Home 9 Uncategorized 9 Biz of Digital — An IR Workflow and its Ethics:  Extending Services beyond the Privileged who can Afford to Pay APCs

Biz of Digital — An IR Workflow and its Ethics:  Extending Services beyond the Privileged who can Afford to Pay APCs

by | Jul 18, 2022 | 0 comments


By Heidi Winkler  (Digital Services Librarian, Texas Tech University Libraries, 2802 18th Street, Lubbock, Texas 79409;  Phone: 806-834-1304) 

Column Editor:  Michelle Flinchbaugh  (Acquisitions and Digital Scholarship Services Librarian, Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD 21250;  Phone: 410-455-6754; 
Fax: 410-455-1598) 

Against the Grain V34#3

The Assignment – Just Fold in the Cheese

The assignment was maddeningly simple:  Increase the size of the institutional repository (IR).  I suspect I looked as bewildered as the character David Rose in the hit television show Schitt’s Creek as his mother Moira instructed him to just “fold in the cheese” while making a recipe without any further guidance on how to accomplish such a goal.1  Though our electronic theses and dissertations (ETD) collection grew at a regular pace every semester, Texas Tech University (TTU) Libraries’ ThinkTech faculty research collection2 sat with just a couple hundred works (overwhelmingly by librarian authors) to show for its decade-long existence.  Several of my library colleagues had been given the faculty research collection assignment before me, and all of them had experienced burnout attempting to make the slightest progress in pleading with faculty authors to self-archive their research articles.  The anecdotal evidence at our university was that many of the faculty were resistant to open access (OA) publication, and they knew even less about institutional repositories.  As much as I believed in ThinkTech’s ability to showcase TTU faculty research, increase the citation impact of this work, and provide a venue for gray literature not available elsewhere, I found myself not entirely disagreeing with Dorothea Salo’s 2008 assessment of institutional repositories as “roach motels” languishing without engagement.3  And yet, the task remained for me to increase the size of the faculty research collection in the IR. 

The Approach — A One-Person Open Access Extravaganza

I received the IR assignment in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic raged.  It would not be feasible for me in such an environment to copy a previous colleague’s approach by cultivating one-on-one, in-person relationships with faculty members to gain their trust and then coaching them through the process of self-archiving, certainly not while they were dealing with their own pandemic-related difficulties.  Rather, in early 2021, my supervisor and I worked together with our Web Librarian to download from Scopus (which uses data from Unpaywall4) a list of articles by Texas Tech authors indicated to have been published OA.  The overwhelming majority of works included in this list were published under Creative Commons licenses, giving me the right to distribute the articles as I saw fit so long as I provided proper attribution.  This content freedom presented me with a conundrum.  In the same “roach motel” article, Salo asserted that repository managers need not seek permission from authors to deposit work already fully available online in order to save staff time and encourage active repository development.5  As true as this is, I still felt uncomfortable not involving faculty more towards the beginning of the process.  How could the library be expected to build the goodwill necessary to expand trust in our advocacy for OA scholarship if it appeared to some faculty members like we were going behind their backs to build our own brand?

I devised a compromise wherein I would email authors ahead of adding their articles to the collection.  In these emails, I would inform them that as the curator of the faculty research collection, I was pleased to see that they had published a recent article open access and that I would be adding their work to the repository within the week, provided they had no objections.  If they were uncomfortable, it would be incumbent on them to let me know; otherwise, I would not wait for their explicit permission.  I would also offer to evaluate their CVs for other OA publications, a model of mediated repository deposit I learned from colleagues at the University of Houston.6  Once the article was in the collection, I would send a follow-up message with the work’s new repository-based persistent identifier, asking the faculty member to review the full item record and let me know if I needed to add or edit anything.  Simply sending these emails not only alleviated any anxiety I might have experienced with proactive repository deposit, but they also introduced both the collection and me to the faculty and let them decide how much they wanted to be involved in the work.

