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Understanding your rights: repositories, websites, and “self-archiving”

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Last month, I mentioned that authors posting copies of their articles online need to think about two big questions in order to determine whether they are acting in accordance with a copyright transfer agreement or publishing contract:

  1. What version of your article do you want to post online?
  2. Where do you want to post it?

(Of course, if you publish in a gold open access journal that allows you to keep the copyright to your own work, you don’t need to worry about any of this).

In this post, I’ll talk about the various locations online where you may want to post your work (sometimes called ‘self-archiving), since scholarly publishers will often grant authors the right to post a copy of an article (at least a pre-print or a post-print) in at least one of these locations:

Your personal website: This is probably the most common location where you would be permitted to post a copy of your article. At many universities, faculty and staff are provided with server space to set up their own webpage. This often requires knowledge of technologies like FTP, HTML and CSS. While more universities are providing web design solutions such as Google Sites or WordPress to their employees, maintaining a professional website can be time consuming and challenging. While personal websites are discoverable via Google, they are likely to have low traffic, and might not rise to the top of results lists. Researchers searching PubMed, Google Scholar, Web of Science or Scopus would have difficulty determining if a freely available copy was on your website.

Institutional repositories: Many institutions want to promote the work of their researchers. The institutional repository is a software solution that helps institutions post a collection documents and files online. Appropriate metadata can be added for each document and researcher and an author’s documents can be easily grouped together. Institutional repositories are often discoverable in Google Scholar, and many of them play nicely with other databases. But they also require care and feeding, so smaller institutions don’t always have the resources or staff to maintain one, especially if faculty aren’t clamoring for it.

Subject repositories: These are websites that maintain a database of articles published in other journals, pre-prints that haven’t yet found their way into the peer reviewed literature, and/or datasets. They are maintained by a variety of organizations including scholarly societies, government agencies, libraries and non-profits. The most well-known subject repositories are PubMed Central (biomedical sciences) and arxiv.org (physics, math, biomath, etc.), although many disciplines have one. Use of these repositories varies from discipline to discipline, and some publishers are more willing than others to allow deposit into subject repositories (where an article might be more visible) or to accept papers that have already been posted (as a pre-print) to a repository.

Academic social networking platforms: More and more researchers are creating profiles on academic social networks such as Academia.edu, ResearchGate, Mendeley and others. The registration process often encourages researchers to upload copies of their articles, but this may often go against a copyright transfer agreement. If your agreement allows you to post a copy of the article somewhere, a non-profit site is often stipulated. The social networks mentioned here are all for-profit companies and (in a round-about way) competitors to traditional publishers.

If you are a researcher who wants to make sure that folks have access to your work, what can you do?

"Ask a librarian" sign

CC-BY Image courtesy of Flickr user Timothy Vollmer

  1. Pay attention to your rights as authors – this isn’t just esoteric publishing jargon, this has a direct impact on your career.
  2. Publish in a gold open access journal.
  3. If you can’t publish in a gold open access journal, try to select a journal that allows you to post the post-print or publisher’s version of your article online. The Sherpa/Romeo database can help you determine what your rights will be.
  4. Talk to your friendly local librarian. We don’t bite, I can (almost) guarantee.
    • Ask them if your institution has an institutional repository.
    • Ask them to help you locate a subject repository for your work.
  5. Once you’ve posted your work to an institutional repository, a subject repository or your personal website (as permitted in your copyright transfer agreement), provide a link to that document in your social networking profiles.
Bonnie Swoger About the Author: Bonnie J. M. Swoger is a Science and Technology Librarian at a small public undergraduate institution in upstate New York, SUNY Geneseo. She teaches students about the science literature, helps faculty and students with library research questions and leads library assessment efforts. She has a BS in Geology from St. Lawrence University, an MS in Geology from Kent State University and an MLS from the University at Buffalo. She would love to have some free time in which to indulge in hobbies. She blogs at the Undergraduate Science Librarian. Follow on Twitter @bonnieswoger.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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