Central versus institutional self-archiving

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Fri Nov 21 23:43:05 EST 2003

On Fri, 21 Nov 2003, Bernie Black wrote:

> I think it is an open question whether centralized or distributed archiving
> will dominate.  Maybe both can coexist.  

They can and will co-exist, because OAI-interoperability has made them
completely equivalent. 

The important question is not which form of self-archiving will dominate,
but what is the best way to accelerate self-archiving. There are two
reasons institutional self-archiving are better able to do that:
(1) Institutions can mandate and monitor their own researchers'
self-archiving, whereas disciplines and central archives cannot. 
(2) It's much easier (and in fact more justifiable) for publishers
to discourage self-archiving with a 3rd-party archive than with the
researcher's own institutional archive.

> A good copyright agreement ought to allow both.  

Ought to, certainly. But if the goal is to accelerate open-access as much
and as soon as possible, then we should not be looking for "good copyright
agreements" but copyright agreements that maximize self-archiving,
now! (Or maybe the definition of a good copyright agreement is the one
that generates the most self-archiving, now!) It is a fact that publishers
balk at 3rd-party central archiving, because it smacks of rival 3rd-party
publication (the original publisher being the first-party and the author
and his employing institution being the 2nd party).

Of course, in the online age (and not even only the OAI-compliant online
age), the difference between offering open access to a paper from the
author's institutional archive or from a 3rd-party central archive is
a non-difference. It's a joke. So if anyone wants insists on treating
this non-difference as a difference, one can only humor them, and let
them stipulate whichever kind of self-archiving they like -- whether
(1) central, (2) institutional, or (3) "author's homepage", since the
difference matters not a whit (between (1) and (2), it makes no practical
difference and between (2) and (3) not even a logical difference)!

What I'm saying is that it would be a great waste if the growth of
self-archiving and open access were held back to wait for a "good copyright
agreement" that formally allowed *both* forms of self-archiving,
central and institutional -- when one or the other alone would have done
just as well (and there is no practical difference!)

But let me also point out a very legitimate concern a publisher could
have with 3rd-party self-archiving: If allowing the author of an article
in Journal X to "self-archive" included the right to deposit it in a
3rd-party archive, then why shouldn't the publisher of journal Y dub his
archive a "self-archive" and invite authors from all journals and
institutions to deposit their articles therein, allowing journal Y to
put together an alternative incarnation of all of Journal X, and sell
rebundled cut-rate access to all of Journal X on the side -- or use it
to enhance sales of some other product?

The author's own institutional archive is not in a position to do this
because it can archive *only that institutions's research output*! Hence
it cannot compile a rival version of Journal X or of any other journal,
just its own institutional research output.

Now you might say: What about that "joke" we were in on earlier, to the
effect that it doesn't make any difference whether a paper is
self-archived centrally or institutionally, especially in the OAI age?

The punchline still holds: In the end it makes no difference. When each of
the annual 2,500,000 articles is accessible toll-free, its provenance and
where it resides will be of no interest. But we are not going to get from
here to there if we needlessly fan publishers' worst-case-scenario
phobias instead of (truthfully) fostering their faith that the only
thing researchers really want is to make their *own* work open-access
by self-archiving it with their *own* institutional research output,
and not with a "rival" 3rd-party entity: Self-archiving needs to be seen
as what it is, which is *self*-archiving and not 3rd-party-archiving.

> Then SSRN can pursue its centralized strategy, and
> individual authors/schools can pursue distributed strategies.  
> http://www.ssrn.com/

Schools can mandate the self-archiving of their own institutional research
output. SSRN and the like cannot. SSRN would be just as useful a resource
if those of its would-be papers that have problems with the Law Reviews
in which they appeared -- because the Reviews don't want them deposited
in 3rd-party archives, whereas those Reviews do agree to institutional
self-archiving -- deposited only their metadata in SSRN, with just a
link to the institutional site where the full-text resides. One extra
keystroke for the user, but the same visibility, the same download
monitoring: all the benefits of archiving in SSRN left intact!

That compromise would be far better than needless confrontation over
the journal's unwillingness to allow both forms of archiving, institutional
and central.

> The huge (and insoluble) problem with a central site linking to distributed
> papers is that the links break.

Institutions' OAI archives for their research output are every bit as robust as
central archives, indeed moreso! Why would you think otherwise? The
institutions, at least, have independent continuity (they're mostly
universities!). And remember that we are not talking about arbitrary
author home-pages here but about managed institutional OAI-compliant
archives (*exactly* like the central ones!)!

> The bet of the law reviews, and the for-profit peer-review journals
> as well, is that distributed archiving is not a threat (which is why
> they allow posting to a personal web page), but centralized archiving
> such as SSRN provides is.

Correct. (And part of the reasoning behind their bet might well be that
3rd-party-publisher fear I mentioned.) And publishers have some grounds
for feeling unthreatened by self-archiving, because, as noted, it has
not caused any cancellation pressure in physics even after 12 years
(and that was mostly *central* self-archiving!) -- though one can't 
promise it never will. 

> As long as authors keep sufficient copyright, they can use one, the other,
> or both.  That's my goal here.

Fine. But let's not hold back articles from open access, *now*, because we
consider copyright that is sufficient for only one of these two forms
of self-archiving to be insufficient copyright! We want to increase
the proportion of "blue/green" publishers from the 55% it is now to as
close to 100% as possible, as soon as possible. We won't accomplish this
by making our criteria for blue/greenness stricter than necessary! Public
online self-archiving is enough for open access. Let us not needlessly
delay it by holding out for more!

Stevan Harnad

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