IEEE Experiments With Public Access to Its Literature

IEEE’s public-access-friendly attitude is starting to show results

5 September 2008

paIEEE’s public-access-friendly attitude is starting to show results. During the past few months, IEEE has announced a number of experiments that promise to provide free online access to some of its technical material. One is a collaboration with the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics, known as SCOAP3, which is made up of high-energy-physics organizations and their libraries. The group is working to give free online access to physics literature usually available only by subscription.

Another is a partnership between the IEEE Signal Processing Society and Connexions—which produces free Web-based educational materials—to develop an online repository on signal processing. Still another approach involves a new online-only peer-reviewed journal on photonics in which authors can opt to make their articles available free of charge in exchange for paying an up-front publishing fee.

NEW MODELS The collaborations are the result of new policies the IEEE Board of Directors instituted last year that encourage organizational units to experiment with new ways to distribute their information. The initial policy statement, approved in June 2007, set the direction by encouraging societies and other units to explore new business models. Another policy, approved in November, is a set of principles providing guidelines for units that want to develop new publishing models [see “Principles of Scholarly Publishing”].

IEEE has always allowed authors to post articles on their personal or institutional Web sites where readers can access them for free. The publishing principles outline IEEE’s position on the larger topic of public access.

“IEEE’s Principles of Scholarly Publishing give us a platform from which to advocate our support of public access,” says John Baillieul, vice president, IEEE Publication Services and Products. The challenge, he says, “is how to do this in an economically viable way.”

Many in the academic research community are in favor of public access to scholarly publishing. According to Baillieul, the IEEE Board of Directors is sympathetic to some of these stands. In particular, he credits 2008 President-Elect John Vig with encouraging the organization to find ways to make its vast technical literature available as widely as possible.

SELF-SUPPORTING The Connexions and SCOAP3 partnerships got the green light from the Publication Services and Products Board because they will be financially self-sustaining, one of the key principles. Proposals from other IEEE societies were turned down because those societies did not develop business models that would cover the costs of providing free access.

The self-sustaining requirement allows IEEE to recover the costs of running a publishing operation that includes an automated peer-review system, converting manuscripts into an electronic format, and maintaining the IEEE Xplore digital library.

SCOAP3 will direct the money its institutional members pay for subscriptions to high-energy-physics journals toward article publishing fees of journals that give free online access to their material. Articles from the IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science are slated to be among the first included once the program is launched next year.

Material developed by the Signal Processing Society and Connexions will be made available under a Creative Commons “attribution” license. The nonprofit organization enables authors to share their work, and offer it for free, while reserving some rights to it.

The IEEE Photonics Journal is scheduled to launch next year, covering photonics materials, engineered photonic structures, and nanophotonics. Authors can choose whether to offer free access to their articles. If so, IEEE will charge them a fee to recoup its publishing costs. Such papers will be identified in the journal’s table of contents.

Principles of Scholarly Publishing

These principles provide a framework to follow for IEEE units wanting to develop publishing models that could lead to public access.

  • Society benefits from the ability of scholarly publishers to launch, sustain, promote, and develop technical publications. Society also benefits from the commitment and experience that scholarly publishers bring to the challenge of archival preservation of electronic content to ensure the availability of published literature for future generations.
  • Society benefits from an objective and intellectually free scholarly publishing environment unfettered by censorship or bias based on personal, commercial, or government agendas.
  • Research results are enhanced by the quality-control system of peer review, which applies the knowledge of independent subject-matter experts to validate technical worthiness and scientific integrity and thus gain society’s confidence in the research.
  • Copyright and intellectual property rights of authors and publishers must be protected in any publishing activity, including those that involve government-mandated policies on access to government-sponsored research.
  • A value-added publishing process such as IEEE’s has operating costs that must be recouped. To perpetuate itself, then, scholarly publishing requires financial support from self‑sustaining business models. However, it is recognized that no single business model will fit the needs of the various scholarly communities.
  • All engineers, scientists, and other scholarly authors should have an equal opportunity to publish, regardless of their sources or levels of grant funding.
  • Government has a dual responsibility for funding new research and ensuring that research results are vetted and widely disseminated by organizations with the experience, infrastructure, and independence to provide the public with affordable and reliable access.
  • Not-for-profit scholarly publishers have an obligation to acquire and disseminate information for the benefit of the global public and to ensure that authors face no financial barriers to publishing their results.
  • Not-for-profit learned societies have the unique and overarching goal of conducting their activities, including publishing, not for the benefit of any individual or group but rather to provide services that benefit the global public both directly and indirectly.


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