Tag Archives: elsevier

Checking out the Elsevier / U of Florida pilot

One of the papers at Open Repositories 2017 I couldn’t attend was:

Maximize the Visibility and Impact of Open Access and other Articles through integration of Publisher APIs
Letitia Mukherjee (Elsevier), Robert Phillips (University of Florida)

The University of Florida searched for solutions to expand access to university-authored journal articles thru institutional repository. UFL and Elsevier collaborated to automatically feed journal platform data and links to the IR through free APIs. The project enabled UFL to support university authors/researchers and compliance with US public access policies.

I wrote most of this blog post based on what I heard about the presentation at conference, and my own investigations a couple of days later (ie a month ago); I’ve made some small edits and am posting this now after seeing the presentation recording on YouTube.

I first read about this project a year ago in an Inside Higher Ed article (in which Alicia Wise is quoted with an infuriating “The nice thing about this pilot is it opens up the repository”. No, it doesn’t open the repository. The repository was already open. It also doesn’t open up Elsevier content, which remains completely closed) and in a more sceptical blog post (which describes it as turning the repository into “a de facto discovery layer”. From what I can tell, this is being extraordinarily generous: as a discovery layer it doesn’t even make a particularly good Amazon affiliate programme, because Amazon at least pays you a few cents for the privilege of linking to them.)

Before going further I want to make it clear that any and all scathing comments I make in this post are reflective of my opinions about Elsevier stinginess, not about the repository or its staff who are clearly just doing what Elsevier allows them to do. Also I’m writing about the system as it is right now (Phase I). [Phase II was briefly discussed starting about 18:55 in the video and in Q&A at the end of the presentation.]

While still at conference, I heard that Robust Discussion was had following the presentation (and this is captured in the video too). Among other questions, an audience member asked if Elsevier would offer all subscribers the ability to download final accepted manuscripts via API for example (21:59). The eventual answer (after some confusion and clarification) seems to be that it’s not currently available to all subscribers as they’re creating author manuscripts specifically for the pilot and need to work out whether this is scalable (24:44). [This raises the question to me of why. Why not just use the actual author manuscript instead of converting the author manuscript into the publisher manuscript and then apparently converting it back?]

In any case, when I asked the same question at the vendor stall, I was told that if they provided the pdf to repositories, they wouldn’t be able to track usage of it. The vendor also asked me why we’d want to. I talked about preservation, primarily because I foolishly assumed that the system they’ve got with Florida actually worked as advertised to provide ‘public access’ but a couple of days later, somewhat recovered from the exhaustion of conference, I had second thoughts. Because of course the other things that we want are full-text searching and access via Google Scholar. Also access for the general public, not just our own university. Also, well, access at all. I thought this went without saying until I actually began to test how it works in practice.

So University of Floriday’s repository is IR@UF. I ran a general search for {Elsevier} and turned up 32,987 results. I chose an early result that wasn’t from the Lancet because the Lancet is a special snowflake: “(1 1 0) and (1 0 0) Sidewall-oriented FinFETs: A performance and reliability investigation”.  The result is plastered honestly with “Publisher version: Check access”.

Is it open access? I clicked on the title. Elsevier has made much of “embedding” the content in the repository. I think this is in fact intended for phase II but they’d managed to give the impression that it was already in place so at this point I expected to be taken to a repository page with a PDF embedded in an iframe or possibly some unholy Flash content. Instead, I was taken straight to the item pay-to-download page on Elsevier. Further exploration uncovered no additional ways to access the article. So there’s no access to the public: it’s not open access and it does absolutely nothing to support “compliance with US public access policies”.

Is it easily accessible to institution members? If I was a UFL student or staff member who happened to be off-campus (say, at a conference, or researching from home) there’s no visible way to login to access the article. I assume UFL has IP access to content in which case it’d work on campus or through a VPN, but that’s it.

Is it findable through full-text search? I dug up access through my own library to download the pdf so I could select a phrase early on in the full-text that didn’t appear in the title or abstract. But doing a full-text search in IR@UF for {“nMOS FinFET devices”} resulted in “Your search returned no results“.

(Just to be sure the full-text search was working, I also tried it with a phrase from the title, {“Sidewall-oriented FinFETs”}, which did bring up the desired article. The link from this result is broken, though, which is presumably a bug in the implementation of the scheme, since links for non-Elsevier results on similar full-text searches are fine.)

Is it findable via Google Scholar? Scholar lists 6 records for the article, none of which are via IR@UF. Not, at this point, that there’s any advantage to seeing the IR@UF version anyway, but the pilot is certainly not driving traffic to the repository.

Is it a discovery layer? Even aside from the lack of full-text search and the inability to get access off-campus, it only works for ScienceDirect articles by UFL authors, so no.

If I had to come up with an analogy for what it is and does, I guess I’d say it’s a bit like a public-facing RIMS or CRIS, except those would include more data sources and more reporting functionality.

So to answer the question as I could have if I’d realised how limited this functionality is: why do institutional repositories want to have the full text?

  • to make it discoverable via full-text searching
  • to provide easy access for our own institution’s members
  • to provide open access for the rest of the world
    • thereby increasing its impact (including but not limited to that measured in citations and altmetrics)
  • to ensure it’s preserved and accessible for the centuries to come
  • to bring traffic to our own repository and the rest of its valuable collections; and
  • to track usage.
    UFL’s repository can do this last one. Sort of. It’s got a page for “Views” (hits) and “Visits” (unique visitors) . But it doesn’t tell us how many of these visitors actually succeeded in accessing the full-text. My suspicion is that this number would be much lower.

Phase II, if it works as advertised, may address some of these issues, but I’m not sure how many. I feel we’re getting conflicting messages of how it will actually function and at this point am not inclined to believe anything until I see it in action. For now it’s the same as any other vapourware.

How US intellectual property laws affect the rest of us, and what we can do about it

How can it affect us?
Imagine a New Zealand website which sells (eg Fishpond) or gives away (eg NZETC – Eric Hellman discusses Project Gutenberg Australia) ebooks of material in the public domain. Now imagine that a law in the US allows for this site not only to be blocked from the US, but also to be removed from search engine results (search engines widely used throughout the world) and blocked from receiving any revenue from the US (including revenue for legitimate sales of in-copyright books).

Wait, what?
New Zealand’s copyright law puts books in the public domain 50 years after the death of the author (which is bad enough – I’m a fan of our original copyright period of 28 years OR life, whichever was longest); US copyright law currently means any book published after 1923 won’t get into the public domain until 2019, if ever (see also the Mickey Mouse Protection Act). The difference between the two means there’s a whole bunch of books which are legal for anyone to freely distribute in New Zealand, but illegal to distribute without permission from the rights-holder in the US. Currently we just cope with the disparity. I mean, the authors have been dead for at least 50 years anyway. However…

What are the proposed US laws?
The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is written such that if any foreign site that is “US-directed” (defined as any site that doesn’t actively prevent people in the US from accessing it) distributes anything against US law, then the US can hit it with a bunch of sanctions. Theoretically these sanctions are probably intended to just prevent the site trading with people in the US; in practice, they’d prevent people in most of the world being able to easily access or use the site.

I’m not sure of the relationship of SOPA to the proposed Protect IP Act (PIPA), but that seems to have similar intentions. “Don’t Break the Internet” at the Stanford Law Review Online discusses the potential effects of these two bills.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s the proposed Research Works Act (RWA) which is designed to make open access mandates illegal – and thereby cut down on the amount of open access material available to researchers worldwide. (The rationale is that private publishers publish it, so it shouldn’t be free to the public. But if the public is funding the research grants and paying the salaries of the researchers and the peer reviewers then why it shouldn’t be locked behind a paywall benefitting only the private publisher, either.) Here’s a thorough roundup of blogposts on RWA.

Who would want to do such a thing?
The Association of American Publishers’ Professional and Scholarly Publishing put out a press release in support of the RWA; here’s a list of AAP/PSP members. One of the sponsors of RWA has received campaign contributions from Elsevier. So has the other.

Elsevier is also on the List of SOPA supporters (pdf) along with quite a lot of other publishers (academic and fiction).

What can we do about it?
If we voted in the US we could contact our representatives and ask them to vote against these bills. But they probably don’t care much what foreigners think.

If this were really a free market we libraries could say “Nah, we’re not going to buy from [Elsevier] this year, we’ll give our money to some other science-publishing company.” But publishers have a monopoly on their titles, and academics would generally have words to say if we didn’t provide access to the Journal of Important Research in My Field.

But publishers don’t only rely on libraries’ purchasing money. They also rely on researchers (including non-US researchers, and including library researchers) providing them free articles to publish and providing them free labour in the form of peer review. So what any researcher can do is withdraw that free labour. And while we librarians are encouraging other researchers to take a stand, we can put our money where our mouth is.

For the record, I personally am not going to publish anything unless either a) I get to CC-license it or at least put a copy in my institution’s open access repository; or b) I get paid for it (unlikely in the scholarly publishing world, but relevant for fiction). Tenure’s not an issue for me so I demand either fame or fortune before I give my work away.

(I’ll create it for fun. But to give it away I require something more.)

Elsevier scandal for 24/6/09 and other links of interest

Not content with publishing fake journals, Elsevier’s marketing division recently decided to “offer $25 Amazon gift cards to anyone who would give a new textbook five stars in a review posted on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.” Upon exposure, it’s now recanted the scheme.

More New Zealand libraries on the social web:

Photos of libraries to drool over:

A report from Cambridge University about what students are interested in doing on mobile phones: primarily opening hours, location maps, contact info, and access to the library catalogue.

A hilarious and very true rant on attending vendor training sessions; and a more serious post in response on how this applies to the kind of training sessions we give students.

National Library of the Netherlands is to secure long-term preservation of the content of the Directory of Open Access Journals.