I want to describe a relatively recent development that is both a promise and puzzle: Green Open Access Self-Archiving.
Defining open access (OA)
Open Access (OA) means toll-free Web access. This term would not even need to be coined and defined (since toll-free access is not the exception but the rule for most Web content) if most of OA’s primary target content -- 2.5 million articles yearly, published in the planet’s 25,000 peer-reviewed research journals – weren’t locked behind toll barriers, accessible only to users whose institutions can afford the subscription tolls.
Research impact barriers
Even the toll barriers would not necessitate coining a new term for OA (since we are also used to having to pay to access certain commercial digital products, such as movies, video, books, and software) if not for the fact that the creators of those 2.5 million articles (unlike the creators of most commercial movies, etc.) do not seek or receive any royalties: they publish their research not for income but for impact. The productivity and progress of researchers’ careers and of research itself depend not on revenues from the tolls paid to access those articles but on their uptake and usage.
The PostGutenberg era opened up by the Web holds the promise of removing these obsolete obstacles to research and researchers by removing the toll barriers to access, and hence to impact. All that researchers need to do today is to supplement the access to the official published version of their articles, by self-archiving the final, peer-reviewed draft in their own institution’s OA repository, so users whose institutions cannot afford the publisher’s toll-access version can still access the author’s OA version. OA through author self-archiving is called “Green OA.” If the publisher makes the official online edition OA, that is called “Gold OA.”
Green and gold OA
Providing Green OA is in the hands of researchers (and their institutions and funders). Providing Gold OA is in the hands of publishers. Only about 20 percent of peer-reviewed journals have converted to Gold OA, and that does not include most of the top 20 percent of journals that researchers need most. Journals fear losing their subscription revenues. Some Gold OA journals still cover costs out of subscription tolls or subsidies; others charge the author’s institution an article-publishing fee instead of a journal subscription toll. But with institutions overburdened by the inflating costs of the 80 percent of journals still charging subscriptions, they haven’t the extra cash to pay for Gold OA.
The promise and the puzzle
Nor do institutions need extra cash. They can have Green OA for free -- if their researchers self-archive. Green OA self-archiving benefits research and researchers, as users (for access) and as authors (for impact). So the promise is there, within the research community’s grasp; just a few minutes’ worth of extra keystrokes per article. The puzzle is that most researchers are not reaching for what is already within their grasp: Only about 20 percent self-archive spontaneously.
Each of the many worries underlying this puzzle of “Zeno’s Paralysis” is groundless, easily dispelled with a little information and reflection. (Most revolve around misunderstandings about copyright and peer review.) But for at least two decades
now, for every researcher liberated from a groundless worry about self-archiving, at least five more (80 percent) remain uninformed and paralyzed. We could already have had universal Green OA ever since the advent of the Web, if not the Internet itself.
There is a solution, but that too is still being grasped and applied much too slowly by those in the position to ensure that we have universal Green OA, the universal providers of all of OA’s target content, the world’s universities and research institutions (and their funders). Institutions have created OA repositories (with the help of free software, the first of which was EPrints, created in 2000 by the University of Southampton’s Rob Tansley, who went on the create Dspace for MIT). But repositories are not enough. They remain 80 percent empty unless self-archiving is mandated; then, and only then, 95 percent of researchers do self-archive, over 80 percent of them willingly. OA’s considerable rewards are demonstrable: 25 percent to 250 percent more downloads, citations, and other new metrics being developed to measure and reward research impact.
Local advocacy for global OA
Over 100 institutions (starting with Southampton, and now including Harvard and MIT) and over 40 research funders (including NIH
and RCUK) have mandated Green OA so far.
There exist about 10,000 universities worldwide; all the dominoes are ready to fall. The news of the practical simplicity of OA's means and the scientific/scholarly (and financial) benefits of OA’s ends just needs to propagate. We now need to do all we can locally to hasten the optimal
— Stevan Harnad is Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Science at Université du Québec à Montréal and Professor in Electronics and Computer Science at Southampton University, UK.