The Mandate of Open Access Institutional Repository Managers

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 29 Jul 2010 16:50:51 -0400

Hyperlinked version of this posting:


SUMMARY: Open Access (OA) Institutional Repository (IR) managers need to remind themselves that their mandate is to see to it that their IRs are filled with OA's target content (peer-reviewed research journal articles) so as to maximize the accessibility, visibility, usage and impact of their institution's research output. Their mandate is not to seek or provide alternative "business models" for journal publishing.

In a UKSG Serials News posting -- "Are we nearly there yet? On the road to open access" -- Graham Stone [GS], Repository Manager, University of Huddersfield and Chair, UK Council of Research Repositories (UKCoRR) wrote:

> GS: "Not too long ago, I took a phone call from an academic colleague from the Health Sciences regarding the submission of an article to Biomed Central. [The colleague] phoned me as I am the 'Repository guy' and [the colleague was] learning to play the 'Repository game', that is getting their work out there on open access and increasing their citations. [The colleague was] very impressed that so many people downloaded their last paper within days of it appearing in the Repository."

This upbeat-sounding paragraph is unfortunately a series of (familiar) misunderstandings and non-sequiturs about Open Access (OA) and Institutional Repositories (IRs):

(1) Biomed Central (BMC) is a gold OA (pay-to-publish) journal publisher.

(2) Publishing in a BMC journal has nothing to do with depositing an article in "the Repository."

Which Repository -- Huddersfield's? You don't need to publish in a pay-to-publish gold OA journal in order to deposit in a green OA Institutional Repository (IR) like Huddersfield's, nor in order to benefit from the increased downloads and citations that OA makes possible. All you do is publish in whatever journal you publish in, and deposit the final refereed draft in your OA IR as soon as it is accepted for publication.

Or was the deposit in PubMed Central (PMC, not BMC)? Likewise no payment required (but what does deposit in that institution-external repository have to do with U. Huddersfield's IR, or its IR manager?).

(3) There is no "Repository game". There is just the research and publication game.

(Providing OA maximizes research access, usage and impact, and OA can be provided in two ways. I. "Gold OA": by publishing in an OA journal (of which the major ones require payment to publish); or II. "Green OA": by publishing in any journal at all -- whether subscription-based or OA -- and also depositing the final draft in your OA IR: no payment required. The "game" is merely ensuring that all potential users have online access to your published articles, not just those whose institutions can afford to subscribe to the journal in which it happened to be published.)

> GS: "It struck me as very interesting that to [this colleague], the next stage of the 'game' was to consider switching from green to gold open access - providing someone would pay of course!"

The colleague sounds like a researcher who has just deposited an article for the first time in an OA repository (perhaps PMC, though it should have been Huddersfield's IR), and not a researcher who has just paid BMC for gold OA publication (otherwise the colleague would know who was paying!).

Something has definitely been garbled here...

> GS: "This is not the first time that this topic has come up in conversation in the past few weeks. At the recent LIBER conference at Aarhus University in Denmark discussion over dinner turned to open access. One comment from a colleague was that green open access could not be successful in the long run as this was a compromise, and 'compromises never work'."

How is providing OA to one's published article by depositing it in one's IR a "compromise"?

A compromise of what, with what, for whom?

Depositing an article in an IR consists of a few minutes' worth of keystrokes that maximize the access, usage and impact of one's article.

But perhaps the LIBER discussion was not among (1) researchers, discussing the problem of how to "get their work out there on open access and increase their citations" rather than continue to allow access to it to be restricted only to those researchers whose institutions can afford to pay for subscription access to the journal in which it happens to be published...

Perhaps the LIBER discussion was instead among (2) librarians, discussing the problem of how to afford to pay for subscription access?

Or perhaps the LIBER discussion was among (3) publishers, discussing the problem of how to guarantee current subscription revenue streams in a growing climate of demand for open access on the part of researchers, their institutions, their funders, and the tax-paying public that funds the research?

To repeat: In what sense is green OA self-archiving a "compromise"?

A compromise of what, with what, for whom?

Is a university repository manager a representative of the immediate interests of the university's researchers (and their institutions, funders, and the tax-paying public that funds the research), or of the interests of publishers and their present and future business models?

If librarians are to fulfill the role of repository managers, they need to re-think what they are doing, and why, and what it is that researchers and research need in the OA era.

An OA IR is not a buy-in collection of journal subscriptions: It is a give-away provision of access to an institution's published journal articles.

An OA IR manager is not a serials librarian, nor someone appointed to direct or second-guess the future course of serials publishing.

An OA IR manager is someone appointed to make sure the university's OA IR is filled with its primary target content: the university's published journal article output.

"UKCoRR has a vision of the work of repository management as a professionally recognised and supported role within UK research institutions." -- What is that "professionally recognised and supported role" if it is not filling their institution's repository with its intended content?

> GS: "The road to open access is covered in gold and this is the way forward."

The way forward for whom? And according to whom? And in the interests of what?

Researchers can be mandated to provide green OA for their published work. (Without mandates, only about 20% or articles are self-archived.)

And funds -- if any are available -- can be provided to pay for gold OA.

But publishers cannot be mandated to provide gold OA.

And the funds to pay for gold OA cannot be mandated while they are still tied up in paying for subscriptions (and while the asking price for gold OA is designed to preserve publishers' current revenue streams and modus operandi, come what may).

The road to green OA is wide open, and traversing it is entirely in the hands of researchers (and their institutions and funders).

The road to gold OA is not wide open; it costs money, and it is in the hands of publishers, not researchers. And the potential money to pay for gold OA is currently tied up in institutions' subscription fees, which are being paid to publishers, by institutions' libraries.

So how is the road to OA covered with gold, and how is it the way forward?

And what has this to do with the research repository manager's "professionally recognised and supported role within UK research institutions"?

> GS: "A few days earlier, Kurt de Belder from Leiden University in the Netherlands had laid out his vision of the future, which assumed that open access would be via the gold route and if Repositories existed, they would only contain grey literature."

Kurt de Melder is the director of Leiden University's library (and an advisor to several publishers). Does his golden vision (like the green vision) include a practical means (like the green vision's mandates) of getting us from here to there? Or is it all just a golden wish, waiting passively (apart from any spare money being spent on pre-emptive gold OA payments) for publishers to convert to gold and release everyone's subscription money (for incoming journals) to pay their asking price for gold OA (for outgoing articles)?

And while the institution's library keeps waiting for this to happen directly, of its own accord, is the access, usage and impact of the institution's research output to continue to be denied to all but subscribing institutions, as it is today, while institutions' IRs (which already exist, by the way) are devoted instead to "grey literature" (whatever that means) instead of to refereed research (green OA)?

And meanwhile, visions aside, those who have their eyes wide open cannot help but notice that IRs (which already do exist, remember) do contain green content (20%) rather than just grey content, and that green deposit mandates can and do drive up the percentage green from the baseline 20% to 60%, and approaching 100% within a few years.

What's missing, and needed (for those with eyes wide open to see) is more green OA mandates from institutions and funders -- not armchair or dinner-table visions of the future of publishing, evoked in the thrall of pre-emptive gold fever (with no critical reflection on or answerability to practical means and ends).

That, perhaps (rather than gold fever), would come closer to a substantive "vision of the work of repository management as a professionally recognised and supported role within UK research institutions."

> GS: "Personally, and not as Chair of UKCoRR (UK Council of Research Repositories), I must admit that I am starting to agree with the gold only route, although I'm not sure I should."

If the Chair of UK's Council of Research Repositories is starting to agree (whether personally or ex officio) with the gold-only route, then perhaps it is time for the Chair to think of resigning, and allowing UKCoRR's direction to be set by those who understand the needs of research and researchers, the power of green OA IRs, and the urgent need for Green OA mandates.

Surely there is a "UK Council of Publishing Business Models" that could be joined instead, by those who have become afflicted with gold fever, forgetting about research and researchers' urgent immediate need for OA, and IRs' mission to provide it.

> GS: "I have been espousing the virtues of green open access for nearly five years. At Huddersfield we have 26% full text in the Repository despite not yet having a mandate and our full text downloads are really taking off - 46,000 in the last 12 months."

If that 26% is 26% of Huddersfield's current yearly research output, then that deposit rate is somewhat above the global spontaneous (i.e., unmandated) baseline deposit rate of about 20%, but it is a far cry from what the deposit rate would be if Huddersfield were to adopt a mandate.

A repository manager espousing the interests of Huddersfield's researchers should be espousing the virtues of green OA mandates to Huddersfield's researchers and administration, not just the virtues of providing green OA spontaneously (although that is, of course, welcome too).

Well over five years' consistent experience (and surveys) worldwide have shown that most researchers will not deposit spontaneously but they will deposit (willingly) if deposit is mandated. In the past few years, it is not spontaneous deposit rates that have been picking up, but the rate of adoption of deposit mandates, and the resulting green OA.

This is not the time for repository managers to succumb to gold fever (which leads next to nowhere, and is not even part of their remit), resigning their IRs to warehousing "grey literature."

> GS: "However, for some time I have had my doubts as to whether the championing of green open access was actually taking us down the right road. I could see that gold open access was a good business model. "

If we all commit to deposit, we don't need green OA self-archiving mandates.

But we don't all commit to deposit, even though it costs nothing. Only about 20% commit unmandated (26% at Huddersfield, perhaps because the IR manager has for five years espoused the virtues of spontaneous deposit so persuasively).

But even fewer commit to gold OA, because it costs money, because most of the top journals don't offer it, and because the money to pay for it is still tied up in paying for subscriptions.

And there are no mandates to require researchers to pay for gold OA, nor to release the subscription money, nor to dictate publishers' business model or modus operandi, nor to set their asking price.

Besides, none of that is within an OA IR manager's remit. It has nothing to do with "the work of repository management as a professionally recognised and supported role within UK research institutions."

An OA IR manager is supposed to get his IR filled with OA's target content, and that target content is supposed to be, first and foremost, peer-reviewed journal articles, most of which are today still being published in subscription journals.

What needs to be championed by IR managers (and a fortiori, by the Chair of the UK Council of Research Repositories), and championed for their researchers and their institutions, are the virtues of green OA mandates that will fill their IRs -- not the virtues of "good business models," championed for publishers, by librarians. (You don't need to be a "professional and supported" IR manager to go down that road.)

And those who are indeed committed to championing green OA mandates worldwide are beginning to win them.

> GS: "The trouble to me is that the [gold OA] model only really works if we all commit. Otherwise, you end up paying twice, once for the open access article and once for the journal subscription. I just didn't see how we arrived at this brave new world of gold open access journals, no serials budgets and stuff in the cloud."

Yes, that's indeed the size of it: "The [gold OA] model only really works if we all commit. Otherwise, you end up paying twice, once for the open access article and once for the journal subscription."

Trying to go directly from the status quo to gold OA is quite simply self-contradictory, like an Escher drawing of an impossible shape:

Institutional subscription access tolls are paid per incoming journal; individual OA publication fees are paid per outgoing article. The money to pay for gold OA fees is tied up in subscription tolls. But institutions cannot cancel their journal subscriptions unless the journals' contents are accessible to their users otherwise. Institutions are not necessarily even subscribing annually, for their users, to the same journals in which their researchers are occasionally publishing. Catch 22.

(And, as Graham notes, anyone foolish and gullible enough to believe hybrid gold publishers (the ones who charge both subscription tolls + optional gold OA fees) when they say they will reduce subscription tolls proportionately as gold OA fee revenues increase is forgetting that this requires institutions to find the money to pay the gold asking price first, while it is still being spent on the subscriptions! A good "business model" indeed…)

(By the way, the somewhat uneven distribution of wealth on the planet can also be fixed "if we all commit." That's not just gold fever, it's the Golden Rule -- but alas far too few in our gene pool are committed to practising it...)

