Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


From: Harnad, S. (2001) For Whom the Gate Tolls? How and Why to Free the Refereed Research Literature Online Through Author/Institution Self-Archiving, Now. Ciélographie et ciélolexie: Anomalie post-gutenbergienne et comment la résoudre


  Eight steps will be described here. The first four are not hypothetical in any way; they are guaranteed to free the entire refereed research literature (-24K journals annually) from its access/impact toll-barriers right away. The only thing that researchers and their institutions need to do is to take these first four steps. The second four steps are hypothetical predictions, but nothing hinges on them: The refereed literature will already be free for everyone as a result of steps i-iv, irrespective of the outcome of predictions v-viii.

    (i)  Universities install and register OAI-compliant Eprint Archives (eg

  The Eprints software is free and open-source. It in turn uses only free software; it is quick and easy to install and maintain; it is OAI-compliant and will be kept compliant with every OAI upgrade: Eprints Archives are all interoperable with one another and can hence be harvested and searched (eg, ) as if they were all in one global "virtual" archive of the entire research literature, both pre- and post-refereeing.

    (ii)  Authors self-archive their pre-refereeing preprints and post-refereeing postprints in their own university's Eprint Archives.

  This is the most important step; it is insufficient to create the Eprint Archives. All researchers must self-archive their papers therein if the literature is to be freed of its access- and impact-barriers. Self-archiving is quick and easy; it need only be done once per paper, and the result is permanent, and permanently and automatically uploadable to upgrades of the Eprint Archives and the OAI-protocol.

    (iii)  Universities subsidise a first start-up wave of self-archiving by proxy where needed.

  Self-archiving is quick and easy, but there is no need for it to be held back if any researcher feels too busy, tired, old or otherwise unable to do it for himself: Library staff or students can be paid to "self-archive" the first wave of papers by proxy on their behalf. The cost will be negligibly low per paper, and the benefits will be huge; moreover, there will be no need for a second wave of help once the palpable benefits (access and impact) of freeing the literature begin to be felt by the research community. Self-archiving will become second-nature to all researchers as the objective digitometric indicators of its effects on citations and useage become available online (Harnad 2001; Lawrence 2001a, 2001b) (eg, cite-base or ResearchIndex

    (iv)  The Give-Away corpus is freed from all access/impact barriers on-line.

  Once a critical mass of researchers has self-archived, the refereed research literature is at last free of all access-and impact-barriers, as it was always destined to be.


  Steps i-iv are sufficient to free the refereed research literature. We can also guess at what may happen after that, but these are really just guesses. Nor does anything depend on their being correct. For even if there is no change whatsoever—even if Universities continue to spend exactly the same amounts on their access-toll budgets as they do now—the refereed literature will have been freed of all access/impact barriers forever.

  However, it is likely that there will be some changes as a consequence of the freeing of the literature by author/institution self-archiving. This is what those changes might be:

  v. Users will prefer the free version?

  It is likely that once a free, online version of the refereed research literature is available, not only those researchers who could not access it at all before, because of toll-barriers at their institution, but virtually all researchers will prefer to use the free online versions.

  Note that it is quite possible that there will always continue to be a market for the toll-based options (on-paper version, publisher's on-line PDF, deluxe enhancements) even though most users use the free versions. Nothing hangs on this.

  vi. Publisher toll revenues shrink, Library toll savings grow?

  But if researchers do prefer to use the free online literature, it is possible that libraries may begin to cancel journals, and as their windfall toll savings grow, journal publisher tollrevenues will shrink. The extent of the cancellation will depend on the extent to which there remains a market for the toll-based add-ons, and for how long.

  If the toll-access market stays large enough, nothing else need change.

  vii. Publishers downsize to providers of peer-review service + optional add-ons products?

  It will depend entirely on the size of the remaining market for the toll-based options whether and to what extent journal publishers will have to down-size to providing only the essentials: The only essential, indispensable service is peer review.

  viii. peer-review service costs funded by author-institution out of reader-institution toll savings?

  If publishers can continue to cover costs and make a decent profit from the toll-based optional add-ons market, without needing to down-size to peer-review provision alone, nothing much changes.

  But if publishers do need to abandon providing the toll-based products and to scale down instead to providing only the peer-review service, then universities, having saved 100% of their annual access-toll budgets, will have plenty of annual windfall savings from which to pay for their own researchers' continuing (and essential) annual journal-submission peer-review costs (10-30%); the rest of their savings (70-90 per cent) they can spend as they like (eg, on books—plus a bit for Eprint Archive maintenance).

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