Comparing Physicists’ Central and Institutional Self-Archiving Practices at Southampton

SUMMARY: An Indiana University study (on the Institutional Repository of the University of Southampton) by Xia (2008) has tested the hypothesis that physicists who already habitually self-archive in an Open Access (OA) Central Repository (Arxiv) would be more likely to self-archive in their own institution’s OA Institutional Repository (IR). The outcome of the study was that the hypothesis is incorrect: If anything, veteran Arxiv self-archivers are more resistant to IR deposit than ordinary nonarchivers, because they neither wish to change their longstanding locus of deposit, nor do they wish to double-deposit.
   This outcome is quite natural and to be expected. The solution for this relatively small population of seasoned self-archivers is for their institution-external deposits to be automatically imported back into their IRs using the SWORD protocol (which can also be used to export automatically from IRs to central repositories). There is no need for veteran self-archivers to change their practices or to double-deposit.
   It is not the 15% of authors who already self-archive (whether institution-externally or on their own institutional websites) that are the problem for OA: The problem is the 85% who do not yet self-archive. It is in order to set the keystrokes of those nonarchivers in motion at long last — for their own benefit and that of their employing institutions as well as the tax-paying public that funds their research — that Green OA self-archiving mandates are now being adopted by their institutions and funders.
   When researchers have been polled (by Alma Swan & Sheridan Brown), the vast majority (95%), across all fields, have responded that they would comply with self-archiving mandates by their institutions and/or their funders (over 80% of them reporting that they would comply
willingly). And actual outcome studies (by Arthur Sale) have confirmed that this is indeed what happens, with near-100% self-archiving rates reached within about two years once mandated — but continuing to languish at the baseline 15% self-archiving rate (30% with incentives ad assistance) if left unmandated.


Xia, J. (2008) A Comparison of Subject and Institutional Repositories in Self-archiving Practices. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 34 (6):489-495.

(1) The Xia (2008) study‘s finding is quite correct that many more Southampton physicists self-archive centrally in Arxiv rather than institutionally in Southamtpon University’s Institutional Repository (IR). If the same study had been conducted at any other university, the outcome would almost certainly have been identical. The reason is that physicists have been self-archiving centrally in Arxiv since 1991, and today, quite understandably, they have no desire either to switch to local IR self-archiving or to do double-depositing.

(2) This was already known at Southampton, and other institutions know it about their own physicists.

(3) Consequently, it is not at clear why anyone would have expected the opposite result, namely, that longstanding Arxiv self-archivers would be quite happy to switch to local IR self-archiving, or to do double-depositing!

(4) In reality, the problem — for both OA and for IRs — is not the physicists who are already self-archiving, regardless of where they are self-archiving. If all researchers were doing what the physicists have been doing since 1991 (and computer scientists have been doing since even earlier), 100% OA would be long behind us, and IRs could all be filled, if we wished, trivially, by simply importing back all their own institution-external deposits, automatically, using something like the SWORD protocol.

(5) The real problem is hence not the minority of spontaneous self-archivers of long standing (globally, spontaneous self-archiving overall hovers at about 15% overall); the problem is the vast majority, which consists of nonarchivers: Of OA’s target content — the annual 2.5 million articles published in the planet’s 25,000 peer-reviewed journals, across all disciplines and institutions — 85% is not yet being self-archived. It is for that reason that self-archiving mandates have proved to be necessary.

(6) In choosing to analyze the data on Southampton — which is indeed a hotbed of OA, OA IRs, OA self-archiving, and OA self-archiving mandates — this study has unfortunately chosen to analyze the wrong IR and the wrong mandate! It is Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) that has the planet’s first and longest standing self-archiving mandate (since 2002-2003), and it is the ECS IR that has a full-text deposit rate near 100%. 

(7) The 2008 study analyzed the self-archiving rate for physicists, in the university-wide IR. But the University as a whole only has a university-wide mandate (and a rather vague one) since April 2008, and even that has not yet been publicized or implemented yet. (The university did have a longer standing requirement to enter metadata in the IR for the UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), mostly by library proxy deposit, which is why the study found so many abstracts without full texts therein, for there was no requirement to deposit the full text.)

(8) As a consequence, the study’s findings — although quite accurate regarding the general resistance of veteran Arxiv self-archivers to self-archiving alternatively or additionally in their own institution’s IR — do not really have any bearing on mandates and mandated IR behavior in general.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum