In May, Mikael Laakso from Hanken School of Economics in Finland published research on the hundred largest journal publishers for 2010. He concluded that, of the 1.1 million articles included in his study, 80.4% could have been made open access via an institutional repository one year after the date of publication.

The key words here are ‘could have.’ Other studies cited by Laakso concluded that only 12% of research articles actually end up getting deposited — which means that the majority of published research articles remain closed despite publisher policy allowing them to become open. One of the clear and present opportunities for open access to research, then, is to close this gap, and ensure that every possible piece of research that can be made open is made open, as soon as possible.

The best way to do this is for research institutions and funders to adopt a strong open access policy, requiring researchers to deposit their work for archiving in their institutional repository. Such policies have been adopted by hundreds of institutions around the world — including the University of Waikato, which adopted a deposit mandate (a ‘green’ policy, for those who know the OA colour scheme) earlier this year.

The University of Waikato mandates that “all refereed research articles and conference papers published in refereed proceedings should be submitted for deposit in the Research Commons.”

This realises the principle, expressed at the top of the policy, that “Freedom to exchange ideas and to publish acquired knowledge are fundamental to the purposes of a university. The motto of the University of Waikato, “Ko Te Tangata – For the People”, embodies its commitment to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible.”

More recently, the Higher Education Funding Council for England mandated that all funded research outputs “must have been deposited in an institutional repository, a repository service shared between multiple institutions, or a subject repository such as arXiv…as soon after the point of acceptance as possible.” Their mandate also states that embargo periods for funded works can not exceed either twelve or twenty-four months (depending on the discipline).

Kings Library at Buckingham House Pyne's Royal Residences . Via Wikimedia Commons

Kings Library at Buckingham House, from Pyne’s Royal Residences . Via Wikimedia Commons. No known copyright.

But what about the publisher? According to Open Oasis, “95% of journals registered in SHERPA permit self-archiving in some form.” Most of the time, the publisher allows the researcher to archive the postprint in an institutional repository; sometimes, the publisher only allows arching of the the preprint. In a fraction of cases, the publisher will allow neither — but as Eprints points out, the researcher retains copyright to the preprint, this is an issue of journal policy , and it is up to researchers as to whether they choose to comply.

(A preprint is the version initially submitted by the author, a postprint is the version accepted by the publisher, with corrections and the published article is the typeset and publisher branded PDF).

Some publishers also require the archived work to be embargoed — that is, they require the work to be closed from public access — for a time that varies from publisher to publisher. If this is the case, then the library can ensure that the work is closed access for whichever period the publisher and/or funder has mandated — usually six, twelve or twenty-four months. After that period, the library will happily remove the embargo on behalf of the researcher, and make it accessible to the world.

So, researchers: The simplest thing to do is get your accepted, refereed draft into your Institutional Repository — immediately. As more institutions and funders adopt green OA, you’ll be well positioned to meet their requirements; you’ll also have many, many more potential readers.

It goes without saying that If you want to maximise the social benefits of your research, you should also make it openly licensed, as this will enable it to be copied for teaching purposes, translated, republished for other audiences — and not locked under ‘All Rights Reserved’ for the life of the author plus fifty years.

Matt is the Public Lead for Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand

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