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October 20th, 2015

Five Minutes with Professor Sonia Livingstone on the benefits of open access and institutional repositories.

2 comments | 5 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Blog Admin

October 20th, 2015

Five Minutes with Professor Sonia Livingstone on the benefits of open access and institutional repositories.

2 comments | 5 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Sonia-Livingstone-300x225Professor Sonia Livingstone shares her thoughts on the LSE’s institutional repository, LSE Research Online (LSERO). Since 2010, content in LSERO has received over six million downloads. For 2015, it has already received over one million downloads. LSERO is a rich resource containing a variety of LSE research, including journal articles, reports, book chapters, working papers, conference papers, datasets and video.

Do you think of yourself as an open access advocate?

Yes. I think all academics have had to rethink their attitude to journal publication in recent years. Like many, I was trained to write for the (often esoteric) academic journal, thinking little about the accessibility of the resulting publication but simply proud to get my work into this or that bound volume on the (gated) library shelf. While this still has merit, it also has its limitations. And today, it is far from the only way to make research available.

A few years ago, it seemed that to be an open access advocate (which I now am, for reasons of both principle and practicality) one had to act against copyright (i.e. simply uploading pdfs to one’s website and hoping not to be noticed). But increasingly the publishers have had to give ground, and I relish the ongoing struggle (still unsettled) over ownership of and access to knowledge.

OAbanner1Increasing your research impact – Open Access Week 2015 – LSE library events

What were your original motivations for depositing your research in LSERO? Have these changed over the years?

I honestly don’t remember how it all began, though now depositing my research is second nature (and such a regular activity that I fear I burden the always-helpful library staff). I think I began with the documents that seemed to have no place but that I had worked hard on and so wanted to be able to point to on occasion.

What was great about depositing such documents was that I held copyright so they could be instantly accessible to anyone interested. In other words, the publication lag demanded by most journals (usually of one or two years) meant that depositing manuscripts submitted to journals seemed fairly but not hugely useful.

Over the years I’ve expanded the types of things I submit, and my quick reckoning would include:

  • Research reports
  • Consultation responses and other policy statements
  • End-of-grant reports
  • Keynote lectures (often a bit tidied up from the spoken version)
  • English versions of works published only in translation
  • Survey questionnaires
  • Various other grey materials (e.g. short pieces written for policy or public magazines)
  • Out of print books (actually, just two, but I was astonished when the publisher said yes, it’s yours)
  • Book chapters (which, in the Google era, are very hard for folk to discover any other way)
  • Some of my early publications which seem to have disappeared from ordinary libraries (casting no aspersions on the BLPES of course)
  • Oh yes, and the original submitted version of a journal article

On this last point, I actually wrote to LSERO recently to see if they’d made a mistake when a piece went online even before it was published. But no, it was all legit and a good example of how publishing practice is changing. So my piece got out there as soon as it had been accepted for publication (and nicely in time for a conference on the theme).

oa week sonia pablo

One more observation about the journal articles. I realise that colleagues don’t want the pre-copyedited, error-prone version of their manuscripts online (and that’s all journals usually allow). So my simple (but admittedly slightly costly) workaround is to get all my work copyedited before I submit it to a journal. Since it seems that in recent years journals have severely cut back their investment in copy-editing in any case, and since some reviewers are, like me, grammar-nerds quick to adverse judgement, I think this serves me well on all counts. In other words, why submit error-prone work in the first place?

Have you been surprised by how many downloads your research has received in LSERO? So far this year you have received over 86,000 downloads!

Astonished! What can I say? I work in a topical field (children and young people’s engagement with the internet), though I am encouraged that some of less topical work (e.g. on media audiences) also gets noticed through LSERO. I also work in a field that has fostered a constructive and lively dialogue between academics and stakeholders/publics. This leads me to another list – who do I imagine is the audience downloading on such a scale?

  • It might be academics in universities with nicely resourced libraries looking for a convenient source, and it might be my students (thanks guys!).
  • But I hope it is also academics in less well-resourced universities who wouldn’t otherwise have access to work that, once published, sits beyond a pay wall.
  • And I also believe (and hope) that it’s non-academics, whether policy makers or journalists or NGOs and other stakeholders who also lack access to academic journal publications and who don’t generally (like to or have budget for) purchasing academic work.

In other words, for the user, LSERO is highly convenient – a simple click to download and no impediment to register, pay, subscribe or any other complications that put people off.

lse research online


This convenience applies to me also. I can build my website and the sites of my research projects around easy hyperlinks, and I can curate these links and refashion them at will. I can tweet short eprint urls, link them into blog posts or email them to people quickly too. I know where the definitive version of any publication is (without the muddle of versus ResearchGate etc.) and if, in a funder report I spot a mistake a few months later (as happens) it’s easy to correct.

More important than convenience is that fact that, as far as I can gather, LSERO works. Their download numbers often dwarf those reported by journals in their annual reports. And consider LSERO’s stats for one of my articles (selected at random) – while most downloads come from countries with well-resourced universities, the country spread invites reflection. We don’t know more but I think LSERO has a wider reach than pay-walled publications.

And why? Well, consider the results of a Google scholar search for “Sonia Livingstone media audiences”: The two books are available to read (or parts thereof) on Google. The three articles are behind pay walls. But the three right hand links give you full text for free.

Sonia-blog-postgoogle results

As you deposit more accepted manuscripts in LSERO, are you becoming more aware of publisher embargo periods?

Acutely! As the staff in LSERO know well, I am also happy to write to publishers and request better terms – and to protest or complain if they say no. We have some power via the professional associations we belong to that do business with publishers, and we have some consumer power in deciding which publishers to favour or avoid. Let’s use it.

How do you think LSERO can improve as a repository?

It will not have escaped the LSERO staff that I have described the process of submitting to the repository as easy! It may not be so for them, but they make it easy for academics – checking copyright, staying in touch, creating the front page, etc. But publishers, libraries and academia are all under pressure, often competing but sometimes complementary. So I see this service as likely to be under continuing pressure. I’m just glad that as things stand, LSERO offers us an excellent service here.

This piece originally appeared on the LSE Library Blog and is reposted under CC BY 4.0

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the Author

Professor Sonia Livingstone teaches and researches in the department of Media and Communications (@MediaLSE) at the LSE. She can also be found on Twitter @Livingstone_S

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