More is simply more: thoughts on open access

Picture1Open access

During Open Access Week, it’s interesting to look at the proliferation of open access types and the associated terminology. It started simply with the Budapest Open Access Initiative in 2002: green for self-archiving of a paper into a repository and gold for publishing open access in a peer-reviewed journal. A year later, the JISC-funded RoMEO project added blue (archive the post-print, but not pre-print), yellow (archive the pre-print, but not post-print) and white (no archiving allowed). Around 2008, gratis and libre were added. A gratis OA paper is free of price barriers as the publication is openly available, free of charge. A paper is considered libre if one or more of the permissions barriers are also relaxed. The latest OA color is black — papers that have “escaped their paywall,” or more simply, been made illegally available on sites like Sci-Hub.

I spend a lot of time in this space and find it terribly confusing. For me, I think it is much more productive to think about openly sharing research and helping to increase research performance.

Early stage research

In addition to the coloration of open access, the nomenclature around scholarly outputs has become nuanced to the point of confusion. Preprints have become a generic phrase used for everything not published. It is a lazy term. We don’t know if something is a preprint until a later version is published. Ideas, idea papers, working papers, conference proceedings and submitted papers are all early stage research.

Early stage research is important. It is usually freely available and openly shared, allowing research ideas to evolve as they move through the continuum. Researchers can receive feedback on an idea. The feedback may be the idea is silly and should be abandoned, or it may provide suggestions to improve it prior to submission to a journal. By sharing their early stage research, researchers can claim an idea, grab attention or provide something for others to build on.

Broader sharing of and access to early stage research is only part of the solution. Again, more isn’t necessarily better, but it is part of the mosaic.


Researchers have traditionally used repositories for sharing their papers and increasing exposure to their research. Content is usually aggregated within a discipline or institution through repositories. The core problem for both is that disciplinary repositories (DRs) and institutional repositories (IRs) are limited to one discipline or institution. Several years ago, I said SSRN was combining these two types of repositories into a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional repository (MDIR). Since then some repositories have expanded their subject areas and organizations have aggregated smaller repositories with limited success.

MDIRs provide the core access and exposure benefits of DRs and IRs with an interdisciplinary, inter-institutional, inter-perspective twist. They allow classifications into multiple subject areas across disciplines and institutional categories. For example, a Sarbanes-Oxley accounting paper, can also be classified into Securities Law, Regulatory Economics or Corporate Governance, giving researchers in those communities access to “new” and innovative perspectives from researchers looking at the same problem from other communities. The MDIR offers exposure to different ways of thinking and concepts, all within the same repository. The cross-pollination of ideas and discovery across institutions, helps researchers create new, innovative research faster.

As I look back on it now, SSRN is much more than a MDIR. It is a platform with a sustainable, freemium business model. Platforms are two-sided business models with incentives for both producers and consumers. SSRN created a scholarly research platform with human curation and cross-disciplinary classification to facilitate discovery and ease of use. The researchers submit for free and are given broader dissemination across disciplines than they could in a traditional repository. Users download for free and are able to discover research curated from dozens of disciplines and hundreds of institutions in a way not previously available.

I often get asked about impact of research. Obviously, the higher the quality or greater the impact the better. But I usually reply that impact is like beauty, “in the eye of the beholder.” If three people read a research paper and one cures cancer because of it, then the paper is seminal. We don’t need more colors or versions. We need better platforms for researchers to share more and as early as possible, and tools to help users find more knowledge.

In this case, more is truly better.



Article by Gregg Gordon, Managing Director
Thought leader behind Tomorrow’s Research Today
Published: Library Connect – Elsevier