Saturday, July 21, 2007


The goal of the Open Access (OA) movement is to “free the refereed literature online” (Harnad 2001b). That is, published, peer-reviewed research, which scholars have produced and published on their own time at their own expense, should be free of restrictions imposed by journals acting in their own monetary interests. Many of the proposed solutions—e.g., to found and promote more online OA journals, to have authors pay for publishing articles (to replace lost subscription income)—are difficult or unworkable in the short term. Journals will not start giving away their content for free, authors will not stop publishing in the top journals to send their paper to new OA journals.

Stevan Harnad has argued consistently and strongly that the most workable and immediate way to free the published scholarly literature is for authors to self-archive their publications online (Harnad 2001a, b, 2003a, b). The best way to do this is to post publications in public online archives hosted by universities or professional organizations. Papers will be available for the long term and they will be searchable. Authors need to revise the publisher’s contracts (“authors agreements”) that cover published journal articles, and they need to spend the time and effort to participate in archiving projects. The impact of a published paper (as measured by the number of citations) increases significantly if it is posted online and available for free.

I have been self-archiving my own papers for years, before I knew what “open access” or “self-archiving” meant. I just scan or obtain pdfs of my papers and post them on my web site :

When I started doing this, a former colleague accused me of shameless self-promotion. This person evidently thought it unseemly to promote one’s own published work like this. But why do we carry out research and publish it? For our personal amuseument? Certainly not to make money. We do research in order to advance knowledge and contribute to a larger body of research findings (well, in my case, it’s also nice to live in Mexico periodically, to have to eat Mexican food and listen to Mexican music, to be working outdoors…..). The more easily that other scholars can find and read and cite our work, the greater our research impact and the more successful our scholarship.

I’ve written some review articles that required getting into unfamiliar literature. I found it easy to get up to speed quickly in a new field when the leading scholars have online archives of their publications and papers (two are my favorite such sites are those of Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis; if you are not familiar with their work, you probably should be, and it is easy to accomplish from their web sites).

There are a couple of problems with my kind of “guerrilla” self-archive. First, it is not permanent. If I leave ASU, the URL will most likely disappear pretty quickly. It was really pulling teeth to get my former university to keep my web site going for a few months after I moved to ASU. Such decisions at most universities are made by technical bureaucrats, not scholars (“if you are no longer an employee, why should we give you web space?”). The second problem is that my papers are not as fully indexed and searchable as one would like. Yes, many can be found through Google, but a fully indexed and searchable institutional archive would vastly improve their availability. There is now work in progress to allow searching across online archives.

Research has shown that many faculty do not self-archive because they think it is difficult, or that they don’t have time (see work by Alma Swan, e.g., It takes me all of 5 minutes to post an article on my web site, and with automated institutional archives it can be even quicker (so they say, although I haven’t been able to participate in any such program yet). One advantage is that by posting my papers online I don’t have to bother colleagues with electronic reprints emailed to a bunch of people who may or may not be interested in a particular paper; they can get things from my web site if and when they are interested.

I am surprised at the low level of self-archiving in archaeology. Sometimes it seems as if our scientific focus on the ancient past carried over into a reluctance to use modern practices and opportunities.

In addition to Harnad’s papers, listed below, check out these sites for more information on self-archiving:

E-Prints self-archiving FAQ:

Wikipedia has a short entry with a nice bibliography (including many Harnad papers), current through 2006:
(But please don’t tell my undergraduate students that I advocate Wikipedia as a reference source!)

Peter Suber’s Open Access News blog has lots of information:


Harnad, Stevan

2001a The Self-Archiving Initiative. Nature 410:1024-1025.

2001b Six Proposals for Freeing the Refereed Literature Online: A Comparison. Ariadne 28.

2003a Online Archives for Peer-Reviewed Journal Publications. In International Encyclcopedia of Library and Information Science, edited by John Feather, and Paul Sturges. Routledge, London.

2003b Self-Archive Unto Others as Ye Would Have Them Self-Archive Unto You. Australian Higher Education Supplement.
(This paper is a particularly good introduction for those who know little of self-archiving)

1 comment:

mOOm said...

I've now host my website on my own domain in order to deal with the moving problem:

I've seen quite a few academics go down this route.