Author Archives: Jill Cirasella

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About Jill Cirasella

Jill Cirasella is the Associate Librarian for Public Services and Scholarly Communication at the Graduate Center, CUNY.

Open Access: What Is It and Why All the Fuss?

(Déjà vu? This is a very slight reworking of a post from the Graduate Center Library blog.)

Image is CC BY-NC-ND from JISC.

Image is CC BY-NC-ND from JISC.

You might have noticed that CUNY librarians talk a lot about open access — sometimes in conversations about dissertation embargoes, sometimes on the topic of authors’ rights, sometimes in the context of Academic Works, CUNY’s soon-to-arrive institutional repository (already up and running at the Graduate Center). But maybe you’ve never really gotten a full explanation of what open access is. Or maybe you know what it is but aren’t convinced it’s a pressing issue. Or maybe you understand how it affects you as a reader but aren’t sure how you should factor it into your actions as an author.

I recently wrote a piece about open access for the “Jargon” column of the sociology magazine Contexts, and it might address some of your questions.

What is open access?

“Even if the term ‘open access’ is not in your working vocabulary, you almost certainly understand the phenomenon of open access, or free online availability, as well as its opposite, placement behind a paywall. Of course, an enormous number of news articles, blog posts, and cat videos are freely available online, but ‘open access’ is not usually used to describe those kinds of online offerings. Rather, the conversation about open access centers on research and academic works—journal articles, scholarly books, textbooks, and dissertations—which are usually available only for a fee.”

But what should I care, and what’s wrong with journal subscriptions, anyway?

“Most social action for open access has focused on scholarly journals, largely because many journal subscriptions are wildly expensive, out of proportion with the costs of publishing. In 2012 the Economist reported, ‘Publishing obscure academic journals is that rare thing in the media industry: a [license] to print money.’ Indeed, seemingly arbitrarily high subscription prices that increase year after year have left readers, libraries, and universities feeling gouged. Furthermore, many authors wish to dissociate themselves from commercial publishers that make huge profits from nonprofit institutions, preferring to participate in a publishing system that better connects readers with research and is more consistent with their values. For these reasons and more, journals are a natural starting point for an upheaval in the academic publishing industry.”

So what’s in it for me?

“[J]ournal publishers do not pay their authors, so authors do not lose any income by making their works freely available. In fact, they stand to benefit from open access: When articles are easy to find and free to read, they attract more readers, generate more discussion, and get cited more in later articles.

Of course, authors aren’t the only beneficiaries of open access. When journal articles are freely available, students can better master their fields; scholars can better perform their research; and teachers, doctors, policy-makers, and journalists can better perform their jobs. As a result, everyone benefits, even those who do not themselves read the articles.”

How do I achieve open access?

“There are two ways for an author to make a scholarly article open access. The first, widely known as ‘gold’ open access, is to publish it in a journal that is itself open access—that is, the publisher immediately and permanently makes the journal’s articles freely available online. There are many open access journals—the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists almost 10,000—published by many kinds of entities, including universities, commercial publishers, scholarly societies, and professional organizations.

. . .

Another path to open access is called ‘green’ open access, achieved when an author uploads a work to an open access repository hosted by the author’s institution or a disciplinary repository such as the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Although many authors do not realize it, most journals allow authors to self-archive some version of their article, either the original submission, the edited text, or the journal’s final formatted version. Furthermore, many agencies and institutions have policies that require the researchers they fund or employ to make their articles open access within some fixed amount of time; these policies help make many thousands of articles open access every year. Some publishers reject such policies and lobby against legislation to ensure that taxpayers have access to the research they fund, but their arguments are transparently self-serving and unlikely to prevail in the end.

Right now, green open access is spotty—common and even de rigueur in some fields, but far from universal and not yet leading to reductions in subscription burdens. However, as more researchers and institutions actively support open access, self-archiving will spread. One hope is that green open access will become so prevalent that subscription-based journals will be pressured to lower their subscription prices or change their business model.”

Want to know more?

Read the full column in Contexts or glance at this overview of the very basics of open access. Or contact me or your librarian to learn more!

