Increasing the impact of the academy

Karen Herland

Stevan Harnad discussed open access with a group on April 25.

Photo by Rob Maguire

Imagine if all of the most current research in your field was just a few keystrokes away. Similarly, imagine if your latest paper could be read months before its slated journal publication.

Depending on the culture of your discipline, the scenario may seem like a dream or a nightmare. On April 25, Stevan Harnad, Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Science at UQAM, presented the possibilities of what he sees as inevitable in the next couple of years.

Harnad came to sing the praises of open access. Under this system, faculty self-archive peer-reviewed papers in their university’s institutional repository so that others can freely access that research.

William Curran, head of Concordia’s Library, said in an email that “the whole philosophy and pedagogical role of the library ‘business’ is to provide access, i.e., open access to the compendium of the world’s knowledge.” He anticipates that Concordia will have an institutional repository within the year for, at minimum, completed theses and research papers, “which represent the intellectual output of the university.”

Harnad argued that this makes sense for an academic system that grants tenure and funding based on the number of publications and the impact of research. Open access of all articles that have been accepted for journal publication can maximize that impact.

With a series of calculations, he demonstrated that work available through open access is more quickly picked up and more frequently cited than material published in traditional journals.

Using figures based on Concordia’s output he said that we had averaged three citations for every one of the 3,323 articles our researchers had published in peer-reviewed journals between 2002–06. He extrapolated that with open access, “your citation impact would have been well over four…These are big steps, in a logarithmic scale, so three to four is a huge jump.”

It may not seem like much, but Southampton University in the U.K. (where Harnad taught) has a citation level above that of Columbia and Yale. Harnad said that it was precisely because Southampton was “the first (institution) to mandate, not request or invite, but mandate, that all post-print articles be deposited.”

Arts & Science Dean David Graham attended the lecture. He concluded that as a scholar and journal editor, “I find the prospect of increased readership and impact tremendously exciting in principle.” While favourable to an institutional repository, he stressed the importance of dealing with concerns about potential economic viability and long-term negative effects on existing journals.

Some professors were concerned about the lack of oversight involved in such a process.

Harnad responded that repositories use software that can identify papers by keywords. Researchers can still seek out work that has been accepted by trusted journals, presented in major conferences or by using whatever other criteria they chose. In fact, OAIster ( can search through all available repositories on the web to do the selecting for you. “You are just no longer limited by what your institution can afford (to subscribe to),” he said.

Kumiko Vézina, the Concordia librarian responsible for the coordination of electronic resources, is currently studying open access for a PhD.

Her research with professors in the life sciences in the six largest Quebec universities demonstrated an inconsistency in current self-archiving practice. However, most of those same respondents, 83 per cent, said that they would willingly self-archive their work if mandated by their institution or funding agency. SSHRC has adopted open access in principle and is exploring open access policy, particularly in relation to SSHRC-funded journals. CIHR is currently working on a very strong policy, requiring that data and articles from funded research be deposited. The CIHR draft “is considered a model for open access policy,” according to Vézina.

The infrastructure needed to establish an institutional repository requires a server and personnel to establish, manage and update the program. According to Jean-Marc Edwards, Assistant Director (Systems) at Concordia Libraries, the investment would vary depending on the scope of the project. The university could decide to archive digital collections, as well as academic output.