Open Access, Open Data, and Open Educational Resources

Category Archives: Self-Archiving

An Update on the Proposed Open Access Policy at Virginia Tech

The proposed open access policy at Virginia Tech has recently changed in two important ways. First, as a result of meetings with University Counsel, the working group will propose adding language to the university’s existing Policy on Intellectual Property, No. 13000, rather than proposing a separate policy. Second, the proposed language now includes all Virginia Tech authors of scholarly articles, not just faculty. This change came at the suggestion of the Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies, and the working group is now reaching out to undergraduate and staff representatives for input. See the working group’s policy page for details, including the resolution and marked-up Policy 13000, FAQ, and more.  The resolution will be presented at the Commission on Research this fall.  If it successfully passes through university governance, it would go into effect on July 1, 2021.

Policy homepage

Questions? Check the policy homepage

While no longer a free-standing proposal, the new language retains the core elements of a Harvard-style open access policy, namely the grant of a non-exclusive license to the university to allow hosting accepted manuscripts, an embargo option, and a per-article waiver. These elements allow authors to share their accepted manuscript from the day of its acceptance, without concern about violating the terms of their publishing contract. Similar policies have been in place at more than 50 U.S. universities for more than ten years.  The policy will help level the playing field with some of our SCHEV peers who already have policies, and who therefore have a greater ability to share research than Virginia Tech authors.

The importance of open access has been underlined by the coronavirus epidemic, not just for directly related research, but for all types of research. Copyright has never been a good fit for scholarly articles, which we freely give to journals, only to have access restricted.  It has never made sense that our research is out of reach for colleagues at some universities, scholars in low- and middle-income countries, taxpayers, policymakers, and our own alumni.

Open Access symbol "unlock"

The proposed policy is an important opportunity for Virginia Tech authors, but it will only matter if authors take advantage of it.  In the working group’s outreach over the past three years, the proposal consistently received a positive response.  We hope you will convey your support to your representatives in university governance.

If your question isn’t answered in our FAQ, feel free to email the working group at, or comment on this blog post (comments are open for 30 days).

VTechWorks Update, Spring 2020

VTechWorks homepageVTechWorks is Virginia Tech’s institutional repository, providing global access to the scholarship of faculty, staff, and students, as well as hosting many university publications, images, and more.  Managed by the University Libraries, VTechWorks receives theses and dissertations from the Graduate School, and has a two-way connection to Elements, the faculty reporting system, allowing the deposit of files to the repository without the need to switch platforms.

Here are the latest VTechWorks statistics:

  • 79,000+ items, 33,800 (43%) of which are theses and dissertations
  • 2,000+ items deposited by faculty from Elements
  • 2,000+ file downloads per day over the last year (on average, bots excluded)
  • 313 items collectively have more than 2,000 Altmetric mentions
  • 96% open access full text repository (4% are embargoed, withheld, or legacy citation/abstract-only items)
  • 49,900 items indexed in Google Scholar (7th highest among U.S. repositories); also indexed by Unpaywall, Microsoft Academic, all major search engines, SHARE, BASE, and the VT Libraries catalog
  • Top traffic sources are Google, Google Scholar, VT web search, and Bing
  • BASE can be used to sync items in VTechWorks to ORCiD profiles
  • Accessed globally, with the highest usage (after the U.S.) from India, China, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and Canada
  • Provides a permanent URL (handle) for citing
  • Estimated 99.9% uptime
Map of global usage for VTechWorks

VTechWorks usage by location, 2019

The easiest way for faculty to get their works into VTechWorks is to upload a file in Elements, because no registration is needed, and article metadata is often already present, which eliminates manual entry.  Go to Menu > Publications and look for the upload arrow, which is the first in the row of icons underneath each entry (if you see the “double pages” icon, the item is already in VTechWorks — please don’t add a duplicate).

upload arrow

Upload your file!

in repo

In VTechWorks

Deposit advice (such as which version you  can legally deposit, and any publisher embargo) is automatically added to the deposit screen from Sherpa/Romeo, which aggregates journal policies for posting articles online.  We are also happy to help anyone at VT identify which items they can legally post online – just email us at  To learn more about open access, see our Open Access Guide.  VTechWorks staff add some open access and public domain articles to the repository, but we cannot find them all.  Please do add open access articles after ensuring they are not already in VTechWorks.  Why? Publisher websites go down occasionally, and presence in the repository presents a better picture of research done at Virginia Tech (and is searchable from the the university’s homepage,

Students and staff should register and then email and ask to be added to a collection as a submitter.  We would like to add more items to Student Works, where there are several collections to accommodate a variety of works from graduate or undergraduate students.  We’re especially interested in providing access to undergraduate theses and master’s projects, for those students who would like to make them available.

