Open archives and open journals

Professor T.D. Wilson

Visiting Professor Leeds University Business School, UK and Högskolan i Borås, Sweden

Is self-archiving working? We have heard much about the Open Archives Initiative and of the virtues of self-archiving over other methods of open access publishing, but what is going on? After a certain amount of labour I discovered a list of 10 institutions using the e-Prints software from Southampton ('Soton' for short in the list below) to organize institutional archives. I've ignored separate departmental or discipline archives, but concentrated on those that aim to cover an entire institution or, in the case of White Rose consortium (Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York), more than one institution.

Also, I've only taken the table back to 1990, since before then most of the institutions had little to offer. I've also shown the percentage contributed to the total by the archive at the University of Southampton, as that contribution is highly significant, accounting over all for more than 70% of the total. As the originator of the software, this is not surprising, since the institution will have to make some effort to provide a basis for encouraging others to use that software.

Table 1: ePrint institutional archives in UK universities
YearWhite RoseSoton% of total DurhamBathUCLOpenSt.AndrewsOxfordNottinghamGlasgowTotal

For the rest, however, institutional archive appears not to have been a very great success (the English mastery of understatement is at play here). So what has happened to this movement? Clearly, with considerable motivation, Southampton is doing something right - but what? How is it encouraging participation from the academic staff? An examination of the Faculty contributions shows the following distribution:

Table 2: Distribution of items in the ePrint archive at Southampton University
Faculty or InstituteNo. of items% of total
Faculty of Engineering, Science and Mathematics 84443.8
Faculty of Law, Arts and Social Sciences-School of Education 633.3
Faculty of Law, Arts and Social Sciences-Other Schools 00.0
Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences 1849.5
Optoelectronics Research Centre 30.2
Southampton Oceanography Centre NERC 76339.6
Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute 683.5

The table seems to show a discipline effect, rather than an overall university policy - out of the 844 items contributed from the Faculty of Engineering, etc., 665 (79%) are from the School of Ocean & Earth Science, and the Southampton Oceanography Centre contributes another 763. There's no information that could tell us why academics in the earth and ocean sciences are so keen to contribute. The zero returns from the School of Humanities and the School of Social Sciences are rather telling - how are academics in these areas to be persuaded?

By any measure it can hardly be claimed that the concept of open archiving has taken off in British universities. One or two more may be using the D-Space software from MIT - Cambridge University, for example, is known to be doing so: the Website is there, but does not yet appear to be populated with papers. (Curiously the D-Space site at MIT seems not to provide a list of adopters—which seems rather silly; how can they expect to attract attention if the interested university librarian can only find the empty Cambridge site and the MIT site?) Other than that, we seem to have possibly thirteen or fourteen universities in the UK involved in archiving - 11% or 12% of the total.

And those institutions that are involved appear to be having difficulty in getting academics to contribute, perhaps because they are putting insufficient effort into the process, but also, perhaps, because the whole idea of self-archiving in institutional archives is based upon false assumptions about the behaviour of academic authors.

Academics publish and the problem with the concept of an archive is that it is generally perceived as a mode of preservation, not a mode of publishing. Archiving also depends upon the voluntary depositing of already published, or about to be published material, and virtually the only strategy I can imagine that would ensure that this happened would be to link promotion and salary increases to the percentage of an academic's research output that has been deposited in the university archive. However, I can't see the Association of University Teachers accepting that without a battle. With the self-archiving concept we have yet another example of methods that seek to change people's behaviour, rather than adopting methods that harmonize with that behaviour.

In any event universities, collectively, in any country, are strong enough to act as publishers—indeed, many of them do act as publishers and I am baffled by the failure of the Higher Education Funding Councils in the UK, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) of those Councils and university heads in general to grasp the opportunity for collective, open-access publishing that the Web offers. The scale of the effort needed, spread over more than 100 institutions would be achievable for virtually any field of research and their effort could be supported by the research councils, as a condition of making the award of a grant, requiring researchers to publish in, say, the relevant, open access, 'British Journal of...' , before they published anywhere else.

The possibility for national subsidies clearly exists, since the JISC is already providing grants to four publishers to encourage open access publishing: in three cases, the publishers will waive author charges, in the fourth UK authors will get a 50% discount on such charges. However, I do not believe that author charging is truly 'open access', since it simply moves the charge from the purchase of the paper to its submission. True open access requires free access and free submission.

For many other countries the publishing solution is even more appropriate than in the UK - in the universities of Central and Eastern Europe, for example, as well as those in the Spanish-speaking world, it is common for universities and individual Faculties to publish an annual or biannual journal issue. Collaboration among universities could bring about national journals in research fields relatively easily, since resources are already being used to subsidise the print journals. The exchange of these journals between universities has been a significant means of building up journal collections, but open access, electronic publishing would make such exchange unnecessary because, by definition, the publications would be available to all.

Will authors submit to free, open access journals? In the case of the CEE and Hispanic countries, why wouldn't they? They already submit their papers to small circulation, university-published journals, what difference would it make for those journals to be electronic? Indeed, more and more, they are electronic journals. Increasing numbers of researchers are perfectly willing to submit to Information Research, so why not to others. In any event a JISC survey associated with its open access policy has found that:

92% of all authors surveyed support the principle of open access for all readers. Secondly, of authors who have experienced an open access journal, 71% are more likely to do so again as a result of their experience.

One difficulty new, free open-access journals experience is the time it takes to acquire the reputation necessary for it to be listed in ISI's citation indexes: however, if journals were supported by national educational bodies, such as the Higher Education Funding Councils in the UK, and by the research councils and academies, it seems likely that they would be quickly listed.

The open access movement is seeing a number of partially conflicting models emerge: subsidised author charging, subsidised free journals, discipline archives and self-archiving. At present it seems that most effort is going into persuading publishers to adopt an open access strategy by subsidising submission charges, which leaves the system open to the same kind of abuse that we have seen over many years of outrageous levels of annual increase in subscription charges. What is to prevent publishers from raising author charges to whatever levels they wish? In my view, the only way to battle against this is to subsidise, support and promote the collaboratively published, genuinely open access, free journal. It fits author behaviour and it is not difficult to achieve—self-archiving, on the other hand, appears to be having problems.

How to cite this paper

Wilson, T.D. Open archives and open journals. , 10(1), 2004. 37-48 [Available at]

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