What’s the future for open access?

Friday, October 26th, 2018 | Richard White | No Comments

What next for open access? It’s been around since 2002 (if you use a particular statement as the starting point) or even earlier if you prefer to think about how some researchers realised the potential of the nascent Internet and started sharing papers.

It would be fair to say the ‘open access movement’ (for want of a better term) has achieved a lot less than early advocates hoped. Depending on how you define ‘open’ and who you listen to, as little as around 20% of the world’s research is freely available for anyone to access, reuse or build upon. This is not the Utopian dream of unfettered access to the world’s research that many envisaged when we developed the technology that would enable this. This is not the place to get into why this hasn’t happened other than to say that academic publishing is a complex ecosystem with a lot of interdependent organisms. Like many things, cost is a fundamental issue.

One very recent development that has caused much debate is the announcement of the rather Bond-villianesque ‘Plan S’. Eleven of Europe’s major research funders have collaborated to put out this plan — the S has been said to stand for science, speed, solution and shock — which will require, from 1 January 2020 no less, that any research outputs funded by these agencies be made freely available immediately. If you read yesterday’s post, you’d be interested to know that the ‘funders or the universities’ would cover the cost of publication. Researchers retain copyright but would be required to publish with an OA licence that allows reuse by others. Interestingly, hybrid journals are specifically non-compliant with this policy (i.e. a journal that is normally subscription-based, but you can pay to have your one article published OA, these often being accused of ‘double dipping’). One of the ten principles outlined in the plan emphasises that the funders are interested in, and will, support, the development of innovative platforms on which research could be hosted. The announcement has provoked praise and criticism in fairly equal measure but has been heralded, if nothing else, as a significant shift in attitude of funders, with Nature.com headlining it’s story ‘Radical open-access plan could spell end to journal subscriptions.’* Essentially, Plan S is saying to the publishing industry: you’re not doing enough and change has been too slow — and, as the people paying the bills, we’re taking matters into our own hands. It’s intentionally ambitious and contentious and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

* Don’t worry, it’s not a paywalled article on Nature.com.

‘Down the back of the chair’ — how to pay for OA (in New Zealand)

Thursday, October 25th, 2018 | Richard White | No Comments

Your paper’s been accepted for Nature Communications
Fin’ly your research career can hit the stratosphere
But hold your celebrations —
“APC six thousand bucks?!? That simply isn’t fair!”

But wait a mo’ — stay your dejection
We’ve found some dosh to spare
In the finance equivalent of
Down the back of the chair!

New Zealand researchers no doubt often look with envy at colleagues overseas, who are far more likely to have their publishing cost covered by their institution or their funder, since we don’t have mandates or policies set by our major funders or at a national level (yet), despite the government having a policy that covers its own work (the NZ Government Open Access Licensing (NZGOAL) Framework). So, a while back we asked researchers who had paid to have their work published in an open access publication how they had done so.(1)

As mentioned in the first post for OA week, making your work freely available doesn’t have to cost you money, given that there are free OA journals and that in other cases pre-publication versions can be easily shared in certain ways. However, if your publication venue of choice is OA-only and charges a fee you’re left with no choice but to look elsewhere or in many cases, as is clear from the chart above, find the money ‘down the back of the [research budget] chair.’ Only 16 of 191 respondents to this question (13%) had funding that specifically covered the cost of paid-OA. It should be of concern to researchers, the University, funders, the government and, indeed, publishers that the economics of OA can affect people’s decision-making and even prevent them from publishing in the best journal for their research.

As things stand in New Zealand, the key point for researchers is that if it’s likely that a paid-OA publication will be the best place for your research then this potential cost should be part of your planning. Don’t submit and then, after acceptance, work out how you’ll pay. There are things you can do: investigate a publisher’s waiver policy or ask them for consideration of other work you do for them.(2)  Are any of your co-authors in a position to help? (Note too that to qualify for a waiver journals will likely require that you apply for this at the time of submission.) If all else fails and you really want your work freely available then finding an equivalent closed journal and making a pre-publication version of your work freely available may be the best option.

The very bad poem at the top of this post was inspired by Margaret Mahy’s classic ‘Down the back of the chair’ — available here to read but better in book form with Polly Dunbar’s wonderful illustrations.


(1) White, R., & Remy, M. (2016). University of Otago Open Access Publishing Survey Results: p. 18. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10523/6947

(2) Our research also found that 36% of our authors had their fee waived for one reason or another (White, R., & Remy, M. (2016) p. 17).

Who controls our stuff? or: Equitable foundations for open knowledge (OA Week 2018)

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018 | Richard White | 4 Comments

A lot of our researchers put their work on ResearchGate, Academia.edu, their own web spaces or wherever. It’s perfectly understandable: these are easy ways to get your work online for interested people to be able to read and RG or Academia are great for networking, especially if your work is in a paywalled journal and your discipline is one with a high degree of public or professional interest. But for those of us who support and advocate for open access doing these things make us deeply uncomfortable. Let me explain why.

The overall theme for OA week 2018 is designing equitable foundations for open knowledge. Recent years have seen the acquisition by large commercial interests of a number of services or systems that had been dedicated to the open dissemination and preservation of the work we do. Other popular services, like ResearchGate or Academia.edu, while independent, are commercial operations, ultimately responsible to their shareholders, i.e. their interest in keeping your work online (or whatever service they provide) will last only as long as it’s in their interests to do so. Could it be bought out, like the Social Sciences Research Network or the repository software bepress? Does it have legal headaches? Can work you’ve uploaded be removed without your knowledge? This is what makes us uncomfortable: it seems like it’s part of the infrastructure supporting the scholarly community but the community has no control over or input into it. By all means use services that are useful to you but recognise what they do and don’t do.

These recent developments have mirrored the path followed by academic publishing during the 90s and 00s, where, with the advent of the web we saw the gradual acquisition of smaller and society publishers to the extent that it has been estimated that the ‘big 5’ academic publishers control over 50% of the research papers published per year. In part, of course, this shift was one of the key reasons for the birth of the OA movement in the early 00s as the academic community lost control of its own research outputs. These developments have even prompted some funders, like Wellcome or the Gates Foundation, to eschew traditional publishing and develop their own platforms to host research outputs and data, essentially because they found academic publishers weren’t able to meet the requirements for openness and public dissemination required of the researchers they funded.

Basically we’re in the middle of the next battle of the ‘walled garden’ (login required!) versus ‘community garden’. Hence this year’s rather technical and unsexy theme about infrastructure.

We do have, for example, non-profit repositories hosted by research institutions, such as Otago’s as OUR Archive, which staff can utilise to host their work (it’s not just for student theses!). These repositories provide a stable, long-term place for your work that is visible (i.e. search engines love repositories), accessible and measurable. OUR Archive (and others) is built on open source code so even a buyout of a parent company means the code is able to continue to be used regardless.

These examples are to highlight the theme for OA week: it might be unsexy but we need policies, licences, systems and software that work together and are not just for ‘now’ but offer a long-term, sustainable means of support for scholarly communication over which the academic community has some control or influence.

Richard White is the Manager, Copyright and Open Access at the University of Otago.

One of a series of posts for Open Access week 2018. The comments can be used below for discussion or debate. Otago staff can refer to our Open Access Policy and associated Guidelines.

Open access myths – how about some evidence?

Monday, October 22nd, 2018 | Richard White | No Comments

Many people (people who should know better) still rely on anecdotal evidence to form their opinions about open access. While academic publishing is complex — and the situation we find ourselves in is far from ideal and changes every day — we still hear a lot of things about open access that should be examined with a more critical eye.

Publishing open access benefits others but not the author

It’s not difficult to imagine that you’ll get increased reads and downloads of your research outputs if people can do those things but increasingly research also shows a clear citation advantage for work that can be accessed by anybody who wants to. A recent large-scale study(1) estimates 18% more citations on average than ‘closed’ research. So, although there can be a financial cost to the author’s institution or research project (not actually the author in most cases(2)) there are clear benefits here too.

