An idea for open access self-declaration


One of my academic hobby horses is Open Access, the movement to make scholarship freely available online. I’ve tried to model what embracing open access looks like through my own choices of where to publish, my practice of posting essays here pre-publication (and pulling the print publication when necessary), and my work with MediaCommons. I often read & recommend work about open access, such as Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s recent MLA talk that proposes a new way of thinking about scholarly work as “giving it away.” But while there are many fellow travelers who also believe in open access and try to practice what we preach, there is little coordination for how to articulate those beliefs and practices. In short, how do we make an group of individual’s actions feel like group action?

So in the spirit of open access, I want to float an idea – one that is certainly underdeveloped and needs a lot more input, but hopefully a community of fellow travelers can make something meaningful out of it. I think we need a set of standards for open access self-declaration – if you believe in open access, you need an effective way to publicly label your own practices in to state your individual standards and connect them to group norms. And these standards need to have cute little pictures.

This idea is inspired by CreativeCommons, which said instead of copyrighting a work with “All Rights Reserved,” you can use this set of standards to offer “Some Rights Reserved.” The power behind this model was, besides the legally binding fine print, the ease of selecting options – do I want to allow commercial derivatives or not? Share-alike? – and thus establishing a simple-to-understand set of parameters that creators might choose from, and translating it into iconic pictures & codes that gain widespread acceptance and understanding.

What might a similar set of open access practices look like? First, remember that these are standards of self-declaration, meaning that you are publicly saying what you will and will not do, not tied to individual works like with CC. Right now, the only comparable declarations I know about are individual blogs stating personal pledges (like danah boyd’s or others linked here) or blanket statements inviting signatories (like Research Without Walls). The problem with the former is that it’s too atomized & individual – how do I connect what danah does with what I do to call it a “movement”? The problem with the latter is that it’s too sweeping and inflexible, not applicable across disciplines, employment situation, and the like – I would never sign it as written, as it effectively closes off reviews of most book manuscripts and conferences, which are central to my field.

So we need someway to publicly declare our limits and practices that is more than individualized, but flexible enough to embrace multiple options. What I imagine is a website that allows you to create a profile, and then gives you a number of statements that you can opt-in to via checkbox. Then it creates a personal “Open Access ID Card” (with cute icons) that you can post to your personal website, faculty profile, Facebook, email signature or whatever, stating your practices publicly – and provide a quick URL to send to editors requesting you to review something that violates your declarations. The website would be searchable, so you can see other people’s declarations, and search for people who all selected a given practice (which could be useful for junior scholars to justify their choices with senior company). The type of declarations I imagine that would be options are:

  • I will only publish in journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals.
  • I will only peer-review journal articles for journals listed in the DOAJ.
  • I will only serve on editorial boards for journals listed in the DOAJ.
  • I will only sign publishing contracts that include the SPARC Author Addendum.
  • I will only contribute book chapters to publishers that allow me to pre-publish a version of my manuscript to my personal website or institutional repository.

So that’s the idea. I know there are probably many reasons why it would be hard to come up with uniform options that are sufficiently flexible to span disciplines & appointments, specific enough to be coherent, and simple enough to be manageable. And I know that I have neither the time nor expertise to actually implement such a system. And maybe there’s something out there already that accomplishes these goals (if so, please link!). But I think it’s a useful idea to discuss and leverage our open platforms to devise some solutions for uniting our individual practices. So please discuss in comments, reblog, and run with it (after all, this post is CC licensed to be copied with attribution!). Just let me know where I can sign up.


6 Responses to “An idea for open access self-declaration”

  1. The best part of this idea is the standardization: clear, widely-utilized symbols and settings that could quickly turn over a field. That said, the two biggest obstacles would be some publishers (of course) and also administrators (particularly deans and provosts) who would likely be uneasy with this standard (since it challenges long-held concepts of publication and tenure standards). I like this, and I REALLY like actively pushing for this, rather than just speculating.

  2. Alas, mere boycotts and declarations are a sure way to lose another decade of OA:

    The obstacle to OA is not publishers, it’s us, researchers — in particular, our fingers: We need to use them not to type out still more declarations, boycotts and petitions: We need to use them to deposit our peer-reviewed final drafts in our institutional repositories immediately upon acceptance for publication. (No permission needed from publisher to deposit, though over 60%, including virtually all the top journals, have already endorsed making the deposit immediately OA).

    If you want to pressure anyone, pressure your institutions and funders to mandate immediate deposit.

    Harnad, S. (2006) Opening Access by Overcoming Zeno’s Paralysis, in Jacobs, N., Eds. Open Access: Key Strategic, Technical and Economic Aspects, chapter 8. Chandos.

    Harnad, S. (2008) Waking OA’s “Slumbering Giant”: The University’s Mandate To Mandate Open Access. New Review of Information Networking 14(1): 51 – 68 and in Russian: // Nauch. i Tekhn. B-ki (Sci-Tech Lib). – 2009. – N 10. – P. 61 – 72.

    Sale, A., Couture, M., Rodrigues, E., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2012) Open Access Mandates and the “Fair Dealing” Button. In: Dynamic Fair Dealing: Creating Canadian Culture Online (Rosemary J. Coombe & Darren Wershler, Eds.)

    • What Stevan said.

    • Stevan,

      Thanks for the comment & links! I agree that there are multiple roads to OA (as you say on your website), and yes, the road to Green OA is via agressive depositing in repositories. I try to practice that by self-publishing drafts to this website, but I’m at an institution that doesn’t really have an effective repository (they’re working on it), and definitely has little culture for open access among faculty. So I think making pledges that visibly highlight our beliefs and practices is crucial to foster institutional & cultural change, as well as encouraging Gold OA by being restrictive about where we publish & review. And for those of us in more established positions, that visibility can provide inspiration & backing for junior scholars.

  3. Yes, we also have a database that allows you to pledge at, but the pledge is not customizable. At the pledge is fully customizable, but I don’t think they use a standardized list with checkboxes, which would be useful. I always wanted to have what you describe for but it is beyond my php programming ability (only learned php for that site), but I’d be interested in discussing getting someone to do it.

    • Alex – thanks for commenting! I really like your version of the pledge, and think it provides a great foundation that a more flexible & customizable option might be built upon. Alas, my PHP mojo is even less than yours…

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