Recent and upcoming VTechWorks projects include:

  • Identifying  and removing duplicate items
  • Improving accessibility by using third-party captioning for our videos, and identifying any items lacking optical character recognition (OCR)
  • Providing better documentation for using VTechWorks as a research corpus, including accommodations for text and data mining (TDM) using the REST API (some documentation is on the DSpace wiki, and there are Python scripts for using the DSpace API)
  • Evaluating repository platforms for an expected migration in the next year (or two), which will also provide improvements in the user interface

We work every day to grow VTechWorks and provide effective global dissemination of scholarship by Virginia Tech faculty, staff, and students.  Contact us anytime with questions or comments at

Research Networking Sites and Open Access

The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Vitae site has a post today titled Should You Share Your Research on Research networking sites may provide services that researchers value– I don’t know because I haven’t signed up for any of them– but they do not provide open access. In a recent post, Beyond Elsevier, I mentioned that has the only copy of this paper I was looking for. While it is readable on the screen, if you click the “Download” button, you are prompted to sign in. This is not an open access paper. Open access does not require signing in or downloading software, and it enables uses beyond reading. The Budapest Open Access Initiative states:

By “open access” to [peer-reviewed research literature], we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.

This paper is essentially being used as bait to sign up new users (if you want do anything other than read a long scroll through small text). Personally, I would not want my work used as an enticement to attract new members to a for-profit site without a business model. We can predict that these sites will find a way to monetize personal information, which raises the question of whether this is a good example for researchers to set for graduate students and future scholars.

The marketing pitches of these sites should be taken with more than a few grains of salt. Given the many, many existing institutional and disciplinary repositories that are already providing full open access, their talk of “sharing” and “dissemination” are marketing Kool-Aid. They may not have paywalls, but they do have log-in walls, and those are a barrier for anyone who does not want to trade their privacy for access. Additionally, some of the services treated in a “gee whiz” manner in the Chronicle article, such as statistics on views and downloads, have been available in most repositories for years. is hardly the only research networking site (since none of its competitors are mentioned, was there a quid pro quo between the Chronicle and If colleagues in your field are members of different “silos” such as Mendeley or ResearchGate, do you need to join all of them, with their various terms of use and privacy policies? The existence of these silos undermines their claims of “sharing” and “dissemination”– activities that they are clearly not providing on a network level.

I hope that those wanting to take advantage of the networking capabilities on these sites will also post their work on the open web, preferably in an institutional or disciplinary repository. The private sector is again in the lead in providing services, though it should be remembered that the privatization of knowledge typically hasn’t turned out well (and remember, Mendeley is now owned by Elsevier). Eventually, non-market research networking options will appear and (I hope) disintermediate these private silos.

Copyright and Article Archiving

Last week there was a flurry of exchanges on copyright and author manuscripts, unintentionally set off by Kevin Smith’s clarifying post Setting the record straight about Elsevier. I had thought that my right to archive, given in the publishing contracts I have signed, also allowed me (implicitly) to assign whatever license I liked to my own versions. Smith (and others) make it clear that a copyright transfer applies to all article versions. So you can archive your article if permitted, but you should attach the publisher’s copyright statement, and you are not free to attach a Creative Commons license. I’m currently in the process of correcting this for my archived articles, to which I erroneously assigned a CC-BY license. And I have updated my CC-BY recommendation in the previous post on the Elsevier fallout to make it clear that this can’t be done if the copyright has been transferred.

Smith followed up with two posts (It’s the content, not the version! and So what about self-archiving?), Nancy Sims posted, and Michael Carroll addressed this issue back in 2006. All are worth reading.

These posts reinforce the importance of retaining copyright whenever possible. But the fact remains that this is not always easy to do. The suggestions of some to “never sign over copyright” or “just put it in the public domain” I don’t find very helpful. In my niche of information science, there are very few OA journals, and most are owned by the large multinational conglomerates. While I have transferred copyright in all of my peer-reviewed articles, I have archived all of the post-prints. In the one case in which I attempted to retain copyright, the journal simply refused (and my co-authors did not seem particularly interested in putting up a fight). Placing an article in the public domain, it seems to me, would likely result in journal refusal (if I remember correctly, on most copyright transfer forms this option is only available to federal government employees). Additionally, since the public domain does not require attribution, most authors would not want to explicitly give that up.