The only way to make my work open access is to pay to publish

Not true. There are a lot of good, free OA journals (see the next myth) but, even if the journal you really want to publish in is subscription-only, most journals now allow you to post pre-publication versions of your work in stable, non-commercial places like our OUR Archive, our institutional research repository.(3) This is increasingly true when writing book chapters too. Come to a workshop if you want to understand your rights as an author to use your own work in the ways you want to.

Most OA journals charge fees

Actually the opposite is true. The Directory of Open Access journals currently lists 9441 English-language journals, with 6485 (69%) of those free to publish in. It is true that the more prestigious an OA journal is the more likely it will be to charge the author(s) a fee and the higher that fee will be and this can mean you can’t publish in your journal of choice. But it’s worth noting that, even for journals that normally charge, in research done here at Otago in 2016, 36% of survey respondents indicated that an OA journal waived their fee for one reason or another.(4)

OA journals are lower quality

This old chestnut. Yes there are a lot of poor journals that happen to use author fees to fund their operation and don’t provide any value in terms of review or editorial input. But don’t confuse open access journals with predatory journals — those that send you those phishing emails every day. There are plenty of good OA journals, just as there are poor quality non-OA journals. Quality is a product of the work of editors, reviewers and authors and has nothing to do with the business model a journal uses. When you’re considering *any* publication venue you’re not sure about: check with colleagues, look at/assess their editorial or review practices, find out if they are members of recognised quality evaluation mechanisms like the Committee on Publication Ethics. Thinkchecksubmit.org provides a useful checklist of things to consider.

Richard White is the Manager, Copyright and Open Access at the University of Otago.

This is the first in a series of posts for Open Access week. The comments can be used below for discussion or debate. Otago staff can refer to our Open Access Policy and associated Guidelines.


(1) Piwowar H, Priem J, Larivière V, Alperin JP, Matthias L, Norlander B, Farley A, West J, Haustein S. (2018The state of OA: a large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access articlesPeerJ 6:e4375 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4375

(2) One older large-scale study from 2011 found that 12% of researchers used their own money to fund an open access publication (Dallmeier-Tiessen et al. (2011) Highlights from the SOAP project survey. What Scientists Think about Open Access Publishing. arXiv:1101.5260v2 p. 9); at Otago we found, in 2016, this to be 6% (White, R., & Remy, M. (2016). University of Otago Open Access Publishing Survey Results: p. 18. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10523/6947)

(3) See examples of such policies at Elsevier, Wiley and Springer, which all allow some form of making a pre-publication version of your work available.

(4) White and Remy (2016) p. 18.

Open access week 2018, 22-28 October

Wednesday, October 17th, 2018 | Richard White | 2 Comments

Next week is open access week around the world, a good time for us to consider our roles as thinkers, critics and scholars and, within that context, how accessible our work is to other scholars and the society we are here to act as the critic and conscience of. In the words of the University’s own policy “open access serves both the public good, in line with Otago’s commitment to social responsibility, and the University’s interests in maximising the potential impact of our scholarship.” (Open Access Policy, General Principles 1 (a).)

Each day next week we’ll be mailing, Yammering, tweeting or posting an OA tidbit to digest and reflect on these things. Get involved with the following events, including (yes! you better believe it) a movie about paywalls.

Upcoming OA-related Events

Upload-A-Thon: research outputs & institutional repositories

Friday, November 18th, 2016 | Briar Ballard | No Comments

By: Alexander Ritchie


On Wednesday 23 November the University of Otago Library will be hosting the first OUR Archive Uploadathon. This drop-in event will be held in Central Library Seminar Room 3 between 9am – 4pm as the final part of the Library’s Maximise your Research Impact series.

