Sit, Stay, Pay: Paywalls and Popular Research

A couple of weeks ago, an article detailing new research findings by the Duke Canine Cognition Center appeared in our Raleigh area newspaper, the News and Observer. The researchers found that tone of voice can affect how different types of dogs—calmer dogs versus more energetic dogs—respond to their owners’ commands. As a dog owner myself, this is a potentially useful discovery that could help me and many others develop better relationships with our pets.

For those readers who wanted to delve deeper into the researchers’ methods and results by reading the original article, the News and Observer thoughtfully included a link to the article from the journal in which it was published: Animal Cognition. However, clicking on the link takes the reader not to the article itself but to an intermediary page that requires a payment of $40 in order to access the article. In the parlance of scholarly communication, the reader is “hitting a paywall.” By charging prohibitively high fees to view single articles, journals create a barrier between readers without a subscription (read: most of the general public) and the research they want to access.

This problem is not a new one. The open access movement has been trying to address the paywall issue for the better part of two decades. In 2010, as a part of that effort, the Duke faculty adopted a university-wide open access policy to facilitate wider access to their research. The policy enables faculty members to archive copies of their research articles in our institutional repository, DukeSpace. Open self-archiving is accepted by most journals, and many of Duke’s faculty members have uploaded their work to the repository. Anything archived in DukeSpace is free and open to anyone with an internet connection.

For the past two years, to raise awareness about the availability of DukeSpace as resource for making faculty work available to the public, the Duke Libraries Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communication has been collaborating with our Office of News and Communication to provide open access copies of research papers that are featured in the news. When a news story is about to be released, we are alerted so that we can get in touch with the authors and request a copy of the research article. Most authors get back to us within a day or two. My colleagues and I then upload the article to the repository and provide the permanent link to Duke News to include in the story.

Since we began seeking these articles out, we’ve uploaded dozens of papers to the repository, many of which have seen very high numbers of downloads. One particular article about a new material that can harvest power from the airwaves has been viewed nearly 17,000 times since it was archived in DukeSpace in 2013. And the readership wasn’t limited to the United States. Many of the downloads came from other countries, including India, China, Russia, and Japan.

Like that article, we wanted to make the Canine Cognition Center’s paper available openly. Though the News and Observer is not a Duke publication, we still saw the opportunity to leverage our open access policy to provide wider access to the article. When the authors received my request, they were—like most of the authors we contact—more than happy to provide a copy of the article. They were quite appreciative, in fact, of the offer to upload it on their behalf, as it would help increase the impact of the article’s findings. It is now available for download free of charge in Dukespace.

I hope that this case will raise awareness among news agencies of the limited access the public has to academic research, but also of ability to collaborate with authors and institutions to provide open copies of research articles. By contacting the researchers and asking them to post an open access version of their paper, you will not be imposing on them, but helping them increase the reach and impact of their scholarship. And in so doing, you’ll be affording more readers the opportunity to engage with current research.

For all the dog lovers out there, enjoy the article.

4 thoughts on “Sit, Stay, Pay: Paywalls and Popular Research”

  1. Well, the fact that the authors had to be invited to submit a version of the article and the fact that it had to be “uploaded on their behalf” is very telling. Green OA has a low uptake and even with the coercion (that is, the “policy”) the authors didn’t even upload the piece themselves. It seems that the uploading of the article by librarians was done more to make a political point (and punish Springer) than to provide access to some scholarly content. The blog post sneakily avoids mentioning that the version of the article in the repository is not the published version; it is the postprint, a word document. Also, does the Duke repository also make available the “Electronic supplementary material” the real version of the article mentions? I can’t tell.

    Perhaps the Duke University Press could make all of its postprints available on the repository. I am sure the librarians would be happy to upload these files.

    1. Jeffrey, you write as if a library providing a service to faculty is a bad thing, which is surprising since you work in a university library yourself, right?

      In this and other comments you’ve frequently made elsewhere, you continue to imagine supporters of open access aiming to score political points and having an intent to punish, and it’s become clear that you are just projecting your own tactics on others.

      I can assure you that our intent is quite simply to serve the researcher and their goals, to serve the university and its goals, and to serve scholars and scholarship and society more generally. This is what libraries do.

      As Haley has written in this post, in most cases the authors are delighted to get assistance in having their work reach broader audiences (in other cases they are made aware of how easy it is, and are inspired to do it on their own). Sure, posting their most recent article for open access may not be the highest thing on their priority list, but that’s understandable – they are here primarily to research and teach. Libraries provide all kinds of services to help our community save time, do better research, and have their work be more widely understood and useful (so do university news offices, research support offices, journalists, and many others, obviously). There’s no coercion involved, and no sneaky stuff – we’re matter of fact about what we do, why we do it, and we recognize that in some situations we can’t do everything we’d like.

      Jeffrey, please understand that your library colleagues around the world who support open access are not up to some nefarious game – we’re doing our jobs. And we’re doing it in a way that seeks to achieve positive outcomes for all. What are you doing?

  2. Jeffrey, what are you doing indeed? Please understand that your library colleagues are not the same – we’re doing our jobs. And we’re doing it in a way that seeks to achieve positive outcomes for all.

  3. Many thanks for describing how you’re doing this. We are looking at adopting this practice in our own organization. I have some skepticism about our collective advocacy for self deposit, in a cost/benefit sense, i.e.- we advocate and no one listens. What you’re doing, though, seems to be an excellent way to use a high profile piece of research to make a very valid and useful point to campus researchers.

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