Priorities: OA Content Provision vs. OA Content Preservation

Stevan Harnad harnad at
Tue Oct 5 15:53:55 EST 2004

The evolution of the OA movement is revealing some interesting (and slightly
complicated) interactions among the roles of the various "stake-holder" communities
involved in Open Access (OA): These include:

    (1) the research community (the authors of the journal articles in
    question, as well as their readers and users)

    (2) the research library community (the purchasers and curators of
    access to those journal articles for the research community)

    (3) the research journal publishing community (the administrators of
    the peer review, the certifiers of its outcome, and the providers of
    access to those journal articles, formerly on paper, now also online)

    (4) the employers of the researchers (universities and research
    institutions that co-benefit from and reward the productivity
    and impact of their researchers)
    (5) the funders of research (who are answerable to the tax-payer
    for the use of research funds and hence for the productivity and
    impact of the research and researchers they fund)

There is no doubt that although it was the research community that first
discovered the power of the online medium to enhance the usage and impact of their
research articles, it was the library community that first drew wide attention
to the scope and urgency of the problem of research access, owing to the journal
affordability/pricing problem (which came to be known as the "serials crisis").

It is also becoming clear now, however, that the only ones who are really in a
position to solve the research access/impact problem are the researchers
themselves, and that their employers and funders are the only ones in a position
to mandate that their researchers do so (in their own interests, as well as in the
interests of research itself), just as they have mandated that their researchers
publish (or perish) in their own interests.

The library community was very fast to see that there was a problem, and that it
needed to be solved. They are rather slower at seeing what their own role in the
solution is, and especially in seeing that the journal affordability/problem is
in fact not the same as the research access/impact problem. As a result, the
library community sometimes inadvertently risks becoming a part of the
access/impact problem rather than the solution, questioning, instead
of affirming, the desirability of providing immediate open access to
research output.

Yet this slight extra layer of complexity is not really that
complicated. Hence there is every hope of sorting it out, so that the
library community can help hasten 100% OA rather than delaying it,
thereby helping to solve the access/impact problem directly, as well as
providing some indirect relief for their own affordability/access problem.

What has to be resisted is librarians' instinct to go all and only for
gold (OA Publishing), even though 100% gold would of course solve 100%
of their serials crisis! Yes, the golden road of OA Publishing is to
be encouraged and supported, but it is an extremely slow, indirect and
uncertain road to 100% OA, whereas the green road of OA self-archiving is
a fast, direct and certain one, already fully within immediate reach.

The library community needs to understand this, and to understand also
that OA is not a content acquisition matter at all, as most ordinary
library holdings are, but a content *provision* matter; and it is their
own institutional authors that are the content-providers -- whether they
publish in OA journals or they publish in non-OA journals but self-archive
their own articles to make them OA.

If librarians keep on thinking of OA only in acquisition terms, they will miss an
opportunity to help -- to help not only their research community, but themselves,
and their budgets, too.

Brian Simboli's posting exhibits clearly the standard misunderstandings
about roles and about actual and potential causality in OA that still
prevail in the library community:

On Tue, 5 Oct 2004, Brian Simboli wrote:

> I don't pretend to have all the answers in these issues; I just want to 
> point out concerns that will no doubt occur to any working librarian.

These are indeed the concerns that will occur to librarians; but what librarians
now need to take on board also is the concerns and needs of researchers, which
are often quite different:

> >bs> Let us say that one is concerned with the good of preservation and places it at
> >bs> least on par with the good of open access, and perhaps even trumps the latter.
> >
>sh> Hard to see how preserving content can trump providing content: One cannot 
>sh> preserve non-existent content...
> **Well, sure, one cannot preserve non-existent content, but that is not
> the point. Let us cut through the sophistics, which are interminable...

It is not sophistics to point out that immediate 100% OA to their
research output, in order to maximize its research impact, now, *is*
the point of OA for the research community! That is what they seek and
need, not lower journal prices, nor guarantees of permanence for the
little OA that already exists. 

And if researchers are ever to be persuaded to actually *provide* the
OA they want and need, they will only be persuaded to do so for the sake
of maximizing their own research's impact, not for the sake of lowering
journal prices, nor to solve the serials crisis, nor to guarantee the
permanence of the self-archived OA versions of their articles (their
journal versions being already as permanent as they ever had been),
nor to reform copyright, etc.