The aim is for academic staff from all disciplines to deposit their Otago research into OUR Archive, and librarians will be on hand to guide staff through the process of uploading key details and the research outputs (where publishing agreements allow). Anyone interested in coming along on the day is strongly encouraged to create an OUR Archive account in advance.

What exactly is an ‘Uploadathon’?

Uploadathon is one of those Frankenwords, a combining of upload(ing) and marathon, and is one of many civic-minded –thons, like New Zealand’s fundraising Telethons of the late 70s through to the early 90s. Uploadathons are more about raising research profile than money though, and bring academics together with librarians to deposit their research into institutional repositories in order to make the work both more visible, and easier for funders, research participant communities, and members of the public to access.

What is an Institutional Repository?

For those that don’t know, an institutional repository (IR) is an online collection of research produced by scholars at a particular institution. At the University of Otago, this is OUR Archive, and it includes not only theses and journal articles, but also grey literature and conference papers and posters. Together with the related disciplinary repositories, such as arXiv in Physics and Mathematics, institutional repositories are synonymous with Green Open Access publishing, where scholars self-archive their work, having obtained any necessary permissions from the publisher and any co-authors.

 Why Would I Choose to Use One?

Dr Janet Stephenson makes a succinct and compelling case for the benefits of OUR Archive for the Centre for Sustainability in this short video interview – https://unitube.otago.ac.nz/view?m=oxRH9u8Os3U – but if you need more convincing, here are five reasons why uploading research to OUR Archive makes good sense:

  1. Visibility

Research is easier to find as search engines such as Google Scholar, and Aotearoa-based aggregators such as Digital NZ and NZResearch, harvest the metadata directly from the repository. Depositing work into OUR Archive and linking to that work from profiles on ResearchGate or Academia.edu can move research outputs higher in search engine results lists.

  1. (Open) Access

Institutional repositories are a way to enable public access to research. Self-archiving post- or pre-print versions of accepted research outputs is well established within certain sciences, and it not only broadens the availability of scholarly work, but helps ensure accountability to research participants, interested communities, and funders.  Most scholarly publishers allow archiving of a post- or pre-print of a published article, but do check the SHERPA/RoMEO site if you are unsure about your situation.

  1. Stability

OUR Archive uses the Handle system to provide a stable URL, the digital equivalent of a permanent address for your research in the shifting sands of the digital realm. This is particularly important for grey literature, and outputs like conference posters, where ongoing access can be difficult to maintain.

  1. Citing and Counting

Research within both the Natural and Social Sciences, such as this 2010 article from Gargouri et al. and this 2015 piece from Atchison and Bull suggest that there is a measureable citation advantage through making your work openly available. OUR Archive also provides individual page view and download counts for all deposited outputs.

  1. Open Sourced and Locally Supported

OUR Archive uses the open source repository software DSpace, and the Library has local support staff who manage the repository and troubleshoot any issues that arise. This means timely responses to queries, and help when something goes wrong.

The Library continues to develop the OUR Archive platform and interface and wants to hear how we can improve it, so please drop us a line @ https://ourarchive.otago.ac.nz/feedback.

OUR Archive Uploadathon | Wednesday 23rd November 2016 | Drop In Event 9am4pm | Central Library Seminar Room 3

We look forward to seeing you there!

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Shiobhan Smith for her very useful report on OUR Archive which was invaluable in structuring this post.

Open Access Week 2016 – take action

Monday, October 24th, 2016 | Richard White | No Comments

The theme for this year’s Open Access Week is “Open in Action.” OpenAccessWeek.org has published a list (where you can even tick boxes and submit a form to put your commitment to yourself in writing) of things you can do:

  • Start a conversation about Open Access during a research group meeting, journal club, or staff meeting.
  • Send at least one manuscript to an open-access journal within the next year.
  • Deposit at least one of my articles into an open-access repository during Open Access Week and encourage colleagues to do the same.
  • Use the SPARC author addendum on my next publication to reserve rights to make a copy of my work publicly accessible.
  • Contribute to a conversation on campus about institutional support for Open Access.
  • Sign the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment and commit to not using journal-based metrics in evaluation.
  • Sign up for Impactstory to explore the online impact of your research and get an ORCID.

