Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, July 26, 2008

More on depositing in distributed rather than centralized OA repositories

Alma Swan, Here, there, or even everywhere? Where researchers should deposit their articles, Optimal Scholarship, July 25, 2008.  Excerpt:

...Chris Awre and I argued three years ago, in our study on 'Linking UK Repositories' (and in a short paper from that study here) that distributed deposit was the best model to aim for, we were arguing from a theoretical standpoint. Only a handful of universities in the UK had at the time shown any sign of understanding what opportunities lay ahead in the way universities disseminate the results of their efforts, and of the responsibilities they have towards society....

It was the funders who saw the potential, reflected upon the connection between paying for something from public money and handing over the results to a service industry whose business model was mostly predicated upon access control - and disconnected it. The universities continued to snore but while they did so at least the funders were out of bed, showered and breakfasted. Unfortunately, instead of nudging awake the universities...some big funders let them lie, circumventing them in the mechanics of the Open Access process. I would suggest that in doing this they were failing to take the whole research community's interests into account. But with loud snores still emanating from the universities, who could blame them? ...

[U]niversities finally 'get it', which is great for them, for research and for society. Unfortunately, they are getting it later than would have been ideal. In our discussions yesterday [at a "large London medical school" about launching an OA repository] we had to deal with the fact that while over 90% of UK biomedical research is now covered by funder OA mandates (good), many of those mandates stipulate UKPMC as the deposit locus (not so good for the employers of the fundees - the universities). It's not so good because although this medical school can harvest a considerable amount of the material published by its employees from UKPMC, thus finding an easy way to start filling its own repository, this does mean it has an extra job to do. It's not a disaster, and CERN has been doing the same thing with arXiv for years, but it's another task for the repository staff. It also means the medical school has to add a complication to a nice simple wording for its own policy, explicitly allowing those who are already under a funder mandate exemption from the medical school policy. For sure, it would be asking too much to demand that these people deposit BOTH in the institutional repository and in UKPMC. And the funders got there first.

True, we shouldn't get too wound up about this. Interoperability means that back-harvesting, forward-harvesting and upside-down-harvesting can go on wherever appropriate but it is a shame that we have arrived at a point where universities, the mainstays of our societies' research endeavours, have to develop more complex policies than would otherwise have been the case had funders simply directed their grantees to deposit their work in their institutional collections and harvested from there. The funders know where their grantees are, the repository software has a metadata field for funder, so the mechanics are simple. The benefit of such a move would have been to help the universities see the overall plan (earlier than they have done), ensure they put the right infrastructure in place and encouraged them to apply similar polices to cover all the research their employees do. The whole research community would thus be included and benefiting by this time, not just the biomedical community or other communities covered by big funder mandates. I would say that the research funders have rather let down their partners, the universities, in this sense.

Deposit rates for UKPMC are not yet all they should be. Only a minority of the articles expected to be in UKPMC by this time have been deposited, partly because the publishers who said they would do this on behalf of authors have not always done so and partly because some authors have not complied with the mandates from the UK biomedical funders. The UKPMC people are taking steps to remedy this, but how much easier it is for universities to attain a high level of compliance: they say, quite simply, that the repository is where they will be looking for material to be included in research assessment (and for staff appraisals, promotions boards, tenure committees ...)....

Yesterday, the head of one research unit in the medical school, commenting on the figures on one of my slides, said "I think your figures for research papers published from here are a bit low. I know, for instance, that from my own unit we publish something like 100 articles or so a year". He didn't know exactly, he could only guess; but when his repository is up and running he will know precisely what is coming out of his unit and from the medical school as a whole. He will have a whole new box of tools to use in his job.