UMinho members (professors and researchers) will be at least two times higher
than the global average. So, excluding T&Ds, I “guess” the current response
rate will be around 50%, or even a little bit higher (from 50% to 60%).
RP: In 2010 you made the following comment on a
blog: “Our experience is that authors get ‘tired’ of replying to copy requests,
especially when requests are very frequent. The consequence is that some start
not replying at all, and others ask to change to open access
articles/papers/theses there were in closed/embargoed access. We had more than
20 of those requests just on the last year…” Is that still your experience, or
have author’s attitudes and behaviour changed since then?
In the last couple of
years I haven’t had regular conversations or feedback from Minho researchers
about the copy requests, in the way I did in the first few years after the
introduction of the button. But I know we still receive frequent (approximately
on a weekly basis) requests to change the access status of closed/embargoed
documents to open access.
RP: Presumably if a paper is on closed access as a result of a
publisher embargo it is not possible to change the status to open access?
Presumably yes. But
there this a wide variety of behaviour from UMinho authors. While some are
confident and fearless, others are fearful at the time of deposit, especially with
papers published in journals or conference proceedings which do not have well
formalised self-archiving/OA policies. Afterwards they tend to become less
timid about their publications.
We inform authors about possible access permissions or restrictions to
their deposited publications, but we respect their wishes about the access
RP: I assume most institutional repositories now have a request eprint
button. But I think not all IRs implement the button in the same way. Can you
talk me through the process at RepositóriUM once a user hits the eprint button?
Is it fully automated, or is there some manual intervention? What happens
behind the scenes when a user requests a copy of an item in the repository?
The way we implement the
process in RepositóriUM (and I assume it will be similar in other DSpace based
repositories, as the request-copy addon to DSpace was developed here at UMinho)
is the following: When users hit the button (actually it is a closed access
logo) and fill in a form with their name and email (and an optional message),
an automatic email is immediately sent to the author.
That message contains a token URL, directing the author to a
RepositóriUM page, where there are two buttons – Send copy / Don’t send copy.
After choosing one of the options another page is displayed with a template
message, which can be edited by the replier. The final step is hitting the send
So, in summary, the text is always provided by the author (and not
automatically or by the repository staff), and the process requires just 3
clicks, plus editing the reply message if the author chooses to do so.
RP: Advocates for use of the button believe that it is a much more
effective way for researchers to get access to papers on dark deposit than,
say, by directly emailing the authors. I note a paper
published in PLOS ONE in 2011 tested the email approach. A group of researchers
sent out a number of email requests for papers in the area of HIV vaccine
research. The success rates they reported were between 54% and 60%, which is
perhaps a little higher than the rates described in your 2010 paper. What do we
make of that?
I can only speculate
about it. The button simplifies the process, both for the requester (who only
needs to make two clicks and, if they want, customise a model message to the
author) and for the author (who receives an email from the repository and just
needs to make three clicks, and if they want customise a reply message). But
maybe, at least for some people, this may appear completely impersonal and they
prefer the more personal and human direct email contact.
That said, I’m not convinced that email contact will get a higher response
rate than the button, and you cannot infer that from the PLOS paper. To test
that hypothesis you would need to test both approaches for the same universe of
publications and authors.
RP: The PLOS ONE study reported that two thirds of the papers (where
the author responded positively) were received “on the same day or the next.
However, the other third of respondents took on average 11 days to reply
(median 3 days, maximum 54 days).” Do you have any information on turnaround
time for those who use the button at UMinho?
We just have data on the
mean response time. In 2014 the mean response time was near six days for accepted
requests, and 3.5 days for rejected requests. Again I think this result may be
slightly biased by a higher response time from T&Ds authors, but that would
need to be investigated.
RP: On March 2nd I tried to access a paper in RepositóriUM
called “Academic job satisfaction and motivation: findings from a nationwide
study in Portuguese higher education”. On trying to open the paper I was told
that it was on restricted access and invited to request a copy of it, which I
did. As the image below shows, I was informed that my request had been
successful. However, I never heard anything further, and was left in the dark
as to what had happened to my request. It is not a very user-friendly system is
it? Might not most readers be inclined to give up after even a couple of such
failed attempts to get a paper?
Yes, I recognise that.