One of the reasons OA progress has been so slow is that it has been
assumed that researchers have the same motivations and desiderata as
librarians. They do not. And as they are the only ones who can provide OA,
the basis for appealing to them to provide OA must be what the research
community wants and needs, not what the library community wants and needs.

> and ask the question: in deciding how to dispose funds for digital
> initiatives on a campus, should a library manager devote money to the
> green approach or to a gold or to a TA approach, assuming that they
> must make some sort of decision? 

Yes, that is indeed a question. If a library follows its instincts to try 
to use its funds directly only to maximise current and foreseeable journal
affordability, then it will invariably miss the green for the gold:
First it will try to make the best immediate deal it can on TA journals
(and so it should, and must); and then it will invest any further
resources in gold: buying institutional memberships in OA journals,
promoting publication in OA journals by its institutional authors,
designing easy access to OA journals for its users.

But a further-seeing library will see that there is
one more thing they can do -- and some libraries have: see -- and that is perhaps
the most important, insofar as the future is concerned, namely, to promote
OA self-archiving by their own institutional authors. This need not even
deflect library funds, if none are available. OA promotion can be done
with any available staff time rather than with acquisitions budgets.

But the very *worst* thing a library can do is the opposite:
Instead of promoting OA self-archiving by its institutional authors,
to raise the red flag of "preservation" worries, and sow (groundless,
irrelevant) doubts among their would-be self-archivers instead!

> The typical academic library does not
> have huge resources, nor does it have much staff time available. It is
> a continuing saga of triage. I am not speaking of CDL, or of Harvard, or
> MIT, though librarians at such large places may also face this dilemma**

If there are neither resources nor staff time available for
promoting institutional self-archiving, at least don't needlessly
anti-promote it by instead promoting incorrect and ill-thought-through
doubts about self-archiving on the grounds that preservation is not
guaranteed! Researchers need immediate OA, now, to maxmimize access
and impact, now. Preservation is an entirely misplaced concern, a red
herring. If the library community hasn't the resources to make a positive
contribution to OA self-archiving, let it at least refrain from making
a negative contribution! Researchers are already sluggish enough about

>sh> providing immediate access to all would-be users now increases rather
>sh> than decreases the probability of eventually finding a way to guarantee
>sh> that that access will last forever.
> **Not clear on why this is the case.**

Fine, if it is not clear why having a good thing makes it likelier that one will
want to keep a good thing, then forget about that aspect. Just understand that
having a good thing (maximized access/impact), now, is better than not having it
now, even if now is not forever.

> >bs> This to me is a quite significant speculative leap about the future
> >bs> behavior of thousands of institutions and individuals.
> >
> >sh> It is speculative to assume that people will want to hold onto
> >sh > a good thing, once they get used to having it?
> **The point is rather that they may not be interested in holding on to
> a good thing once it is no longer immediately gratifying (a negative
> feature, incidentally, and by analogy, of social behaviors in our larger
> culture).

"Immediately gratifying"?

Let me then play the game and reply: So what? If researchers provide OA
to their articles today, only to decide to drop it tomorrow, so what? At
least today's access/impact will have been maximized! If they drop it,
as "ungratifying," it will only mean that access and impact proved to be
not so important to researchers after all, and that the whole OA movement
was just a brief spasm based on much ado about nothing. Everything will
simply return to the toll-access status quo, before.

(Note that if authors don't care enough about the benefits of OA to
keep providing OA beyond a brief, temporary spasm of self-archiving,
then they will certainly not care enough about the benefits of OA to keep
creating and choosing to publish in OA journals either, in preference to
their current TA journals. This hypothetical apathy or insouciance cuts
both ways, after all. But of course I don't really believe the premise --
that they will not be interested in holding on to a good thing after a
spasm of immediate gratification -- for one minute. Yet even supposing
it were so, for the sake of argument, nothing useful follows from it;
and it certainly is not a vindication of the hypothesis that it is
*preservation* that is somehow critical in all of this!)

>sh> Because while we wait for OA content provision, research impact is being 
>sh> needlessly and cumulatively lost, daily, weekly, yearly.
> **Interesting. However, pursuit of self-archiving does not guarantee
> the sort of long-lasting and stable preservation of the scientific
> record that, in the long term, will promote impact of research.

