Authors’ Drafts, Publishers’ Versions-of-Record, Digital Preservation, Open Access and Institutional Repositories

Commentary on Richard Poynder’s
Preserving the Scholarly Record:
Interview with digital preservation specialist Neil Beagrie

The trouble with universities (or nations) treating digital preservation (which is a genuine problem, and a genuine responsibility) as a single generic problem — covering all the university’s (or nation’s) “digital output,” whether published or unpublished, OA or non-OA — is not only that adding an additional preservation cost and burden where it is not yet needed (by conflating Green OA self-archiving mandates with “preservation mandates” and their funding demands) makes it even harder to get a Green OA self-archiving mandate adopted at all. But taking an indiscriminate, scattershot approach to the preservation problem also disserves the digital preservation agenda itself.

As usual, what is needed is to sort out and understand the actual contingencies, and then to implement the priorities, clearly and explicitly, in the requisite causal order. The priorities here are to focus university (or national) preservation efforts and funds on what needs to be preserved today. And — as far as universities’ own institutional repositories (IRs) are concerned — that does not include the publisher’s official version-of-record for that university’s (or nation’s) journal article output. Preserving those versions-of-record is a matter to be worked out among deposit libraries and the publishers and institutional subscribers of the journals in question. Each university’s own IR is for providing OA to its own authors’ final, refereed drafts of those articles, in order to make them accessible to those users worldwide who do not have subscription access to the version-of-record. The author’s draft does indeed need preservation too, but that’s not the same preservation problem as the problem of preserving the published version-of-record (nor is it the same document!).

Perhaps one day universal Green OA mandates will cause journal subscriptions to become unsustainable, because the worldwide users of journal articles will be fully satisfied with just the author’s final drafts rather than needing the publisher’s version-of-record, and hence journal subscriptions will be cancelled. If and when we ever reach that point, the version-of-record will no longer be produced by the publisher, because the authors’ drafts will effectively become the version-of-record. Journal publishers will then convert to Gold OA publishing, with what remains of the cost of publication paid for by institutions, per individual article published, out of their windfall subscription cancellation savings. (Some of those savings can then also be devoted to digital preservation of the institutional version-of-record.)

But conflating the (nonexistent) need to pay for this hypothetical future contingency today (when we still have next to no OA or OA mandates, and subscriptions are still going strong) with either universities’ (or nations’) digital preservation agenda or their OA IR agenda is not only incoherent but counterproductive.

Let’s keep the agendas distinct: IRs can archive many different kinds of content. Let’s work to preserve all IR content, of course, but let’s not mistake that IR preservation function for journal article preservation or OA.

For journal articles, worry about preserving the version-of-record — and that has nothing to do with what is being deposited in IRs today.

For OA, worry about mandating deposit of the author’s version — and that has nothing to do with digital preservation of the version-of-record.

Nor should the need to mandate depositing the author’s version be in any way hamstrung with extra expenses that concern the publish’s version-of-record, or the university’s IR, or OA. (Exactly the same thing is true, mutatis mutandis, at the national preservation level, insofar as journal articles are concerned: A journal’s contents do not all come from one institution, nor from one nation.)

And, while we’re at it, let’s also keep university (or national) funding of Gold OA publishing costs distinct from the Green OA mandating agenda too. First things first. Needlessly over-reaching (for Gold OA funds or preservation funds) simply delays getting what is already fully within universities’ (and nations’) grasps — which is the newfound (but mostly unused) potential to provide OA to the authors’ drafts of all their refereed journal articles by requiring them to be deposited in their OA IRs (not by reforming journal publishing, nor by solving the digital preservation problem).

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum