Practicing what I preach: Here’s a paper I wrote for school about self-archiving

Given how much time I spent as a librarian advocating for open access to all kinds of scholarly content, including teaching and learning materials, it seems only fair that I should practice what I preach and share my own work. Last fall, as a part of the gateway seminar required of all first-year doctoral students in my program, I wrote a literature review about faculty self-archiving attitudes and behaviors. And now, with only some very minor edits for clarity and typos, I’m sharing that paper with you. I will note only that doing this is kind of scary, and resist smothering you in caveats.

Faculty self-archiving attitudes and behavior at research universities: A Literature Review

I learned a few valuable things from writing this review, and assuming that most people have no interest in reading a 25 page paper a new grad student wrote for a class, I’ve summarized them here.

Not much on this topic is peer reviewed

There is very little peer reviewed scholarship on faculty self-archiving attitudes and behavior. The assignment required us to use only peer reviewed articles, and that requirement proved to be a major constraint for me. Many of the larger studies on this question have been released as reports in the gray literature, and so I reluctantly left them out of this review. I’m not convinced this is a problem for anyone other than grad students with assignments limiting them to peer reviewed work, but I would posit that it says something about who is doing a lot of this research (not faculty) and for whom they are doing it (not faculty).

We know why people don’t self-archive, but not why they do

I found a solid consensus around the barriers to self-archiving, including copyright concerns, confusion about publisher policies, time constraints, fear of plagiarism, ignorance, and the belief that the work is already freely available in some form. However, there was little agreement around the reasons faculty do self archive. One researcher says disciplinary culture has a big impact, another says discipline has no effect. One researcher says altruism plays a role, another says faculty are purely self-interested. This is an area that is begging for more investigation.

Most self-archiving might really be mediated archiving

Multiple studies had results suggesting that much of the behavior we term “self-archiving” is actually mediated by librarians, administrative assistants, and automated processes. Faculty may be consenting to have their work deposited in institutional or disciplinary repositories, but the work of the deposit is handled by someone else. If this is the case, many purported barriers to self-archiving might not matter, while efforts to increase deposit rates may fruitlessly target faculty when they would be more successful if they focused on expanding mediated deposit services.

The impact of mandates is an open question

Mandates are the big new thing in open access advocacy, but they are almost completely unstudied. There are a tiny handful of scholarly articles that investigate the impact of mandates on improving deposit rates and expanding access. Given the rising number of open access mandates for both data and published research, it seems wasteful not to understand what is influencing compliance or non-compliance with the mandates already in place, in order to shape more effective policies in the future.

This question of mandates is where I plan to focus my research energy in the coming months. If anyone out there is already looking into it, I’d love to hear from you. I have some ideas for how to approach it, but they’re still nascent.

Defining Open Access. Again.

Next week is Open Access Week, and as has become my tradition, I will be traveling to another university (actually, two universities this year) to give presentations on copyright, scholarly publishing, Creative Commons and open access. This morning I ran into my former copyright professor. We got to chatting, he asked what I’ve been up to, and I mentioned my busy Open Access Week. My professor, as he is fond of doing, asked a good question.

“So, what does ‘Open Access’ mean when you talk about it?”

Flustered, I said something about how the organizers of international Open Access Week tend to focus on the classic definition and scope of OA, meaning peer-reviewed scholarly articles available for free online, preferably with open licenses attached. I also explained that the institutions I visit for Open Access Week tend not to have much expertise about copyright or publishing, and so rather than talk about Open Access what I actually do is teach a basic introduction to copyright and scholarly publishing. That’s all true, but it didn’t really do justice to the question. The definition of open access, and more importantly the public understanding of what open access means, was never terribly clear, but lately it seems to be getting fuzzier. That’s what my professor was really asking about.

As more and more open movements have sprouted and expanded over the last few years – open peer review, open education, open government – it gets harder and harder to tease them apart. Open means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and we can’t assume that a roomful of people who care about openness care about the same thing. Chances are they really really don’t.

Within the Open Access movement alone there are a growing number of tactics for achieving openness, not to mention a gradual loosening of the requirements for labeling something open. On the tactics front, we have the Compact for Open Publishing Equity, flourishing institutional repositories, deposit mandates from both funding bodies and research institutions, and good old fashioned outreach to faculty. As for loosening requirements, we have been conflating Open Access with Free Online Access for years. Things got even muddier when publishers like Springer and Elsevier started offering the “Open Choice” publishing option, which gives authors the “opportunity” to pay several thousand dollars to make their work freely available online. The other night a friend of mine mentioned that she and her co-authors were given several different options from their publisher, all confusing; she knew she wanted the one that would make their work free to everyone, but wasn’t confident she could identify which option would do that. She just told her co-author to look for the one that had open in the name, and hoped she was right. It’s all a far cry from the Budapest definition.

Is it bad, this watering down of Open Access? Certainly it makes it harder to talk about. It makes it harder to brand and market. But nobody owns open. That’s the whole point. Despite the fragmentation and confusion, ultimately I think it’s probably going to be better for the public and better for our future to have lots of people approaching the problem of how to improve access to knowledge and scholarly output from lots of different angles. Names and definitions are useful for raising awareness and building community, but the ultimate goal of the open access movement is to make itself and its definitions obsolete. If this movement succeeds eventually we won’t need to distinguish between open scholarship and closed scholarship. It will all be scholarship, and it will all be accessible.

Lessons from Open Access Week

As most of you already know, last week was Open Access Week at the University of Michigan Library. It was a great series of events, and I’m very happy with how it all came together. Audio recordings of some of the events will be available soon for those who are interested, and I’ll post links when they are. Private Drive by Ron Layters
Private Drive by Ron Layters, CC-BY-NC-SA

Now that I’ve had a little time to catch my breath and look back, I’m realizing that OA Week gave me a much-needed opportunity to refine and reflect on my thinking about open access. Over the course of the week, I learned a few valuable lessons, and even changed my mind about a couple of things. Before I forget it all, I wanted to share them here.

Lesson #1: A formal definition of open access should include re-use rights The Budapest, Bethesda, and Berlin definitions of open access all require not just free online access to the work for all users with an internet connection, but also a license that permits copying and redistribution of the work. Prior to Open Access Week, I believed that a definition of open access that required usage rights was sacrificing the good for the sake of the perfect, and that therefore all three of these founding documents were deeply flawed. In an environment where scholarly authors must often haggle mightily just to keep the right to deposit their articles in an institutional repository, such a requirement was asking too much. We shouldn’t disparage those who do the valuable and important work of promoting subject and institutional repositories just because in an ideal world we’d have something even better.

Discussions at the Open Access and the Academy panel have convinced me that the difference between a work that is freely available and a work that is freely reusable is tremendous, and that true openness does require the possibility of future adaptation and use. We can draw a distinction between free access and Open Access without demeaning those who have only been able to achieve free access. In very many situations, free access is enough.

There is also a broader Open with a capital O movement – Open Source, Open Education, Open Content – and those opens all require Open Licenses. As a child of the branded generation, I think it makes sense for all those Open movements to have a recognizable theme, and since Open Source, Open Education, and Open Content all call for Open Licenses, so should Open Access. (The question of which licenses constitute Open Licenses is another matter, one on which I tend to disagree with the majority.)

Lesson #2: Undergraduates have an important role to play in advocating for Open Access This is the second thing about which my mind has been changed. In the past, I have argued that Open Access outreach programs targeting students are misguided, because undergrads have nothing to do with any part of the publishing process. Most of them don’t write articles for academic journals, and they don’t publish academic journals. The points in the system where change could happen involved the author and the journal, and those were the two audiences to which we should be directing our message.

While nobody spoke directly about undergraduate engagement during OA Week, the week made me think about it because it reminded me that it’s damned hard to get faculty into a room they’re not contractually obligated to be in. Despite a determined marketing push, faculty did not turn out to our events in large numbers. The same is true in my day to day work. Most of the time, I only hear from faculty seeking copyright advice after they have a problem. Until they have a problem, author rights and open access are simply not on their radar. I can send postcards and emails and speak at department meetings until I’m blue in the face, but it’s going to take an outside force to convince busy academics that this is something they should be paying attention to. As evidenced by the faculties at Harvard, MIT, and elsewhere, the winds are starting to shift, but progress is still very slow.

So now imagine what a little undergraduate activism can do. The high cost of purchasing scholarly journals contributes to the rising cost of education, and the rising cost of education is a hot topic in these dire economic times. If we can get students riled up about open access – and that’s still a big if – they might have more luck influencing the behavior of their professors than librarians have. While before I thought that targeting students for open access outreach was a waste of time, now I believe it’s worth a shot. Some infrastructure for it already exists, and in the coming months I plan to look into how I can promote student participation here at Michigan.

Lesson #3: Never lose sight of the Great Conversation Jean-Claude Guédon, one of the panelists on Tuesday, spoke of the importance of open access in facilitating what he called “The Great Conversation.” The Great Conversation is the purpose of all scholarship. It signifies engagement with knowledge, ideas, and a worldwide community of scholars. To frame the issue this way, open access is not about money or fairness or social justice, it’s about something more romantic. Perhaps the way to win over the hearts and minds of faculty is to put open access in loftier, more idealistic terms. People who do not have access to scholarly output cannot participate in the Great Conversation, and neither can people whose works are not widely accessible. And who can resist the seduction of a Great Conversation, a free-flowing, boundary-crossing exchange of opinion and understanding?

