Open Access Initiatives: Law Reviews, SSRN, & IRs

by Jamie Baker

openaccess2Open access initiatives have permanently taken hold as librarians continue to promote widespread access to information. Many law reviews have jumped on the open-access bandwagon and are seeing higher scholarly impact as a result.

A study by James Donovan, Carol Watson, and Caroline Osborne titled The Open Access Advantage for American Law Reviews shows that participating in open access has a real, sizable, and consistent advantage.

In answer to law faculty questions about how participation in an open access repository will affect the works’ impact, the present research offers a definitive reply. When looking at citation by other law reviews to all the author’s work, the averaged increase in citations in flagship journals is 53%. In general, half of these cites will be dispensed in the first six years after the article’s publication. OA articles will attract more attention earlier in the lifecycle of the publication, and endure longer on the intellectual stage.

For authors, the message is clear: The open access advantage is real, sizable, and consistent. The minimal effort to upload an article onto an OA platform such as SSRN or a school’s repository pays rich dividends in the currency of subsequent citations in law reviews and court decisions.

Not only do the citations in other law review articles go up, so too do the citations by courts. The study shows that new scholarship is 41.4% more likely to be cited by a court
decision if it is available in open access format. James Donovan, et. al., The Open Access Advantage for American Law Reviews, Edison 2015 03-A (March 2015).

The takeaway is clear: faculty scholarship should be uploaded to SSRN and an institutional repository for discoverability and impact.

When discussing SSRN and institutional repositories with faculty, they generally ask, “Will uploading to the institutional repository hurt my SSRN rankings or downloads?”An article that appeared in the AALL Spectrum in 2012 discussed this very issue.

SSRN and IRs more likely draw from different readerships, meaning that downloads recorded for the repository copy represent not diverted SSRN readers but a new audience for the content. SSRN and IRs do not fight for the same eyeballs, but instead target different populations defined by how readers find their way to the desired content.

The authors go on to compare SSRN and IR download performance over a period of time and find that there is an initial burst of downloads when an article is uploaded to SSRN, but the downloads wane over time and are eventually outpaced by the downloads on the IR. James Donovan & Carol Watson, Will an Institutional Repository Hurt My SSRN Ranking?: Calming Faculty Fear, AALL Spectrum (April 2012).

We have seen this in action at Texas Tech University School of Law. Our institutional repository, ScHOLAR, is ranked 24 in a worldwide Top 25 Law Library repository list according to the “Ranking of Web Repositories” website.  The website uses indicators which show that documents from our repository are easily accessible through Google and Google Scholar, proving that ScHOLAR is easily discoverable.  In addition, the site takes into account the citations to and downloads of our documents to rank our repository, proving that our repository is used extensively in the legal community.

In fact, we just finished a mass upload of historical faculty scholarship, and we are seeing robust view and download stats for articles from the 1980’s, for example, that may have otherwise been forgotten. Our effort to capture faculty scholarship has required an updated workflow. Each month, the Faculty Services & Scholarly Communications Librarian tracks faculty scholarship using Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg, Hein, Google, etc. When a new article is released, we capture the PDF and upload it to ScHOLAR with a well-written abstract and keywords for discoverability.

We hope that our efforts will continue to showcase our institution’s faculty scholarship and make it easily discoverable to maximize impact while continuing to promote open-access initiatives.

About Jamie Baker

Jamie Baker is the Associate Dean & Director of the Law Library at Texas Tech University School of Law. She teaches Intro to the Study of Law, Civil Trial Research, & Academic Legal Writing, as well as sessions in the Legal Practice program and Excellence in Legal Research program. She blogs at
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