Reader vs. Author

It’s striking to consider the dissonance between faculty as readers and faculty as authors described in a recent article by Rachel Bruce and David Prosser, Keeping research in step with policy. While the article’s context is the UK, where the most animated open access discussions are currently taking place, there are few differences from our situation in the US.

The article says a recent survey of UK academics found that, as authors, there was little interest in free web accessibility, yet

… the survey showed that, when researchers are themselves in the position of a reader, there is a strong desire for openly-available resources on the web.

When I hit a paywall, I do a search and feel grateful when an author has taken the trouble to archive an article that I need in a repository like VTechWorks. So I archive when I publish an article.

One US difference that the authors note is our use of interlibrary loan. While I use this service occasionally, I would much rather find an article myself on the web. ILL is more time-consuming and the article still costs money- it’s just that I’m not paying for it. But personally, I find a $50 charge for an article objectionable whether I’m paying for it or the university is. Those barriers of time and money disappear for readers when we archive our work.

The authors conclude that this reader/author dissonance can be overcome with time and explicit incentives. Traditional measures such as the impact factor will be replaced with altmetrics, making the advantages of openness clear. Universities can put more emphasis on open dissemination when they evaluate faculty.

This is partly a matter of reciprocity — we benefit from the open availability of articles on the web, so let’s ensure that our articles are openly available for others. But it’s also a matter of self-interest, since we benefit in the form of views, downloads, and citations. When we publish, let’s remember that we are readers as well, and no one has access to everything.

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About Philip Young

Philip Young is Scholarly Communication Librarian at Virginia Tech where he supports outreach about open access, copyright/open licensing, open data, ORCID, and metrics/altmetrics.

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One Response to Reader vs. Author

  1. I like what you propose and would try to take the idea further.
    Since copyright applies only to the presentation, and not the facts, it would be legal for anyone with free access to an article to abstract the facts in a different form in any open access medium.

    The form I like most, so far, is called IBIS and makes indented trees of Questions, Answers, and Confirming and Refuting arguments. In a wiki like discussion, additional Answers and arguments could be added to any Question. And additional Questions or links or footnotes could be attached to any item in the forest of trees.

    Such a resource for students and scientists around the world could be started in much the way Wikipedia was started. Indeed, the initial entry for any paper might be the questions that a potential reader wanted to answer from the paper hidden behind a paywall. Then any helpful reader who happens to have free access could try answering those questions and perhaps providing additional answers to other questions.

    The form accommodates multiple viewpoints without becoming mush. After some time, the discussion might become more valuable than the original paper.

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