Simplify OA Deposit But Leave It In the Mandatee’s Hands

Congratulations to MIT for this extremely helpful streamlining of the deposit process:

MIT Libraries began to investigate how SWORD and SWAP could facilitate external contributions by publishers…¬†Entering long and complex information about articles is avoided with the MIT Libraries? customized submission interface.¬† Only two pieces of metadata are required for already published papers: the name of the authorizing MIT author and a DOI or URL. If the paper is unpublished, four fields are requested.

Although entering metadata is not really that complicated and time-consuming at all, we know it is difficult to persuade those who have never deposited a paper in an institutional repository of this fact.

So reducing deposit to just entering a name and URL would be a huge step forward in facilitating mandate compliance — and of course also in encouraging unmandated deposit.

I hope we will implement this quickly for EPrints repositories too.

I am, however, far less sanguine about the second — publisher-deposit — option, especially for mandated deposit:

the use of SWORD and SWAP with the DSpace repository at MIT is part of a larger strategy to improve collaboration with publishers, facilitating a ?push? of large amounts of content into a repository without necessitating a platform-specific solution. Ultimately this ?publisher template? could be used with other repository platforms such as Fedora and EPrints. Richard Rodgers, Head of Software Development at MIT Libraries, says, ?If we do this right there will be no code to share. SWORD and SWAP are already open and accessible. We have localized their use to accommodate MIT-specific metadata.?

It might be alright to quietly provide a way for publishers to facilitate IR deposit, but it would be a huge strategic error to give them an active or essential hand in it.

All the power of self-archiving (and of self-archiving mandates from institutions and funders) comes from the fact that it is the author and the author’s institution (and funder) that does it, mandates it, and monitors compliance.

Self-archiving — its doing and its timing — is all in the research community’s own hands. Publisher deposit is not.

The little extra content that publisher-deposit or publisher-facilitated deposit might add does not counterbalance the additional author confusion, deposit delay, diffusion of responsibility and difficulty in compliance-monitoring that it is likely to introduce into institutional mandates, as it has already done with those funder mandates that allow fundees to offload their mandate fulfillment obligations onto publishers. The problem is especially with specifying and monitoring the fulfillment conditions for deposit mandate compliance. (We always have to remember that publishers are neither employees nor fundees, and hence they are not the ones subject to the deposit mandates).

(What kind of mandate is it if it says “You must deposit — unless your publisher does it for you…” How is it even to be monitored whether and when the mandate has been complied with?)

So if repositories implement some sort of back door for publisher-facilitated deposit, it is important to keep a low profile on it and to stress that on no account should it be stipulated or relied on as one of the ways to fulfill a deposit mandate: Complying with the mandate must be entirely the responsibility of the author, and the monitoring and verification of compliance must be based entirely on steps taken by the author, not steps the authors leave to a publisher to (possibly) take (sometime) on their behalf…

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum