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Too much open access is in the dark

One of the inconvenient truths that the OA movement prefers not to discuss is the fact that a large amount of the content in the circa 4,125 institutional repositories created by research institutions in order to provide open access to their research output is not actually freely available but on “dark deposit”, or otherwise inaccessible. In other words, it is not open access.

There are several reasons for this. First, publishers of subscription journals now insist that papers they publish must undergo a period of embargo before the full text is made freely available.

Second, as the evaluation and monitoring of researchers grows in both breadth and depth so repositories have become vulnerable to being “captured” by university managers, who increasingly want to use them for other purposes. This can see access provision subordinated to goals for which full text availability is not necessary. Partly for this reason, many of the records in open repositories consist only of bibliographic details, not the documents themselves. While these records may include a link to the full text document hosted elsewhere, this will likely be behind a paywall.

Third, even where the full text has been deposited in a repository, the author (or their institution) may — for reasons that are not always clear — insist that a work is placed on dark deposit. Thus although the full text may be present in the repository, it may only be accessible to members of the institution — i.e. behind what we might call a “login wall”.

After studying these matters, and reporting on their findings in a 2014 paper published in D-lib Magazine, Hélène Prost and Joachim Schöpfel concluded, “Open archives are less open than they should be.”

It is, of course, perfectly legitimate (and sometimes unavoidable) for documents to be placed on dark deposit, but as Prost and Schöpfel point out doing so is “not in line with the underlying principles of the open access (OA) movement that defines open access ‘as a comprehensive source of human knowledge and cultural heritage that has been approved by the scientific community’ and that requires freely available scientific literature’.”

In the dark

But exactly how much content in open repositories is dark today? Unfortunately, we don’t really know. To try and get a clearer picture, Prost and Schöpfel conducted a survey of 25 institutional repositories and over 2 million records, 53% of which were peer-reviewed papers. Their conclusion: the rate of open access varies from repository to repository from just 4% OA to nearly 100%.

Click here to read more from this December 1, 2015 article by Richard Poynder.

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