We in libraries often get bogged down in the numbers, the line graphs that show the skyrocketing prices of journals relative to inflation, the mundanities of our stagnant or shrinking budgets. We believe these fiscal arguments should resonate with faculty, and sometimes they do, but there is nothing terribly inspiring about a line graph. When we talk about the importance of Open Access, we should remember to speak not only about what is broken right now, but also the tantalizing possibilities for the Great Conversation that lies ahead.

Open Access Week at the University of Michigan

I have been working with an excellent team of librarians here at Michigan to plan a week of events related to open access and the future of scholarship. We’re calling it Open Access Week. Clever, no?

It’s less than three weeks away, and as the schedule has come together I’m struck by how timely these events are, and how much we could conceivably do under the umbrella of discussing open access and the future of scholarship. When we started planning several months ago, I was concerned that a whole week might be too ambitious; I wasn’t sure how we would fill it. Now we’re starting to turn down proposals for events because there is so much going on already. The confluence of circumstances nationally has made this the perfect moment to discuss what’s wrong with existing modes of academic publishing, and to start getting aggressive about making change.

First we have the return of the dreadful Fair Copyright In Research Works Act, which is opposed by just about everyone except commercial publishers, including 33 Nobel Laureates in science. Then comes the word that together Elsevier and LexisNexis earned over $1.5 billion US in profit in 2008. For Elsevier that’s an adjusted operating margin — a profit — of 33%. While universities across the country are facing budget cuts of 20% or more, Elsevier brings in 33% profits, largely on the backs of university libraries. And economic news more broadly indicates that no library will escape unscathed. When Harvard starts laying off librarians and eliminating subscriptions, we’re all in trouble.

Now is the perfect time to get serious about adopting alternate modes of scholarly publishing, and Open Access models are serious alternatives. I’ll be the first to admit that we still haven’t figured out how to make OA work long term, or how to make it financially sustainable. We know it’s cheaper than Elsevier, but real costs remain. The more we experiment with new models, the better our chances that some of them will succeed. My hope is that our series of events during Open Access Week will help raise awareness among faculty and researchers here, and also build some energy for action and experimentation. I’d love to see an Open Access deposit mandate here at Michigan, or a commitment among faculty to edit and referee for OA journals. These ideas have been around for a long time, but this economic moment might be just what we need to push them forward. A recession is a terrible thing to waste.

NIH appears to be enforcing the Public Access Policy

One of the big questions that kept coming up about the NIH Public Access Policy was, “But how will they enforce it?”

The answer appears to be, “With gentle email reminders.”

A faculty member at the University of Michigan recently received this message (name and article titles removed to protect the grantee’s privacy):

Subject: Public Access Compliance

Dear Principal Investigator,

Your recent progress report/competing continuation submission identified papers that have resulted from your NIH award. It appears that the following papers have not yet been submitted for upload to PubMed Central and may be out of compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy:

[Article titles removed]

The NIH Public Access Policy requires scientists to submit final peer-reviewed manuscripts that result from direct costs funded by NIH, and that are accepted for publication on or after April 7, 2008, to the digital archive PubMed Central. Compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy is a legal requirement (Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-161, Division G, Title II, Section 218) and a term and condition of your award. If a grantee has failed to materially comply with the terms and conditions of award, NIH may suspend the grant, pending corrective action, or may terminate the grant for cause (per 45 CFR 74.61, 74.62, and 92.43).

You do not need to resubmit your progress report. Simply ensure the following:

1) If the manuscript(s) were accepted for publication on or after April 7, 2008, please enter these documents into PubMed Central as soon as possible. Information on how to submit manuscripts can be found at

2) Reply to all on to this email with confirmation that your manuscript(s) are in compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy. You can confirm compliance by including the PubMed Central reference number (PMCID) in the reply email. Please see this Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) FAQ.htm#c6 if you have questions about how to use PMCIDs, or this FAQ if the PMCID has not been assigned yet.

You should include the PMCID when citing these papers in any subsequent application, proposal or report. Please see Guide Notice NOT-OD-08-119 files/NOT-OD-08-119.html for more information and alternatives.

If you have any questions about the Policy, please check the NIH Public Access Website or send a note to You may also contact the NIH Program Official at the Institute to which your application has been assigned.

Making published research funded by NIH accessible to everyone, including health care providers, patients, educators and scientists, helps advance science and improve human health. We all have a role to play in this goal, and we appreciate your efforts to make the NIH Public Access Policy successful.


This is good news. It means they’re paying attention over there at the NIH, and also recognizing that this new grant requirement is confusing and researchers may require some additional guidance. I wonder what the second reminder will look like (not that anyone at UM would ever need one).