Still unleashing the power of sharing

New services and collaborations are making it easier for researchers to share scholarly content


Over a year has passed since Elsevier announced new policies, perspectives and services for article sharing and invited researchers and hosting platforms to work with us to develop and innovate. What’s happened since?

At Elsevier, we understand that scientists are immensely more productive when they are able to extract even more insight from information by using it collaboratively. We have long enabled researchers to share information published by Elsevier with each other, for example, via institutional repositories, but in 2015, we made clear that it was also possible to do this with other sophisticated platforms like figshare, Mendeley and readcube. We want sharing to be simple and seamless for researchers and consistent with the STM Article Sharing Principles. This is important because researchers prefer to read, cite and exchange final publications, but that has to be done in accordance with the copyright guidelines authors agree to when submitting their manuscripts for publication.

New services

Policies and principles are one thing, but these don’t help researchers collaborate on a daily basis. Services do. And there is a growing array of these services for researchers to choose from. For example, back in May Elsevier announced the acquisition of the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN), the leading social sciences repository and social collaborative network (SCN). We are developing it alongside Mendeley, a reference manager and SCN we acquired in 2013. Together they will provide greater access to a growing user-generated content base upon which they will build new informational and analytical tools that increase engagement and usage.

  • For authors, impact metrics are growing in number and becoming more useful (for example, metrics about usage, media mentions, sharing and citations), and usage data are available faster and more regularly. For example, Mendeley Stats helps authors understand the impact of their work, where they are being talked about, and how other researchers are finding their work.
  • For institutions, usage metrics help support collection development decisions and provide insights about the use and impact of institutional research outputs. Increasingly, librarians are involved in tracking and reporting on research outputs, but this can be a challenge. We are here to help. (See the librarian quick reference guide on research impacts, for example).
  • For publishers, usage metrics have helped drive the development of services such as article recommendation tools, which save researchers time and help them keep abreast of developments.

New industry sharing resource

It’s not always clear to researchers how they can share manuscripts and final published journal articles. Different platforms have different approaches, and so do different publishers. As a result, researchers may inadvertently share a version they shouldn’t because they don’t have the information at hand to understand what the reuse rights are for different articles.

To help address this problem, a new website provides information on the evolution of article sharing – including simplified publisher sharing policies, progress reports on a technical pilot that will enable authors to post articles more easily, and a proposed extension of COUNTER to monitor article use across platforms. The site – called How Can I Share It? – will be a home for commentary and discussion about article sharing.

Partnering with funders

In the United States, we’ve taken part in years of collaboration and partnership between US federal agencies and publishers on public access, including the CHORUS initiative. As a result, Elsevier enables recipients of US federal agency grants to self-archive manuscripts in compliance with the US federal agency 12-month embargo periods. We also open up accepted manuscripts and make these available via the CHORUS service.

Articles published open access can be shared with everyone right away, but most publishing is paid for by readers or institutions under a subscription model, which means that publishers need time before the text becomes freely available or people won’t subscribe. Publishers including Elsevier typically have embargo periods of 12 to 24 months, after which the accepted manuscripts can be shared.

Partnering with libraries

Another positive development since launching our sharing policies has been the development of new services to support the growth of institutional repositories.

In May, Elsevier and the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida concluded the first phase of a pilot to explore this further. While most of the institutions we have approached so far have responded positively to this development, there have been some objections. These are typified by an MIT blog post that characterizes the program as a “Trojan Horse.” The main points of criticism are:

  • The initiative contravenes the open access status of repositories, which should not form “a de facto discovery layer with commercialized content.”
  • Participating in such a program undermines the independence of repositories – which exist to preserve a university’s research holdings in perpetuity – by ceding “data gathering, reporting and article access to a for profit commercial entity.”

Our view is that researchers voluntarily choose where to publish, so working with commercial publishers can foster scholarly sharing. Additional views on the pilot have been published by the Scholarly Kitchen, including this interview with Judy Russell, Dean of Libraries at the University of Florida.

We’ll continue to collaborate with all stakeholders – including those libraries that are willing – to find win-win approaches that deliver benefits on all sides.

Moving forward

We see how researchers are continually evolving how they work, and we’re continually evolving to meet those needs. We still publish journal articles, of course, but we are far more focussed on using data to more actively support researchers throughout all facets of their career. We see our role as helping them to get to the right answer or conclusion quickly, not only providing them with quality information but also with powerful services. We can partially achieve this on our own, but we’re more effective working in partnership with other stakeholders; that’s where the real power comes from.

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