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Services for Authors at the Penn Libraries: Sharing Your Work for Greater Visibility

The Role of Open Access In Promoting Your Work

What Role Does Open Access Play in Publication and Promoting my work?

Broadly speaking, open access publication allows authors to distribute their scholarly work to a primarily online readership. Open access publication is free of cost, or other access barriers. Sherpa-Romeo provides an extensive glossary of terms related to sharing your work via a range of open access venues. There are many different models of open access, and the terms and models can quickly get confusing. To help you on your open access author journey, the Penn Libraries provide resources to help you understand the terminology and demystify the complexity of open access.

The concept of open access developed with the rise of the Web and new found ease of sharing content instantaneously. With the soaring cost of commercially published journals, particularly in the STEM fields, many scholars in countries outside of Western Europe and North America, as well as the general public were priced out of their subscriptions. One solution to these readership barriers was to encourage scholars to post their articles on personal or institutional websites. Another solution was to develop journals, published via what we now call “open access.” As the concept of open access developed, a variety of models emerged to serve different community needs.  

Over the last few decades in the academic world, thinking around and opportunities for open access have grown and evolved to address this critical disparity in access across the globe. The 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative launched an internationally organized effort to address access. To find out more about open access in history and practice, Peter Suber’s monograph Open Access (MIT 2012) and Martin Paul Eve’s Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies, and the Future (Cambridge 2014) are good sources to review the history, as well as the different approaches to open access within academia. Both titles are available and openly accessible on the web.

Sharing Your Work for Greater Visibility

It is easy to document that open access leads to greater visibility for your research. If you participate in an academic sharing site such as Penn’s ScholarlyCommons, a discipline related site such as arXiv or HumanitiesCommons, or even one of the commercial sites such as Academia.edu, or ResearchGate, you receive automatic updates on how often your work is downloaded or requested. It is not uncommon for those numbers to reach into the thousands because your work is easily discoverable to the public via Internet searches. In addition, posting your work on the web, provides you with a date stamp, establishes your ideas as yours, and can protect your work from plagiarism, or from plagiarism claims.

When you join an academic sharing site you become part of a scholarly ecosystem that combines discovery, conversation, collaboration, collegial review, and mutual support. Your collegial contacts expand beyond your institutional affiliations to include scholars around the world. If the site is indexed by a search engine such as Google, then your community can be worldwide. It will expand beyond the narrow limits of your discipline to incorporate curious students and online readers everywhere.

Most of us are familiar with, and have created profiles on the big open access sites such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate. These two sites are currently in collaborative talks with Springer Nature, and the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). SSRN is now owned by the Netherlands-based publisher Elsevier. SSRN is free to browse and free to post, but also classifies posted papers into “topic-based eJournals” (Subject Area Research Networks) that are distributed to individual and institutional subscribers.

Academia.edu and ResearchGate have freemium (fee-based) models for those creating profiles and posting work. Creating a profile on these sites is free, but there are premium options available. These two sites have been in disputes with publishers because although they do have policies around copyright, they do not monitor whether their participants have the legal rights to post their publications (see Author Rights above). Scholars may set up profiles, including CVs, and publications lists. It is possible to post pre-prints, published papers, or a list of citations as you create your individual publishing record. Participants can follow other scholars and receive alerts when new papers are posted. These services also help you leverage your community of collegial contacts by increasing opportunities to stay in touch with interested audiences.

Scholarly associations are also involved in platforms for the sharing of pre-prints. arXiv (1991-), is the oldest sharing site that continues to grow and is still robust. It is now hosted at Cornell University and sponsored by a collaboration of research libraries, including the Penn Libraries. It began as an initiative of the physics scholarly community, but it has expanded to include multiple STEM fields as well as the field of economics. Major humanities sites include PhilPapers and HumanitiesCommons. Humanities Commons allows scholars to create profiles, share scholarship, maintain blogs, and engage in public review of scholarly work in progress. Many STEM societies have followed in the footsteps of arXiv, including bioRxiv, medRxiv, OSFPreprints (Open Science Foundation), ChemRxiv, and EarthArXiv. OSF hosts SOCARXIV for the social science fields.

There are both pros and cons to participating in these sites.

On the plus side:

  • Academic sharing sites provide the opportunity to share scholarship with a broad audience that isn’t easily reached via traditional publication
  • The availability of metrics for readership and the measurable impact from citations and downloads is valuable and gratifying
  • Increased opportunity for peer conversation and recognition outside of your network
  • arXiv, Humanities Commons, and other platforms hosted by scholarly associations and university repositories are not-for-profit and are managed by scholars for scholars
  • Penn Libraries’ ScholarlyCommons staff will assist you in posting your work and determining whether or not your journal allows posting on personal websites or institutional repositories—just submit your CV.

On the negative side:

  • There is concern about reaching the uninitiated, the possibility of being misinterpreted, or the possibility that one’s ideas and findings might be misapplied
  • Maintaining an up-to-date profile takes time that might be spent on research and writing
  • Scholars are on their own to determine whether or not they can legally post their work
  • Academia.edu and ResearchGate are for profit, and this influences the manner in which they operate. This includes monetizing the data they collect from participants’ use of the site.

Academic sharing platforms are growing in importance as a way to bring more attention to your work. To learn more about the role of sharing platforms in the academic world, here are a few suggested readings:

  • Jamali, Hamid R., David Nicholas, and Eti Herman. 2016. “Scholarly Reputation in the Digital Age and the Role of Emerging Platforms and Mechanisms.” Research Evaluation 25 (1): 37–49. https://doi.org/10.1093/reseval/rvv032