Interview with Professor Robert Darnton About Harvard's Open Access Mandates

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 28 Oct 2009 10:54:14 -0400

** Apologies for Cross-Posting **
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Professor Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and
Director of the University Library at Harvard has done a JISC podcast
interview about Harvard's historic success in achieving faculty
consensus on the adoption of an Open Access (OA) mandate in a number
of Harvard's faculties.

Professor Darnton's podcast is highly recommended. Just a few (minor)
points of clarification:

1. Public Access. Although worldwide public access to universities'
refereed research output is a desirable and welcome side-benefit of OA
and OA mandates, a lot of research is, as Prof. Darnton points out,
"esoteric," intended for and of direct interest only to specialists.
It is the scholarly and scientific progress that this maximized
peer-to-peer access makes possible that confers the primary public
benefit of OA. Pubic access and student/teacher are secondary bonuses.

2. NIH Compliance Rate. Prof. Darnton referred to the very low (4%)
rate of compliance with the NIH public access policy: That figure
refers to the compliance rate during the first two years, when the NIH
policy was merely a request and not a requirement. Once the NIH policy
was upgraded to a mandate, similar to Harvard's, the compliance rate
rose to 60% and is still climbing. (Achieving consensus on mandate
adoption and achieving compliance with mandate requirements are not
the same issue; nor is the question of which mandate to adopt.)

3. Covering Gold OA Publication Fees. As Prof. Darnton notes, the
Harvard mandate (a "Green OA" mandate to deposit authors' final drafts
of articles published in any journal, whether a conventional
subscription journal or a "Gold OA" journal) is about providing OA to
Harvard's research output today, not about converting journals to Gold
OA -- although Prof. Darnton anticipates that in perhaps a decade this
may happen too. He and Professor Stuart Shieber, the architect of
Harvard's successful consensus on adoption, both feel that it helps
win author consensus and compliance to reassure those authors who may
be worried about the future viability of their preferred journals, to
make some funds available to pay for Gold OA publication fees, should
that be necessary. (This policy is just fine for a university, like
Harvard, that has already mandated Green OA, but if Harvard's example
is to be followed, universities should make sure first to mandate
Green, rather than only offer to subsidize Gold pre-emptively.)

4. Journal Article Output vs. Book Output. The Harvard OA mandate
covers journal article output, not book output. It would of course be
a welcome outcome if eventually OA mandates made it possible for
universities to save money on journal subscriptions, which could then
be used to purchase books. But it must be clearly understood that not
only does the OA mandate not touch books, but the economics of book
publication are very different from the economics of journal
publication, so even an eventual universal transition to Gold OA
journal publication does not entail a transition to Gold OA book

5. Compliance Rate With Opt-Out Mandates. It is important to
understand also that the compliance rate for OA mandates with opt-out
options, like Harvard's, compared to no-opt-out mandates is not yet
known (or reported). (My own suggestion would still be that the best
model for an OA mandate is the Immediate-Deposit/Optional-Access
[ID/OA] mandate, which allows opt-out from OA, as the Harvard mandate
does, but not from immediate deposit itself; ID/OA allows the
institutional repository's "email eprint request" button to tide over
user access needs during any publisher embargo period by providing
"Almost OA" to Closed-Access deposits [what Prof. Darnton called
"dark" deposits] during any publisher embargo.)

6. Proxy Deposit By Journals. It is splendid that Harvard's Office for
Scholarly Communication is providing help and support for Harvard
authors in understanding and complying with Harvard's mandate,
including depositing papers on authors' behalf. I am not so sure it is
a good idea to encourage the option of having the journal do the
deposit by proxy on the author's behalf (after an embargo of its
choosing) as a means of complying with the mandate. Best keep that in
the hands of the author and his own institutional assigns...

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum
Received on Wed Oct 28 2009 - 14:58:22 GMT

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