The Power and Purpose of the Email Eprint Request Button

KG:I do not think that using the request button is a valid OA strategy. My own experience was that I received few response when requesting an article. The St. Gallen IR manager said that requesters can obtain much more positive results when mailing to the scholar directly.

(1) Michael White reported that the response rates for the email eprint request button at U. Stirling are about 50% fulfillment, 5% refusal and 45% no response.

(2) He also said that some of the no-responses may have been (2a) elapsed email addresses, (2b) temporary absence, (2c) embargoed theses, and (2d) author unfamiliarity with the purpose and use of the email eprint request Button.

(3) He also noted that the response rates may well improve with time. (I would add that that’s virtually certain: It is still exceedingly early days for the Button. And time — as well as the growing clamor for access [and impact] — is on the Button’s side.)

(4) It is harder to imagine why and how the long and complicated (and obsolescent) alternative procedure — of a user discovering an article that has not been deposited by the author, finding the author’s email address, and sending him an email eprint request, to which the author must respond by sending an email and attaching the eprint — would “obtain much more positive results” than the author depositing the article in his IR, once, and letting the IR’s Button send the email requests for the requesters to the author with no need for look-up, and only one click needed from the author to fulfill the request.

(5) The email eprint request Button does not provide OA; it only provides “Almost OA.” But that’s infinitely better than no OA. And the Button (and the Immediate-Deposit/Optional-Access — ID/OA — Mandate, for which the Button was designed) make it possible for institutions and funders to adopt Green OA mandates that neither need to allow exemptions from immediate deposit nor do they need to allow publishers to dictate whether or when the deposit is made.

(If publishers have a say, it is only about whether and when the deposit is made OA, not about whether or when the deposit is made at all. Since 63% of journals are already Green on immediate OA, the ID/OA Button means that an institution or funder can reach uncontroversial consensus on requiring 100% deposit, which then yields at least 63% immediate OA and 37% Almost-OA, whereas the alternative is not arriving at a consensus on mandating OA at all, or adopting a weaker mandate that only provides OA after an embargo period, or only at the publisher’s behest, or allows author opt-out. And the most important thing is not only that the ID/OA provides more access and is easier to reach agreement on adopting, but it will also quite naturally drive embargoes into their well-deserved graves, as the mandates and their resulting OA — and the demand for it — grow and grow.)

KG:The Oppenheim/Harnad “preprint & corrigenda” strategy “of tiding over a publisher’s OA embargo: Make the unrefereed preprint OA before submitting to the journal, and if upon acceptance the journal seeks to embargo OA to the refereed postprint, instead update the OA preprint with a corrigenda file” is a valid OA strategy because the eprint is PUBLIC.

What makes a strategy “valid” is that it works: increases access, Open Access, and Open Access mandates.

Both the “preprint&corrigenda” strategy and the “ID/OA-mandate&Button” strategy can increase access, OA, and OA mandates, but the ID/OA-mandate&Button strategy is universal: it scales up to cover all of OA’s target content, whereas the preprint&corrigenda strategy is not universal, for it does not and cannot cover those disciplines (and individual authors) that have good (and bad) reasons not to want to make their unrefereed preprints public.

KG:If an article is published then the author hasn’t any right under OA aspects to choose which requester has enough “dignity” to receive an eprint. I cannot accept the arbitrariness of such a decision under OA circumstances.”

Relax. The reason neophyte self-archiving authors are not fulfilling Button requests is because they are either not receiving them or don’t yet understand what to do with them, not because they are making value judgments about who does and does not merit the privilege of accessing their work!

They’ll learn: If necessary, they’ll learn under the pressure of the impact-weighting of publications in performance evaluation. But my hunch is that they already know they want the user-access and user-impact (from the eager way they do vanity-searches in the biobliography of every work they pick up in their research field, to check whether their own work has been cited). So all they really need to learn now is how the Button works, and why.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum