Ensuring access to your scholarly publications – practical steps for authors

South African academics are encouraged by national policy for publication reward to publish in accredited journals, with overseas journals considered the most prestigious. Leaving aside for a moment any critique of this policy, how can the successful authors ensure that the knowledge they have generated is not
priced right out of the market for their colleagues and fellow-citizens? This is a real issue, given that the subscription prices of the big commercial journals have risen at about double the rate of inflation in the last decade. Even large and well-endowed universities are struggling to keep up their subscriptions to the
leading journals (let alone all 24,000 journals out there), so it is no surprise that South African universities don’t subscribe to a number of the journals in which their academics publish.

This came home to me when a colleague, Dick Ng’ambi, emailed to his department the other day ‘Maybe Eve Gray has a point. I’ve just received this alert from Springer alerting me on the electronic publication of my article. The cost of accessing this article is US$30 otherwise UCT has to pay(subscribe) to read its own output – are we being short changed?’ The Springer announcement reads: We are very pleased to be the first to congratulate you on the electronic publication of your article “Influence of Individual Learning Styles in Online Interaction: a Case for Dynamic Frequently Asked Questions (DFAQ)” published in “IFIP International Federation for Information Processing”. If your institution has access to this journal, you may view your paper at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-34731-8_14
(you may need to copy and paste the URL into your browser).
Well, UCT does not have a subscription, so how do Dick and his colleagues get to read his article, short of paying $30 a view (the price of a thick hardback book in this part of the world, or around 15 hamburgers on the ‘hamburger index’)?

There are in fact some practical things that academic authors can do to ensure that they have maximum access to their own publications. The most important would be to publish for preference in an Open Access journal if there is one in your field.
(And yes, they ARE peer-reviewed and there are high quality publications among the 2,000-odd OA journals, as well as one OA author who has recently won a Nobel Prize.) Next, it is advantageous to secure the right to archive a preprint or postprint of an article on your personal or institutional website. A preprint is the article in the form submitted to the journal, before peer reviewing. A postprint is the article revised according to peer reviewers’ recommendations, but without the journal’s editing and typesetting.) What is clear from research conducted on the impact of archiving, is that the availability of a pre-or postprint increases the downloads of the journal article and can have a significant effect on the citation levels of your work. It also means that yourarticle can be made available to your colleagues, or more generally, depending on the policy of the publisher.

What local authors do not all seem to know is that most journal publishers – some 90% of them – including the major ones, do allow this practice. In Dick’s case, Springer allows for both pre-and postprint archiving.

So how do you handle this if you are submitting or publishing an article? To check the policy of the journal you are thinking of publishing with, go the the Sherpa/Romeo website, where you can search on journals and publishers to establish their policies. The next step is to use one of the toolkits available through the Science Commons Rio Framework on Open Science (blogged in an earlier blog), which includes links to the Copyright Toolbox produced through a joint UK/Netherlands university collaboration. Then negotiate a contract with as much access as you can, using the sample clauses set out in the toolkits, which
by now must be pretty familiar to the journal publishers, seeing that they were created by major university bodies. These include retaining copyright (if you can get away with it) or at least being able to archive your article in some form and being allowed to use your own article in teaching and further research.

The really important thing, though, is that we need to lobby for policies in South Africa for the creation and mandating of research repositories in our universities. This is vital, given the increased access to and impact for our research that this could achieve. But more about that in another blog….

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