(Text from the bullet points used under a a CC-BY licence from http://www.action.openaccessweek.org/)

How to tell a ‘good’ Open Access journal

Sunday, September 18th, 2016 | Richard White | No Comments

Interested in an OA journal but not sure of its quality?

Erstwhile Otago colleague, now of the University of Canterbury, Anton Angelo has published a useful checklist to help determine the quality of an OA journal. Note that this is not to check the journal’s contribution to the discipline but rather its publishing and editorial practices.

(Copyright nerd note: I could just copy Anton’s post here, as he uses a CC BY licence, but linking to his page is good ‘internet etiquette’ in that he will see the use of his material if you go to his site.)

SciHub: academic publishing’s ‘Napster moment’?

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016 | Richard White | No Comments

Sci-Hub, the massive online repository of 50 million academic papers, chapters and books, was set up by a postgraduate student from Kazakhstan in 2011. Alexandra Elbakyan has said she her goal was to provide free access to research for people like herself for whom access was not provided by her institution and too expensive to pay for each article she needed for her PhD. She used login details of others (she claims provided willingly) to gain access to pay-walled research databases and add documents to the site, which, despite the name, includes non-scientific literature as well. Depending on your perspective, she’s either a Robin Hood providing access to the poor or a copyright pirate on a massive scale. Certainly what she has done is illegal — and she is being sued by Elsevier — but Sci-Hub’s existence and the widespread use that’s being made of it by people around the world says much about the state of scholarly communication and open access to knowledge.

If you don’t know what Sci-Hub is, think of a Google-style search box, where you type in an article title or other identifying information and, presto, the research you want appears in PDF format. No pesky institutional usernames/passwords, multiple-clicks inside learning management systems or searching different databases. It’s all there in one place. Try out a couple of article titles and you’ll likely find the work. If you get an exact match (e.g. using a DOI, a digital object identifier), it will appear immediately without even a the inconvenience of a search results page.

John Bohannon has published a fascinating piece in Science analysing data he obtained from Elbakyan herself. For one thing, he says, Sci-Hub is effectively “the world’s de facto open-access research library.” What he really means is “free access,” since open access implies a licence that allows reuse, but the point is well made. He obtained data from Elbakyan covering 6-months of use of the site: a staggering 28 million hits were recorded in that period. There is location information in the dataset too, which, while not necessarily 100% reliable, shows use not only across the globe but, interestingly, clustered around locations where people are likely to have access through an institutional subscription to the legitimate source. This suggests Sci-Hub is not only used by people who don’t have access and can’t afford to pay but also by those who just find it more convenient than conventional means. Check out the data in Bohannon’s piece, which has an interactive map (made possible by open software and data I should point out). There has been just under a couple of hundred accesses by people in the Dunedin area. Someone in Timaru has been reading Museum perceptions and productions: American migrations of a Maori hei-tiki. I didn’t even know there was a place called Mayfield on the Canterbury plains but there are 33 hits recorded for that location and at least one person is apparently interested in engineering and minimum design loads for buildings and other structures. This could be someone studying or teaching engineering, who might have legal access to such research, but equally it could be a private citizen who has a Cantabrian’s interest in things affected by seismic activity.

Will Sci-Hub be the ‘Napster moment’ for academic publishing, a development that challenges the established model to the extent that it is forced to change as the music and other industries have? Some long-time open access commentators hope it will, such as Peter Murray-Rust, who has written a three-part opinion piece on why Sci-Hub matters (part 1 here). The law is on the side of rights holders like Elsevier but then it was on the side of the music industry, which may have beaten Napster in court but was nevertheless forced to change its model by consumer demand.


Any views or opinion represented in this site belong solely to the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Otago. Any view or opinion represented in the comments are personal and are those of the respective commentator/contributor to this site.