With website, CU-Boulder opens up access to scholarly research

CU Scholar boasts more than 2,500 free publications

Two of the top 10 most downloaded research papers from CU-Boulder’s digital institutional repository, called CU Scholar, discuss promoting sustainability at music events and the long-run impact of immigrants on native workers. But there are hundreds of other topics and items of research-oriented material available for viewing by the general public on the site since the campus adopted its open access policy.

CU Scholar, which officially launched in October 2014, is a service of the University Libraries and provides free, global access to submitted scholarship created by campus-affiliated faculty and students.

Although University Libraries previously had a repository of scholarly works, it was available only to certain paying participants.

CU-Boulder’s open access push began several years ago at the grassroots level, said Jennifer Chan, assistant professor and scholarly communications librarian. But the open access movement officially began in Budapest, Hungary, in 2002 during a conference where the Budapest Open Access Initiative was drafted.

The initiative, and guidelines drafted in 2012 by the Open Society Foundations, pushed for free, unrestricted access to scholarly research in order to stimulate advances in the sciences, medicine and health, and share knowledge with a larger readership.

The White House followed open access momentum in 2013, when it directed federal agencies with more than $100 million in annual research and development expenditures to support public access to the results of research funded by the federal government.

That same year, students and faculty supported – through resolutions – the adoption of an open-access policy for the CU-Boulder campus. The Boulder Faculty Assembly gave its approval to an access policy in October 2014; the University of Colorado Board of Regents followed with its approval in April 2015.

“One of the reasons (CU-Boulder) supports open access is because we do a lot of research here and we want to make that research available to everyone, especially when it comes about because of grant funding,” Chan said.

More than 50 higher education institutions now have an open access policy, including Harvard. CU-Boulder used Harvard’s language as a template for its own policy. Faculty retain full ownership of their material, including the right to further publish it where they choose.

Some of the more than 2,500 publications on the site include Jesse Lord and Mark Rast’s multi-authored research, “The Role of Subsurface Flows in Solar Surface Convection: Modeling the Spectrum of Supergranular and Larger Scale Flows,” and Matthew Glassett’s undergraduate honors thesis, “Greening the Festival Industry: Using the Triple Bottom Line Approach to Promote Sustainability in Music Events,” which is one of the favorite papers downloaded from the CU Scholar site.

At CU, undergraduates in the honors program work closely with a faculty mentor to produce graduate-level work in thesis form, Chan said. “Those publications are very popular because students are always working on current topics.”

The repository is set up for self-submission, and the process is easy, taking only a few minutes, but offering longtime benefits.

“One of the major advantages of the repository is the long-term preservation of work,” Chan said. “Sometimes, copies of the papers that researchers have published early in their careers have been lost. Now they can have a digital copy in the repository that is assigned a unique URL or unique link for that particular copy of the work.”

The site also provides metrics on each submission, including the number of downloads and the geographical location of those downloads. Currently, the site has documented nearly 72,000 downloads from more than 90 countries.

James Meiss, a professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics, has submitted several research papers to the CU Scholar repository.

“I was intrigued by the idea of an official site where – given the appropriate journal policies – one could post reprints,” Meiss said. “The design of the site also is quite fun, with its live map showing which articles are being downloaded in real time. Certainly open access of research papers and data, especially research that is supported by our state institutions and by federal grants, is natural, and surely to be required in the near future.”

Meiss said he has encouraged colleagues and graduate students to post to CU Scholar.

There are other sites that post scholarly work, including some that are specific to certain disciplines.

“Our repository is highly indexed by Google or Google Scholar, so any work that is placed there is more likely to be found, and when you’re looking at an academic career, you want your work to be found and cited,” Chan said.

Before inclusion in the repository, research papers must be peer-reviewed and published in a journal or other publication. Papers aren’t the only items that can be submitted to CU Scholar; digital art and other multimedia items are accepted as well.

The CU Scholar site is available to anyone with Internet access. No registration is required, and all contents are searchable by author, specific content, even university department. Interested parties also can set up readership alerts by author or topic, Chan said.

The one thing the general public cannot do through the site is submit their own work – no matter how great they think their publication is, joked Chan.