How one policy makes research from IUPUI available to the world

Sometimes, Brian Dixon, an associate professor in the Fairbanks School of Public Health, will learn that he's cited in another scholar's work -- only to go to read the abstract and find out it's in another language. He's received email requests from as far away as South America and Africa for copies of articles that he's written.

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IUPUI's open-access policy was crafted by faculty with help from staff at University Library. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

And for associate professor of history Jennifer Guiliano, the connections she's built from other scholars reading her work have led to speaking opportunities and new professional connections. 

Both Dixon and Guiliano said that a big part of the credit goes to IUPUI's open-access policy, which makes work by IUPUI scholars available for free. The policy started as a grassroots effort led by faculty, and Oct. 7 marked the fifth anniversary of it being approved by the IUPUI Faculty Council.

In that time, more than 10,000 journal articles and conference papers have been made available, and readers from around the world have downloaded those articles a million times. Those articles vary across fields and include topics like the ethics of drones, ESL writing and downsizing prisons.

Roughly 70 percent of all the articles produced by IUPUI faculty are part of the institutional repository, IUPUI ScholarWorks, thanks to the policy. And according to the Leiden Ranking, which tracks university performance, that makes IUPUI second only to California Institute of Technology, which is at 72 percent.

Aimed at reducing economic barriers to research and with the idea of spreading knowledge far and wide, the open-access policy was authored by faculty and modeled off of a similar policy at Harvard University, said Jere Odell, scholarly communication librarian at University Library. Odell worked with faculty on crafting the policy and manages IUPUI ScholarWorks and the policy's implementation.

"The IUPUI authors are scholars, and part of being a scholar is creating knowledge that other people might benefit from," Odell said.

He added that making scholarly knowledge available to a broad audience aligns with IUPUI's mission as a public educational institution. Scholarly literature can be really expensive for readers -- Odell said that access to a single paywalled article can cost a reader over $40. Likewise, many universities struggle to meet the increasing price of journal subscriptions.

The open-access policy reduces some of these economic barriers. The policy creates a way to make scholarly knowledge free by asking faculty to submit a pre-published draft to the repository. More often than not, however, the library is able to find a version that can be openly and legally shared in IUPUI ScholarWorks without asking the faculty author for help.

The ease of use was a big factor in encouraging faculty to participate, said Dixon, who was part of the committee that helped roll out the policy after it was implemented. Plus, participating aligns with an open-access requirement that many sources of federal funding set anyway, Odell added.

While it's possible to search ScholarWorks to find what's there, the repository also makes the works by IUPUI authors available on academic search engines like Google Scholar. So it's possible that someone could download an article and not even know that ScholarWorks made it available, Odell said.

Having an article widely available also helps catch the attention of the media. "Is Downsizing Prisons Dangerous? The Effect of California's Realignment Act on Public Safety," by Jody Sundt, a professor in the O'Neil School of Public and Environmental Affairs along with Emily J. Salisbury of the University of Nevada Las Vegas and Mark G. Harmon of Portland State University, has been downloaded nearly 5,000 times. The article has been a major piece of debates about correctional reform, including in The Washington Post.  

IUPUI's most-downloaded author is Michelle Salyers, whose 61 articles have been downloaded 13,472 times. Salyers is a professor in the Department of Psychology; her work includes ways to address burnout in the mental health profession.

And while there are many broader social benefits, it's also helpful to the authors, Odell said. For example, recent studies have found a citation bump of 33 percent for works shared in an open-access repository. This potential citation increase can be especially appealing for authors who are looking for promotions and want to see their work matter.

Dixon said he's definitely noticed an increase in citations, and that having his work in the repository has really helped him gain exposure, especially for his articles in specialized publications.

Guiliano agreed, saying it's also helped in her work.  

"I'm working on a book in my office, and 90 percent of what I'm using is from open-access repositories," she said, adding that being able to download articles speeds up her ability to research and give other scholars credit for their work. And the connections she's built from sharing her work are numerous.

"It's happening over and over," Guiliano said. "When people reach out, that means they are aware of you and the work you are doing."