A couple of days ago I got the copyright agreements in the mail for a paper I’ve had accepted to for journal publication. This journal has 2 different copyright agreements, & they let the author choose which to sign:

  1. I assign copyright to the publisher, & the publisher handles all reprint & other copyright requests, & maybe submits the article to database publishers & aggregators.
  2. I retain copyright, & the publisher forwards all reprint & other copyright requests to me, & does not submit the article to any database publishers or aggregators.

My initial thought was, no way do I want to handle all my own copyright requests, & for sure I want to be indexed in databases. On the other hand, the faculty council recently resolved that faculty should retain ownership of their own research whenever possible. So I called Lolly Gasaway to get her opinion. Her comments:

  1. About copyright requests: If I retain copyright I can do what I want with the article: give it away, charge for it, whatever. The only requests I’m likely to get are for reprints anyway. And if I want to give it away (which I would do) all I have to do is put a copy up on my website. So no worries there.
  2. About databases & aggregation: Who cares? If the article is up on my website, people will be able to find it whether it’s indexed in databases or not.

I’m looking into whether it’s possible for me, as an individual author, to submit my own article to be indexed in a database. I expect that this will vary with different db vendors. Also, it’s possible that some dbs will index the contents of a journal whether or not the journal publisher submits the contents to the db vendor. So far I’m finding nothing about this on the websites of the dbs that index this journal; I may just break down & call their support line. The alternative is to test this empirically, but journal pub timelines being what they are, that’s a seriously longitudinal study.

But if (1) a db that I care about being indexed in does not automatically hoover up this journal’s contents, & (2) it is not possible to submit my own article to be indexed, then Houston, we have a problem. Given a choice between retaining copyight & having my work disseminated, well, that’s almost a no-brainer. Databases are the source that scholars traditionally go to when doing lit reviews, so obviously I’d want to have my work in them. But then again, articles freely available online are more highly cited.

And so we get to the implications of Lolly’s comment #2 that disturb me slightly. On the one hand, she’s absolutely correct, in that utter no-nonsense way she has, which is why we all think she’s so great. On the other hand, are we actually suggesting bypassing commercial databases in favor of the web? Here we are, telling our students to not use Google only, use other information sources, use the databases that the library subscribes to… are we also really saying, to hell with commercial databases, if it’s on my website that’s sufficient? Have we gotten to a place where dbs are actually irrelevant in academia? At least for known-item searching. If I want a specific article in fulltext, most of the time I look on the author’s site first, & I bet many of you do too. For reviewing the literature, for finding materials that you don’t already know about, dbs for certain are useful, indeed maybe the only viable sources. But for that purpose, you don’t really need a full-text db, do you? An abstract will probably be enough.

So, to recap: I’ve just rolled back 10 years of db development, & admitted that the web is sufficient for known-item searching. Wow.