Getting Academic Research into the Public Sphere: The Rundown on Repositories

A big focus of JustPublics@365 is getting scholarship into the public sphere. But, how do scholars do that? What, precisely, is the mechanism that academics are supposed to use to share their work with a wider audience?

Open access journals — that is, journals that make their articles freely available online, immediately and permanently — are certainly one way to do this. You may have heard the buzz about the Nobel prize winner who publicly rejected “the tyranny of the luxury journals” and committed himself to supporting, as an author and an editor, open access journals.

Open Access is Not Only about Journals

Discussion about open access often focuses exclusively on open access journals, and often on the extreme ends of the quality spectrum: the really excellent journals and the really awful ones. There’s a lot of fascinating and nuanced and ever-evolving stuff to say about open access journals, but there’s a whole lot more to open access. And today I’m going to talk about open access repositories, freely accessible online databases of articles and other works.

What Are Open Access Repositories?

Thanks to Google (and the irrepressible urge to research health symptoms), you’ve almost certainly found and read materials in open access repositories, but you might not have realized that there was anything special about the sites hosting those document.

One reason open access repositories are special is that they’re created and maintained with long-term preservation in mind. They will persist, and offer persistent URLs to documents, much longer than most other sites. In particular, they will outlast authors’ personal web pages, which often disappear shortly after retirement, resignation, death, or failure to pay for domain name renewal. So, unlike most free web content, works in open access repositories aren’t just open access now and a year from now; they’re open access for a very long time to come — ideally, forever.

Types of Repositories

There is no single, universal open access repository, but that’s okay because Google and other tools search across many repositories and generally do a good job of finding what you’re looking for, wherever it may reside. Here are some of the different flavors of open access repositories:

  • Disciplinary repositories are repositories that welcome submissions in a certain field, regardless of the institutional home of the author(s). Some of the biggest and best-known disciplinary repositories are (for physics, math, computer science, and several other sciences), PubMed Central (for the biomedical sciences), and the Social Science Research Network, or SSRN (for the social sciences). One big benefit of disciplinary repositories is that they collect a large amount of related research in one place, so it’s often well worth a researcher’s time to go directly to the appropriate repository and browse or search for papers of interest. Of course, some disciplinary repositories are more robust than others, and, while there are many, there is not a repository for every field.
  • Institutional repositories are repositories hosted by an institution (usually a college or university) to make available the works of its researchers. Successful examples include the repositories at MIT and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. One big benefit of institutional repositories is that they accept all kinds of documents — slideshows, posters, speaker’s notes, images, etc. — whereas many disciplinary repositories limit themselves to articles/papers.
  • Commercial networking/profile sites, such as, ResearchGate, and Mendeley, allow researchers to create profile pages and upload their works. These sites have helped many researchers (including those who don’t have an appropriate disciplinary repository or an institutional repository at their disposal) make their works open access, and have connected many others with those works. But the commercial nature of these sites make some worry about what’s being done with data about users and contributions, as well as about the longevity of the sites and the fate of the documents if the sites shut.

To explore the universe of repositories, visit OpenDOAR (Directory of Open Access Repositories) and ROAR (Registry of Open Access Repositories).

And here’s some really big news: The CUNY Graduate Center is in the process of rolling out its own repository — there’s almost nothing there yet, but soon it’ll have lots of papers, dissertations, master’s theses, and other works.  And here’s even bigger news: CUNY will soon be following suit with a university-wide repository!

GC Works

Sneak peek of the Graduate Center’s brand new institutional repository: Graduate Center Academic Works

Is All This Allowed? Isn’t It Pirating?

Sure, researchers can put all sorts of research output online. But what about their journal articles — aren’t a lot of journals commercial, and don’t journals require authors to transfer their copyright to the journal?

Yes, a lot of journals are for-profit enterprises, and yes, those journals almost always require authors to sign over their copyright. Nevertheless, a majority of journals allow authors to self-archive their articles (usually not the final PDF, but some version) in open access repositories. (Find out which journals allow what at SHERPA/RoMEO.)

So, yep, all this is allowed, and, nope, using repositories is not pirating!