> GS: "But maybe I can see how we get to gold open access now? With researchers taking ownership of the 'game' by realising that gold open access is the only way to ensure access for all and increased citations, maybe we are on the right road after all?"

Researchers "taking ownership of the 'game'"? by "reaising that gold OA is the only way"?

The self-contradiction on the road to there from here is resolved by "realisation"? By researchers? (The same researchers for whom the only thing they need to do to provide OA is a few keystrokes? And they're not even "committed" enough to do those keystrokes, unless they are first mandated by their institutions or funders?)

What does this vision envision that researchers are to do with this newfound golden realisation of theirs? The same thing 34,000 of them did (unsuccessfully) back in 2000? Sign a petition to boycott their journals if they don't go OA?

And if researchers were really that committed to "ensuring access for all and increased citations," wouldn't it be simpler than making empty threats against all their publishers just to petition their one and only institution to mandate deposit?

Better still, if their realisation about "the only way" were that profound, wouldn't researchers just go ahead and do the keystrokes to deposit of their own accord, unmandated, in order to "ensure access for all, and increased citations"?

And would it not be a remarkable coincidence it it turned out that the most pressing thing on researchers' minds was not, in fact, the access and impact of their work (which they can already maximize with a few green keystrokes), but a "good business model" for their publishers and their long-suffering librarians?

A remarkable coincidence that what researchers had been yearning for all along turned out (upon "realisation") to be exactly the same thing their librarians had been yearning for -- which was not the filling of their OA IRs but relief from the serials crisis?

> GS: "And maybe, instead of the superfast highway to gold open access that some envisage, are we travelling down the leafy lane of green open access with gold just around the next corner? A bit round the houses, but yes we are certainly getting there."

The super-fast highway to gold OA? Amidst all this "realisation," I don't recall hearing the game plan for solving the problem of the toll booths posted along the ubiquitous subscription highways -- the ones that are currently gobbling up institutions' serial budgets (i.e., the funds that would be used instead to pay for gold OA)...

But it is true that green OA, once it becomes universal, may eventually get us to gold OA too -- if universal availability of green eventually causes universal cancellations, forcing journals to cut costs, downsize, and convert to gold OA, thereby releasing the windfall subscription savings to pay the reduced cost of gold OA (peer review alone, with the print and online editions gone, and all access-provision and archiving offloaded onto the worldwide network of OA IRs).

But that's not around the next corner, at 20% green OA.

And we are certainly getting ahead of ourselves, if we don't provide the universal green OA first -- for that's what any eventual subscription cancellation windfall is dependent upon. The cancellations can't be done pre-emptively. Certainly not by a single institution, or IR manager -- not even the Chair of the UK Council of Research Repositories. That would require universal institutional subscription cancellations, and all at once (not one institution or country at a time -- otherwise the researchers of that institution or country, instead of gaining open access, lose subscription access altogether).

My recommendation to OA IR managers who envision "the work of repository management as a professionally recognised and supported role within UK research institutions" would be to focus on their own mandate, which is to fill their own institution's IRs, not to dream about business models that are as good as gold.

And the way to get their OA IRs filled is already known: It is by getting their institutions to mandate green OA. (No one connected in any way with OA IRs has a more "professionally recognised and supported role within [their] research institutions" then Southampton's Les Carr and Harvard's Stuart Shieber, the architects of their respective institutions' green OA mandates (Southampton's being the first and Harvard's the most famous). It's not too late for Huddersfield -- or Nottingham, or the rest of the 17,000 universities that have not yet adopted a mandate.

That's all. And that's enough. Mandate green OA for your institution and rest will take care of itself, in its own time. But meanwhile your institution's researchers will "ensure access for all, and increased citations."

That, after all -- not "a good business model" -- is the purpose of OA, and hence the mandate of OA IR managers.

See "Waiting for Gold"
(from the 2002 BOAI Self-Archiving FAQ).

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum
Received on Thu Jul 29 2010 - 21:51:11 BST

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