On “Optimizing Open Access Policy,” by Stevan Harnad

On “Optimizing Open Access Policy,” by Stevan Harnad

Stevan Harnad, in the article “Optimizing Open Access Policy,” makes the case for universal open access by route of mandated Green Open Access (OA), that is, of universities and funding agencies requiring that all researchers submit their work to institutional repositories. He argues that the current state of Gold OA is still not a sustainable option for universities, as they are now paying article processing charges (APCs) for authors as well as maintaining their subscriptions to journals. This system has perpetuated the double-paying that is rampant for non-OA publications, and which has contributed largely to the serials crises. Now, institutions pay author salaries (with the expectation of publication), and then pay to access publications via journal subscriptions. Harnad contests that once Green OA is implemented, subscriptions will become obsolete and Gold OA will become feasible. For the time being, it continues to drain institutional budgets.

For Harnad, the mandating of Green OA is key. He offers a list of 8 important features for a successful institutional repository mandate:

  1. All research funding agency OA Mandates need to specify clearly and explicitly that the deposit of each article must be in the author’s institutional repository (so the universities and research institutions can monitor their own output and ensure compliance as well as adopt mandates of their own for their unfunded research output).
  2. All mandates should specify that the deposit (of the authors refereed, revised, accepted final draft) must be done immediately upon acceptance for publication (not on the date of publication, which is often much later, variable, not known to the author, and frequently does not even correspond to the journal issue’s published date of publication, if there is one). The date of the acceptance letter should be a mandatory field when depositing.
  3. All mandates should urge (but not require) authors to make their immediate-deposit immediately-OA.
  4. All mandates should urge (but not require) authors to reserve the right to make their papers immediately-OA (and other re-use rights) in their con- tracts with their publishers (as in the Harvard-style mandates).
  5. All mandates should shorten (or, better, not even mention) allowable OA embargoes (so as not to encourage publishers to adopt them).
  6. All repositories should implement the automated “email eprint request” Button (for embargoed [non-OA] deposits).
  7. All mandates should designate repository deposit as the sole mechanism for submitting publications for performance review, research assessment, grant application, or grant renewal.
  8. All repositories should implement rich usage and citation metrics in the institutional repositories as incentive for compliance. (138-39)

When I read over this list, most items seemed to make good sense and be implementable in the somewhat near future. I think that #7, however, is rather radical. To base performance review (i.e. tenure and promotion) solely on repository deposit may very well open its own kettle of fish. It raises a number of questions: would review boards be looking at whether an article (or other research output) was deposited in the institutional repository as well as published in a journal of repute? Would they care, as it were, if the article ended up being published by an external venue at all? Or is the hope / assumption / implication that once all research is deposited in an institutional repository it is officially part of the scholarly record already, and journal publication is icing on the cake? Harnad doesn’t come out and say this, but he does argue elsewhere in the piece that once universal Green OA is achieved, “the print edition and its costs as well as the online edition will be gone, the worldwide network of Green OA Institutional Repositories will provide access and archiving, and journals will only need to manage peer review (all peers already review for free)” (135). If we follow this logic of evaporating scholarly communication formats to its conclusion, the end scenario may very well look like an institutional repository-only situation: Harnad’s “worldwide network of Green OA Institutional Repositories.” Since peer review is already unpaid labour, why couldn’t it happen at the institutional repository level rather than the journal level, as I heard advocated for recently?

Don’t get me wrong: this is not what Harnad, is saying, directly. I’m making a bit of a strawman out of his argument, but only to raise the flag for preserving certain academic practices that are often overlooked in the conversation around transitioning wholly to OA. In particular, I’m thinking of the role of the editor. A journal editor is a crucial role, akin to the museum exhibit curator. The editor develops the conceptual vision of an issue; she considers which articles to include, and how to frame them; she focuses on order, patterning, and presentation. There is a distinct intellectual and creative process involved in being an editor, and I think that academia would be left wanting for that curation should we transfer to an all-institutional repository system, regardless of how interlinked, smart, and international that system might be. As Harnad writes, there are 2.5 million academic articles published every year — we require skilled, thoughtful editors to sift through and combine relevant work in meaningful and purposeful ways.


Work cited

Harnad, Stevan. “Optimizing Open Access Policy.” The Serials Librarian 69 (2): 133 –41. DOI: 10.1080/0361526X.2015.1076368

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