Make Green OA your New Year’s resolution

Make Green OA your New Year’s resolution

Why should you care about Green Open Access?

Self-archiving, also known as Green Open Access or simply Green OA , is a way for authors to allow at least partial access to their toll-gated work. You might care about this for political or practical reasons, or a combination of the two. As an added kink, depending on your institution or funding agency, you might need to conform to some kind of mandate about participating in Green OA.

Open access allows for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access your work to get it. This might be most helpful if you are trying to reach an audience beyond your immediate scholarly community. For example, say you’re producing teaching materials that could be of use in a community college or you’re trying to influence policy in a rural community or you’re in dialogue with other scholars in the global south. Any of these potential stakeholders might want to benefit from your publication but be priced out of access.

Some authors may feel a political or intellectual calling to participate in Green OA. One common theme in Open Access advocacy is framing scholarly publishing a kind of capitalist plunder; that publishers take scholars’ free labor and sell it back to them. In fact scholars do get a great deal of value added out of publishers, so take this with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, it is true that the profit margins of some of the big scholarly publishers are quite high and it is also true that some of the executives of said companies are extravagantly  compensated. Certainly it seems that scholarly publishing is headed towards a crisis as supporting the high costs of journal and database subscriptions crushes university budgets and prices scholars out of doing real scholarship. If you were to throw your hands in the air in exasperation and shout “FUCK ALL THIS NEOLIBERAL BULLSHIT LET’S TAKE THE POWER BACK” then you’d be in some pretty good company. Green OA is free for authors and relatively easy to do, so this is a good way to get in on the ground floor, with or without the expletives.

Recently the AAA sent out take down notices to some authors who shared their works on the social networks ResearchGate and Academia. Ryan Anderson’s post on our old site asks careful and important questions about the AAA’s publishing program and author agreement, and it very helpfully collects many earlier posts from Savage Minds about the changing landscape of academic publishing. If you read it and got something out of it I encourage you to go back and read what he’s linking to as well. In the comments to that piece Alisse Waterson linked to her own post on the AAA blog about archiving and the author agreement. This is also a must read.

Its important to note that posting publications on ResearchGate or Academia is not the same as self archiving and Green OA. Authors participate in these social networks because they feel like they offer a compelling service that enhances their careers. Like hunter-gatherers following optimal foraging patterns, researchers start looking for information in the easiest places first. AAA members with access to more than a century’s worth of material through AnthroSource may eschew that service because they feel it is clunky and unattractive compared to the social networks. In short, ResearchGate and Academia are to some extent beating Wiley in the race to capture users and this is problematic in multiple ways. But more on that in a later post.

Its important to remember who is affected by this take down notice and what its scope is. This notice affects authors in AAA publications, regardless of whether or not they are members of the AAA, and does not extend to works in journals not published by the AAA. Moreover the AAA is not forbidding you from using social media networks such as ResearchGate and Academia, it is reminding authors that they have already agreed to terms that restrict which versions of works can be archived and directing them conform to those terms.

How do I know what I can archive?

Do you know about SHERPA/RoMEO? This valuable online service indexes thousands of publications and publishers in order to provide information about author agreements and open access policies.

For example, this is the entry for American Anthropologist. We can see that the journal offers paid open access (ie., where the author pays a fee to unlock the article for readers). There is a green check next to Author’s Pre-print showing that the work as submitted, before any peer review, may be archived. There is also a green check next to Author’s Post-print showing that the work after peer review can be archived as well. Finally, there is a red X next to Publisher’s Version which indicates that the final product users download cannot be archived.

It is not unusual for some authors to feel like this is not enough information for them to make the right decision about which version of their work to archive. Say, for example, your work has illustrations, photos, charts, graphs, or extended quotations from previously published material — are those your intellectual property or the publisher’s? If you find yourself in this situation it is completely appropriate to pick up the phone and call your publisher. As you might guess, the closer you get to the final product the more restrictive the archiving policy. If you want to err on the side of caution you should go with earlier versions of a piece over later ones.

Below the green checks and red x’s are the journal’s General Conditions about archiving. Here you’ll find that sticky bit about personal websites, institutional websites, discipline-specific repositories, with the caveats that the full citation must be used and the service provider must be non-commercial. We’ll get back to that in a minute. Below this, where it says “Copyright: Policy (pdf)”, is a link to a sample author agreement.

SHERPA/RoMEO can be an invaluable tool if you are an OA advocate or the kind of author who takes a keen interest in reading the fine print. Use this information to compare different journals and publishers against one another so that you can make a strategic decision about what will be in your author agreement. Shop around! If all this seems too extra, well, caveat emptor. You can’t unscramble eggs. As Hunter S. Thompson said, “buy the ticket, take the ride.” Once you sign away your copyright you don’t get it back.

Where should I archive my works?

Not only are there rules about which versions of a work can be archived, there are also rules about who gets to do the archiving. I will go through these point by point and do some combination of explanation and problematizing. I don’t know enough about the history of the AAA’s publishing program to explain how this came to be, so some of the “whys” of the matter will have be left unaddressed.

Whether you are motivated to participate in self-archiving for reasons pragmatic, political, or mandated you want to choose the best possible service. Your publication is your baby and represents an enormous investment in time and energy!

The best option is to use an institutional repository. If you’re at an elite or second tier R1 you probably already have one housed in your university library or, less commonly, in the office of research. You may have one available to you and not even know it! Go ask!

Institutional repositories are the best because they’re run by dedicated professionals who will produce all the necessary metadata and ensure the long term preservation of your bitstream. If you entrust your work to an institutional repository you will have taken the most responsible action, but unfortunately not everyone has that privilege. Some smaller schools and schools that are more hard-pressed financially might not have the resources to run an IR. Independent scholars may be excluded entirely. These are pressing reasons why the AAA ought to revisit these terms.

Disciplinary repositories may, in the near future, completely replace institutional repositories simply because they are more popular among users. Recently the AAA worked to develop a repository in partnership with the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), which was subsequently acquired by mega-publisher Elsevier. Many in academia lamented this episode and forever swore off participating in SSRN for ideological reasons. To them Elsevier and its hard-ball tactics epitomized the corporate enclosure of the university. But in a post on Savage Minds about arXiv and OA business models I argued against this. All OA business models must confront similar problems concerning how to pay for a product that is given away for free, they differ in how they manage to address those problems. Selling out to corporate America is a perfectly legitimate solution. In order to nurture open access we ought to encourage a diversity of problem solving strategies because there is no one, magical solution that works every time.

Some open access advocates do not agree with me, but I think if the open publishing model is going to remain viable we’re going to have to utilize multiple strategies to pay for it. Going corporate is certainly one option and one I believe worthy of serious consideration.

Then we come to the stickiest wicket in the General Conditions for self-archiving, that the service provider be non-commercial. Some will see this as a natural extension of social scientists’ general skepticism towards corporate, for-profit entities. However this is just the AAA acting in its own self-interest. Why should the AAA allow some other entity to profit from the commercialization of its products? The AAA publishes its journals in partnership with Wiley, it cannot consent to archived versions of those publications being on servers owned by Elsevier, Wiley’s competitor.

To make things even more complicated, we can no longer think of institutional repositories as non-commercial. One of the most popular non-open source platforms for university libraries to create institutional repositories is Bepress. After growing in popularity for its ease of use and active community Bepress was acquired by, you guessed it, Elsevier. Moving forward the AAA will have to address this apparent contradiction in its General Conditions.

What about personal websites?

Not long ago creating a personal website was a tinkerer’s hobby that required some knowledge of HTML, CSS, and PHP just to get the thing up and running. Although it is perhaps unfashionable to utter the words “Web 2.0” today, the mid 2000’s really did usher in a tremendous change in the how we use the internet starting with the normalization of user generated content. Not only does it take minimal technical knowledge to create a website, in a sense, every website is now a personal website.

In this light we could think of ResearchGate and Academia profiles as personal websites. Social networks offer their users almost all of the same features to be found in traditional content management systems such as WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, or many others. You, the website creator, cannot claim to own the ingredients that make a website. The domain name, web server, web platform, database, and CMS are essentially leased to you. All you own is your design, visuals, and content. On a stand alone site you own your HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and any custom source code. There are no strong technical differences between personal websites and social media profiles. Perhaps most importantly, personal websites and social media profiles serve the same function.

However you should not think of this as an endorsement of ResearchGate and Academia. Neither ResearchGate or Academia should be relied on for preservation, the longevity of your bitstream is not their concern. This is why its always a better idea to look to institutional repositories or disciplinary repositories for digital archiving. Furthermore, these social networks provide a service free of charge to users because the data users generate is a product to be monetized. If you are using a free service it is because you are the product. Reflect on your participation in these social networks. Is this something you really want to be doing?

The moral of the story

As the fall semester ends and the calendar changes dates let us all take the opportunity to turn over a new leaf with regards to our publishing practices. Like eating local and shopping at small businesses, Green OA offers us the chance to make a big difference just by making up our minds to do it. Aside from the supposed political or ideological benefits of going Green OA, there are many practical benefits including: long term preservation, reaching a broader audience, and conforming to institutional and/or funder mandates. Use SHERPA/RoMEO to decide which versions of your work can be archived and in the future preview publisher policies before you submit your work to them. As far as self-archiving goes, you’re going to get the biggest bang for your buck if you go with an institutional or disciplinary repository, you may have access to one through your university and don’t even know it. Don’t dismiss SSRN, Bepress, or other corporate services out of hand. At the same, think twice about participating in ResearchGate and Academia. Have you read the terms of service? While both of those networks might prove useful to you for other reasons they are not legitimate repositories and are unreliable for long term preservation. If you want to build your own website there are many easy ways to do it, but when it comes to sharing publications, whatever the platform or network, you’ll still have to conform to your publisher’s policies.