Surely this is the quintessence of the difference between the standpoint
of the library community and the research community! For Brian, the
immediate research access/impact benefits are sufficient for one brief pause:
"Interesting." -- But then we turn back to the *real* problem, which is not
immediate access/impact at all, but preservation!

I find I cannot really add anything else to this second-guessing, if it is
not transparent that the benefits of immediate maximised access/impact are
likely to prove so "gratifying" to researchers (and their employers and
funders), if not to librarians, that those benefits are rather unlikely
to be renounced by researchers as readily at the next instant as they
are already renounced a priori, apparently, by librarians!

> Green solutions are dependent on the largesse of big publishers that are not
> charitable institutions, and who at any point can hem in or overturn
> their green provisions. 

This is just the "Poisoned Apple" worry again; I can only refer again
to the FAQ:

(although even Robert Herrick's injunction on the subject would have been

> Why not, right now, set up the infrastructure
> for universities to own their own output in a long-lasting and stable
> fashion, rather than be continually hostage to whatever new pricing
> scheme is dreamt up by marketers at the big publishers?  

Because right now, 95% of the articles published by authors at those
universities is published in 20,000+ peer-reviewed TA journals. And it is
faster and easier and surer for their authors to immediately self-archive
those 2+ million TA articles, thereby making them immediately OA, than
to wait for those 20,000+ TA journals to convert to or be replaced by
OA journals that will do it for them. (Nor is it necessary to wait,
or convert.) And because none of that has anything to do with what
infrastructure universities do or don't set up. (Whereas self-archiving
their actual TA articles certainly does.)

> Again, it gets
> down to where to put the bucks--in training faculty how to self-archive,
> or in developing publishing alternatives that will much more so guarantee
> longevity of access, whether open or TA?**

Considering the respective, time-lines and hurdles, I would say there was no
contest as to where it would be best to put the bucks:

And I can only repeat: Digital permanence is for the time being the problem
of the TA originals (La Gioconda), not the self-archived replicas. Brian
is not only coupling the problems of preservation and OA (when they are in
fact different problems) but he is conflating them, suggesting that what
researchers really lack and need is permanence, not OA!

> > Fulfilling immediate needs surely trumps waiting for guarantees that that
> > fulfillment will last for ever.
> **I'm not so sure about this. Small universities don't have much
> money to spend on digitization efforts, whether staff time or outlay
> for infrastructure.  

This is not about digitization efforts, it is about maximizing research impact,
at least as far as researchers are concerned.  The only universities
that have no interest in maximizing their research impact are the ones
that have no research output (and they are not at issue here). Nor is
it a matter of bucks: It's a matter of policy:

> I think that the library community should be more
> concerned with preserving the scientific record, rather than focus on
> immediacy of access--/access which is already being provided, at least
> in the first world, via highly efficient interlibrary loan operations,
> and ability of individuals in the public to walk into university libraries
> and use public terminals./ I cannot speak for the third world**

This sounds like "Sitting Pretty":

but I suspect it is more likely the library community not quite being
able to grasp the point of maximizing research access/impact, and their
benefits to the research community, because of an exclusive preoccupation
with the library's journal affordability/pricing and preservation
concerns instead.

> I'm not convinced that green self-archiving holds out any more promise
> of providing a stable, long term way to fulfill third world needs
> satisfactorily than does the development of gold open access or low-cost
> TA solutions.

OA is not just for the third world -- it is for any and every would-be
user who cannot access any TA article because his institution cannot afford
the access-tolls. And creating and filling institutional OA archives is far
easier and more immediately feasible than creating, funding and filling
OA journals -- if for no other reason than that institutions have reason
to want to do it, right now, whereas journals have reason to want to not
do it now, and self-archiving can be mandated by employers and funders
whereas OA journal publishing cannot.

> The "obvious" solution is not always the best. Immediate solutions are
> not always in the best long-term interest.

But sitting waiting for gold while one could be providing immediate 100% OA
by self-archiving is no solution at all.

> My point is simply: let us not be hasty in
> assuming that immediacy of access should trump other
> considerations--considerations, attention to which will guarantee
> /long-term/, stable access, for anyone anywhere.

Nothing trumps anything. Self-archiving is instended to provide immediate
100% OA. That is quite compatible with continuing to work in parallel
on any long-term goals anyone might have, including preservation and
transition to OA publishing. It just means that research access/impact
need no longer keep waiting and being lost in the meanwhile...

Stevan Harnad

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