With this workflow in place, I was off to the races.  From April to December 2021, I contacted the TTU faculty authors of 44 works, using the open access article list from Scopus.  As of this writing, only once has an author replied to me asking that I not add their article to the collection, a request I have dutifully respected.  Of the authors I have contacted, 15 of them replied to me with their CV or a list of other publications for me to evaluate for OA terms of use and upload to the repository.  Throughout the year, several authors also proactively submitted their work for deposit.  Ultimately, for the cost of one faculty librarian’s time, the TTU Libraries saw its IR faculty research collection increase from 219 works by 273 authors at the end of 2020 to 521 works by 1,470 authors by the end of 2021.  In other words, the ThinkTech faculty research collection doubled in 2021.  While this collection is still relatively small, certainly compared to our ETD collection, this progress is remarkable given that it was completed by one person who worked on the project part-time.

The Problem — Check Your Gold OA Privilege

I highly recommend this workflow for those similarly tasked with the solo project of expanding small institutional repositories.  I am also highly critical of this workflow as a primary means of adding open access works to an institutional repository collection.  By primarily and proactively depositing articles published in hybrid journals under publisher OA models that require article processing charges (APCs), commonly referred to as “gold OA,” this workflow unintentionally upholds a system that excludes authors who are unable to find the funds to pay these often-exorbitant fees.  

In marking the 20th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), the BOAI20 steering committee released a new set of recommendations based on the current state of OA and the collective understanding of OA’s systemic issues.7  One of the committee’s major recommendations is for the scholarly publishing industry to transition away from APCs.  BOAI described APCs to be “as opaque and inscrutable as subscription prices,” disproportionately excluding many independent scholars, authors in the global south, and authors in the north from less-privileged institutions.8  BOAI further recommended the promotion of and investment in repository-based “green” OA as well as no-APC “diamond” OA journals.9  The articles published in APC-based journals are just as open as ones made OA without an APC, but many publishers right now appear to be pricing certain authors out of the OA publication market, thus excluding their voices from the broader scholarly conversation.  

The workflow I currently employ to expand my library’s faculty research collection reaches authors after they have paid, or have had a funder/institution cover, the APC.  My 2022 goal is to pair the good work we have started with our new repository process with more and better education about green OA, equally emphasizing that ThinkTech can be a venue for their presentation posters or slide decks, as well as the works that may not fit in traditional publishing models.  One concrete goal of mine in 2022 is to secure a timeslot during New Faculty Orientation to talk to younger faculty as soon as possible.  I suspect our younger faculty will especially be as interested as I am in increasing research equity, especially if it can save them and their funders money at the same time.  

Cara Bradley wrote in 2021 about the concept of grounding OA librarianship in the ethics of care, using Joan Tronto’s four elements of care — attentiveness, responsibility, competence, and responsiveness — as a framework to make scholarly communication more inclusive.10  The care work of institutional repository management simply must extend beyond the goal of increasing the size of a digital collection.  The workflow described above is a good start in establishing an IR and starting conversations with faculty members about how they can expand the reach of their work, but it cannot end there.  We must use the privileges we have as librarians managing a repository service to empower open access both to readers and scholars.  


1. Schitt’s Creek.  (2016, March 22).  Schitt’s Creek – “Fold in the Cheese!” [Video].  YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NywzrUJnmTo.

2. https://ttu-ir.tdl.org/handle/2346/469.

3. Salo, D.  (2008).  Innkeeper at the Roach Motel.  Library Trends, 57(2), 98.  https://doi.org/10.1353/lib.0.0031.

4. Elsevier.  (2018, July 26).  Elsevier/Impactstory Agreement will make open access articles easier to find on scopus.  Elsevier Connect.  Retrieved from https://www.elsevier.com/connect/elsevier-impactstory-agreement-will-make-open-access-articles-easier-to-find-on-scopus.

5. Salo, 2008, p. 119.

6. Wu, A., Davis-Van Atta, T., Thompson, S., Scott, B., & Washington, A.  (2019).  From Meow to ROAR: Expanding Open Access Repository Services at the University of Houston Libraries.  Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 7(General Issue).  https://doi.org/10.7710/2162-3309.2309.

7. BOAI20.  Budapest Open Access Initiative.  (2022, March 15).  Retrieved from https://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/boai20/.

8. BOAI20, 2022, 3.1 & 3.2.

9. BOAI20, 2022, 3.6.

10. Bradley, C.  (2021).  Academic Librarians, Open Access, and the Ethics of Care.  Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 9(General Issue).  https://doi.org/10.31274/jlsc.12914.


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