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One of the great resources available on the Internet is the ACM Digital Library. One of the problems for many is that access to this library is not free. I am a long time member of the ACM especially of SIGCSE – the Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education – and that membership gets me access to the SIGCSE publications which I read regularly and whose archive on the Digital Library I find very useful. My employer provides access to the wider collection as well. This is not an option for everyone however. Teachers particularly have limited budgets for memberships, subscriptions and there are a lot of potential places to spend that money. As an author there are many times when I would like to make something I have written more widely available. I see this all the time as a desire from other authors as well. What many people do is post an early, often unedited, draft of a journal article on their website and reference the final published article for people who do have access to the paid source. This is really not ideal for a lot of reasons.

For the author it means that they are sending people to something short of the definitive article. If you have a paper published in a journal or similar prestigious publication it would be nice to link directly to the “official” article and not have multiple, potentially different, posts around the Internet. If nothing else this makes citations a lot less useful. Often sending readers to an article behind a pay wall means frustration for the user, a reduced readership for the author and an overall decrease in the value of the paper from the author’s (and reader’s) perspective. For publishers this is a mixed bag. While it is easy to believe that people will sign up for subscriptions so they can read articles the truth is that most often people are not going to do so just to read one or two articles. In the long run it might be better if people could read some articles and find enough value to sign up once won over. For a lot of us it would be nice to have some idea of how often articles are read as well.

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ACM has taken an interesting step towards helping improve this situation with their new ACM Author-Izer Service.

ACM Author-Izer is a unique, link-based self-archiving service that enables ACM authors to generate and post links on either their home page or institutional repository for visitors to download the definitive version of their articles.

As I understand it, I’ll sign up later – I have one article in the system but it is a bit dated, authors register a web site -  generally either a personal web site or an institutional repository where they will post links to articles in the ACM Digital Library. Links from that site will allow readers to go right to the source document in the ACM DL and read it for free. ACM will also provide authors with some statistics about these articles – downloads and citations. I can see a lot of uses for this service. For example, Professors can now assign their own papers to students knowing that by following the official link the students can get the article online and free. Others can more easily share their research papers with a wider range of students and other researchers. And it makes a resume a bit more powerful for some people as well. Hopefully having easier access to definitive articles will also make citations more useful.

The limit that these links can only come from one page is a little problematic for me. I suspect that this means that one can’t include one of these links from a blog post as each post would have a different URL. I assume that one has to create a bibliography page and then link to that page. This gives one extra step that people may or many not be willing to do. Although I know I would likely do it as it’s not that much of a big deal in order to get to a primary source. And of course having a bibliography page is a good idea anyway. One plus of sending people to a bibliography page is that they may see other articles you have written that they might be interested in reading. This one site limitation may be a result of technical issues to some extent and maybe it will open a bit more in time. Or not.

Next week is is Open Access Week, http://www.openaccessweek.org/ BTW and that makes this week’s announcement by ACM somewhat timely.

Open Access Week, a global event now entering its fourth year, is an opportunity for the academic and research community to continue to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they’ve learned with colleagues, and to help inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research.

There is a lot of discussion about opening up digital libraries and professional journals these days. There is a need to balance the needs and desires of authors and the needs and desires of organizations who publish. This service from ACM is an interesting one that is sure to add to the discussion. It’s not completely open but it is a crack in the door. Will other organizations adopt it? That will be interesting to see. In the mean time it makes the conversation about open access more interested (as if that were needed) and opens things up in what I think is a positive way.

That do you think? Good first step? Exciting change? Still too limiting? Where should open access go and how will we support good publications if they are all totally open? Love to hear your thoughts.