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Researchers! Make Your Previous Work OA

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For the last two weeks, I’ve been posting on Open Stuff, including Open Access and Open Data, Open Science, Open Notebooks, etc etc. I’m continuing the thread this week with a discussion of how researchers can make most, if not all, of their publications open.

Need a PDF that’s not OA? Use #Icanhazpdf. Still no luck? Console yourself with Lolcats. From

Why am I devoting a whole post to this? First, because it’s really important. Individuals without institutional affiliations (e.g., between jobs), or who are affiliated with institutions that have no/a poorly funded library (e.g., in 2nd or 3rd world countries), depend on open access articles for keeping up with the scholarly literature. The need for OA isn’t limited to jobless or international folks, though. For proof, one only has to notice that the Twitter community has developed a hash tag around this, #Icanhazpdf (Hat tip to the Lolcats phenomenon). Basically, you tweet the name of the article you can’t access and add the hashtag in hopes that someone out in the Twittersphere can help you out and send it to you.

Academic libraries must pay exhorbidant fees to provide their patrons (researchers) with access to scholarly publications.  The very patrons that need these publications are the ones that provide the content in the form of research articles.  Essentially, the researchers are paying for their own work, by proxy via their institution’s library.

In response to this, many institutions are enacting Open Access policies. The goal here is to encourage (or mandate) that their faculty provide post-print copies of all publications to an open access institutional repository. MIT  and Harvard were among the first to enact such policies. Closer to home, UC San Francisco Academic Senate signed off on an open access policy in May of this year. The policy will go up for a UC-wide vote in December, which would mean all University of California researchers would be required to place their publications in an open access institutional repository.

If you remember from two weeks back, one path to OA is “Green”, i.e. when you put a publication in an OA repository.  The publication may or may not have been originally published in an OA journal. How does this work, you ask? Let me demonstrate, using a researcher at the University of California as an example.

Let’s call our hypothetical researcher Jane. She has published three journal articles while working as a postdoc at UC Santa Cruz. The journals in which she published were were Conservation Genetics, Nature, and Ecology. None of these journals is, by default, an open access journal.  Jane wants to be sure her colleagues in Microneseia can access her articles, despite not being affiliated with a major library at an academic institution. What to do? (note: this workflow is based on eScholarship’s instructions for authors)

First, Jane should check her rights to the work.  An easy way to do this is to check SHERPA/RoMEO, a free resource for helping researchers navigate the copyright policies of journals. They provide you with a brief overview of the journal’s policy and what authors are allowed to do with their work. Here’s what she found:

Conservation Genetics:



So Jane can make her Conservation Genetics and Nature articles OA by archiving a post-print version, as long as it’s not the publisher’s version/PDF.  For Ecology, she can post the publisher’s version so long as she acknowledges their copyright.

Now Jane can find a repository to place her journal articles. The repository should be open and make the articles freely available to anyone, anywhere. Jane checks out this list of repostories available from OpenDOAR and finds that the UC system has an open repository available to all UC researchers called eScholarship (housed at CDL!). She follows the easy steps on the eScholarship website and submits her three articles. She receives URLs, which she then emails to her colleagues in Micronesia.  And voila! Jane has participated in Open Access! Her scholarly works are now publicly available, and she has managed to ensure that anyone, anywhere can access her work.

Researchers: follow these steps to make your work available.

  1. Find out that status of your works’ copyright (use SHERPA/RoMEO)
  2. Identify an appropriate OA repository available to you (use OpenDOAR)
  3. Deposit your works and start sharing

To prevent future confusion about copyright, check out the SPARC author addendum generator: it helps you generate an addendum that you can attach to your signed author agreements, thereby ensuring some of your rights.

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