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June 21, 2007

Obsessive-compulsive disorder?

In a posting to the American Scientist Open Access Forum Sally Morris notes:

It's one of the curious things about the 'Open Access movement' that uptake by the academics themselves (for whose benefit it is supposed to be) depends on compulsion.

I made a similar point, though I suspect for completely different reasons, in my recent posting about repositories:

Yes, we can acknowledge our failure to put services in place that people find intuitively compelling to use by trying to force their use thru institutional or national mandates?  But wouldn't it be nicer to build services that people actually came to willingly?

Steven Harnard, in his response to Sally, notes that:

But if "compulsion" is indeed the right word for mandating self-archiving, I wonder whether Sally was ever curious about why publication itself had to be mandated by researchers' institutions and funders ("publish or perish"), despite its substantial benefits to researchers?

Touché.

I don't consider myself a real researcher [tm] so I probably shouldn't comment but I've always assumed that "publish or perish" resulted at least as much from social pressure as from policy pressure.  Self-archiving should be the same - it should be the expected norm because it is the obvious and intuitive thing for researchers to do to gain impact.

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If you don't publish, you won't get tenure, and you will be gone--as a matter of policy.

But I think there's something to be said on both sides here.

On the one hand, repositories should be filling a _user need_. We are trying to make them fill user needs, right? And if they really _did_ fill user needs, we wouldn't need to compel people to use them, right?
That is a very important goal.

On the other hand, there may be institutional or societal needs in addition to user needs. I'm thinking about preservation in particular (and it's still somewhat unclear if IR's can or should or do fill this role). It's possible that the individual will never care much about preservation, but it's still of value to the institution or society as a whole, so perhaps needs to be mandated.

But I guess one idea is to 'trick' them into preservation by providing some other service that they ARE interested in.

I completely agree that there are "institutional or societal" needs beyond those of the individual researcher. However, I tend to think that those needs are secondary (probably not the right word!) in the sense that until we have some content in repositories they are largely irrelevant. Getting content in remains our first and foremost challenge.

With specific reference to preservation... yes, that is important. But preservation services can be built outside of the repository infrastructure. That function doesn't need to be co-located with the repositories themselves. In much the same way that the Internet Archive operates alongside existing Web sites.

I'm not necessarily suggesting that we ask the Internet Archive to perform this function - though we could do. We might ask the British Library or other national libraries to do it for example. The point is that we don't necessarily need to ask the repositories themselves to worry about preservation concerns.

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