Tenure-track faculty are under pressure to publish, and copyright transfer occurs at the end of a very lengthy process. Not many authors will be willing to start this process over if they can’t come to agreement with the journal about copyright. If authors are doing their best to make open the default, then they shouldn’t be made to feel badly about copyright transfer, particularly in cases where they can provide access through archiving. And if they are willing to negotiate for that right where it is not given, so much the better. But sometimes we have co-authors who are more interested in publication than copyright or archiving. So it’s more important than ever to address these issues in advance: to identify an OA journal (or one that explicitly allows archiving), and to ensure that co-authors are in agreement well before time to sign a publication agreement. Until more OA journals are developed in more fields, that is the best we can ask for.

Beyond Elsevier

Elsevier has been sending takedown notices to any site hosting the final PDF version of its journal articles. The takedowns first became apparent on Mike Taylor was one of the first to blog about it, takedown recipient Guy Leonard blogged about it, and there’s a link roundup on Confessions of a Science Librarian. Later it became clear that the takedown notices were more wide-ranging, going to hosting services like WordPress as well as universities. The blowback was enough to prompt a response from Elsevier.

Elsevier can send takedown notices since it owns the articles in its journals. It owns the articles because authors who publish in Elsevier journals sign away their copyright before publication. The license agreement allows for archiving of the author’s version, but not the journal’s published PDF. Authors should avoid posting the published version of their articles as a general rule, though a few publishers do allow it.

Here are my suggestions for avoiding this problem:

  • Publish in an open access journal (see the Directory of Open Access Journals for a list by discipline). Many require only a license to publish, rather than a copyright transfer, and use a Creative Commons license.
  • If you can’t publish in an open access journal, check a journal’s archiving policy in advance by searching it in SHERPA/RoMEO.
  • Read the fine print regardless of where you are publishing. This is not like a software license where everyone just clicks “I Agree.” This is your work, so read licenses carefully. Copyright transfer gives complete ownership to the publisher, and your rights are limited to those listed in the license agreement.
  • Archive your post-print if possible, since it is your final version incorporating changes from the peer review process. If not allowed, post the pre-print. Archive in a repository where your article is immediately accessible, such as VTechWorks. Research networking sites require membership ( and/or software download (Mendeley) that are barriers to immediate access.
  • Make your archived version easy to read and reuse. If double spaced, revert to single spaced, and insert tables and figures in the appropriate places. Consider archiving your data as well so your work can be replicated and incorporated into larger studies. Attach a Creative Commons license to make it clear you are explicitly allowing reuse. [Update: if you transferred copyright you likely cannot assign a CC license- see discussions by Kevin Smith, Michael Carroll, and Charles Oppenheim.]
  • If you have co-authors, come to agreement early on publishing venues and archiving so you don’t get locked into a result you don’t like. Remember that typically one author signs for all authors, so that person must understand group wishes.
  • Learn about and download the author addendum which allows you to reserve rights, or use the addendum engine.

Above I briefly touch upon the fact that research networking sites do not provide open access, which is an aspect of this controversy I haven’t seen mentioned. By coincidence, at the time this became news I was searching for articles about DSpace and linked data and I found this article on If you take a look, you’ll see that this article isn’t downloadable or printable without becoming a member of All you can do is try to read the small print. Which, in my case, was enough to make me realize that I didn’t need it. But what if I did? This article isn’t available anywhere else. added gasoline to the fire by taking such a combative (and calculated) attitude toward Elsevier in its own notice to users, linking to the Cost of Knowledge boycott and extolling its own support for open access (“ is committed to enabling the transition to a world where there is open access to academic literature. Elsevier takes a different view…”). The e-mail signature of Richard Price, the CEO of, says “The goal of is to get every science PDF ever written on the internet, accessible for free.” I’m sure that would be good for, which is a for-profit business with an absurd domain name. Your participation on research networking sites will be monetized one way or another. If your article is available only on a research networking site, like the author above, do you want your work being used to attract members to a for-profit endeavor? Pro-open access statements by such companies should be considered with healthy skepticism, and in some cases they are just plain openwashing.

Most importantly,, ResearchGate, Mendeley (now owned by Elsevier) and others do not provide open access. Sign-up should not be required for access. Software download, in the case of Mendeley, should not be required for access. These services do not meet the definition of open access established by the Budapest Open Access Initiative:

By “open access” to [peer-reviewed research literature], we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.

The point of this is not to be rigidly ideological for its own sake. It’s important to know what the term “open access” really means, otherwise it will get co-opted for private uses. If you choose to use a research networking service, please make sure you also provide a copy of your article to an institutional or disciplinary repository where it can be found and downloaded on the open internet.

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