How do you define access in scholarly publishing?

academic journals by davidsilver
academic journals, a photo by davidsilver on Flickr.

I’m taking this time before the semester and the TRB Annual Meeting and SLA Leadership to whip some data into shape.

I’m analyzing the citations from our PhD students’ dissertations from the past 5 years. I hope to learn something about our collection development (is it on target?), how many citations each paper has, the age of the citations, and how do they use Open Access material?

I’m stalled with defining “access”.

If somebody cites an article in a legit journal (say, Australasian Transport Theories) from a well regarded, big subscription publisher (say, Springer) which is freely available on the web (not through the publisher), how do you define the access? Say this example isn’t Open Access. It’s just a good old well intentioned but not quite legal PDF on the web. For my research, how do I define these citations?

It’s a tricky thing because I feel like I know too much. I know the grad students just look to see if they can find the text and don’t much worry about whether or not the paper should be available on that site. Of course this behavior makes them think that sort of thing is OK and then they do it. Not to say I don’t agree with them, but as I said, I know too much. I know that they probably didn’t clear it with the publisher. That’s assuming the PDF came from an author. Often, it just is out there.

That said though… I’d rather see these sort of things out in the open. But how do I define access? What’s better? Something of dubious origin crawled by Google bots or a box of old journals in the corner? I think we know the answer.

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