It is not very user friendly, and people may be inclined to give up after a
couple of “non-answers”. We’ve focused the development of the addon on making
it very easy and simple to use by external readers and especially by UMinho
At the time of development we really didn’t consider the issues around
monitoring, reporting, collecting statistics on the use of the button, or
providing feedback to requesters. And after the initial development we have really
just made some minor improvements/adjustments (like spam control through a
captcha feature) and upgraded it to the newest DSpace releases.
RP: My experience with the ORBi
repository at the University of Liège was somewhat different. I tried the
button there twice. On both occasions I received the full text (or a link to
it) within 24 hours. Paul Thirion, Head
librarian at the University of Liège, reports that the approval success rates
for requests made using the button built into the ORBi repository are higher
than average, ranging from 67% in 2009 to 81% in 2014. Do you have any sense of
why Liège is more successful at getting researchers to approve eprint requests
than other universities?
I really don’t know. I
imagine that, apart from some subjective aspects (like cultural and organisational
differences and/or a different relationship to and perception of open access
and the institutional repository between researchers at Liège and Minho etc.),
there are some objective factors to explain it: probably the T&Ds effect is
not present at ORBi, and I can speculate that there is a difference in the percentage of closed/embargoed access documents in ORBi (which I think is
higher than in RepositóriUM), and maybe there is also a lower percentage of
documents for which the access status is changed to open after deposition. [RP: Paul Thirion
reports that around 62% of the documents in ORBi are full-text].
To what end?
RP: The paper you co-authored in 2010 goes on to say, “Given a
significant number of button requests which are ignored or lost, one might be
tempted to assume that it has not worked. However, this is not true. The
principal impact of the Button has been to enable the adoption of institutional
mandates.” This left me wondering as to the point of the button. I had
assumed the sole purpose was to ensure that those who want access to papers
under publisher embargo can nevertheless obtain a copy of them. For instance, in
commenting on the open access policy being introduced by the Higher Education
Funding Council for England Stevan Harnad described the
purpose of the button as being to “tide over the usage needs of UK and
worldwide researchers for the deposited research during the allowable embargo.”
Your paper, however, suggests that the objective is rather to encourage funders
and institutions to introduce OA mandates. What are your views today on the
purpose of the button?
I think the introduction
of the button had both the immediate and practical objective of providing
access to papers which were deposited with temporary (embargo period) or
definitive access restriction, and the more strategic objective of helping in
the introduction of mandates (by creating a mechanism that allows mandating
universal deposit, regardless of eventual access restrictions, while offering a
“second class” access procedure).
In my opinion both purposes remain important today.
RP: How would you describe the success of the button today, and what do
you predict for its future success?
I don’t know what the
global response rate to the button requests is.
But even if it is closer to the UMinho 50% estimate, than the Liege 80%
result, it means that tens or hundreds of thousands of papers were made
available to many readers that otherwise would not have access to them.
So, I think the button is relatively successful, both in actually
providing access to closed/embargoed access publications and in helping
institutions and funders to define self-archiving mandates, without pushing
themselves into spending yet more money by paying APCs, on top of their
For the immediate future, I predict the button will remain useful and
hopefully more successful, as the number of mandatory polices, as well as
RP: One thing I find striking is that advocates for the button seem to
have done very little research into its efficacy. Why do you think that is?
I can only reply for
myself and for UMinho’s RepositóriUM. I think the first reason is that our main
focus is on managing and running the repository as a critical service of the
university, with limited capacity to do research and development. So we use
that limited capacity for very practical and applied developments and not on “non-applied
The second reason is that, despite being important and useful, the
button is not on our top three priorities for work on the repository. We’ve
devoted much of our efforts on improving the repository interoperability and
integration with other services/systems, on facilitating and simplifying the
deposit/self-archiving of publications into the repository, on collecting and
providing usage statistics to authors of publications in the repository, on
guaranteeing/improving repository visibility in the global search engines
(especially Google), etc. All those issues have higher strategic relevance for
us given the current state of policy implementation and repository development
RP: Do you think there is a danger that if the button were to prove too
successful publishers might seek to curtail or prevent its use in some way?
I don’t think so. It is
at least very questionable that publishers would have any solid legal ground to
act against the button use, and, on the other hand, it would give them very bad
publicity. So, from a cost-benefit point of view, I think the button is not a
high priority for publishers either.
RP: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
I am currently working on a longer
document about dark deposit and the request eprint button. As such, I would welcome people’s thoughts about and experiences of these two things. I can be contacted here.