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Open Table of Contents: A New Way to Access ACM/SIGCHI publications

This is news piece from the ACM SIGCHI President on changes to OpenTOC from December 2015. In July 2016 we added a new OpenTOC page to provide a convenient way for you to access to many of our OpenTOC proceedings, and hence access at no charge to the linked papers for a period of one year from the end of the conference.

Recently the ACM introduced the OpenTOC (Open Table of Contents), described as “a unique service that enables Special Interest Groups (SIGs) to open the content from upcoming conferences enabling visitors to download the definitive version from the ACM Digital Library at no charge for a one year period or in perpetuity starting from the conference start date.” (July 2016 Edit: OpenTOC page)

Several SIGCHI-sponsored conferences already have used this service, for example:

Clicking on any of the paper links in the Table of Contents will take you directly to that paper in the ACM Digital Library. All of these OpenTOCs were set up to provide free access for one year from the conference date. After a year, if you click on a link, you’ll still be taken to the Digital Library page for that paper, but now you’ll need to have login credentials to get the actual paper.

In late 2015, ACM asked all its SIGS to define a default OpenTOC policy for their sponsored conferences. The major questions were: Should our conferences have OpenTOCs? And if so, should they be open for one year (from the conference start date) or in perpetuity?

The SIGCHI Executive Committee found it easy to answer the first question: yes, we should take advantage of this opportunity. However, the second question was harder. If we choose the “in perpetuity” option, we are declaring all our publications will in effect be open access. This led us to ask another question: if we were to do this, what would be the effect on SIGCHI’s revenue?

The answer is: we don’t know for sure. However, we do know that the stakes are high. Currently SIGCHI is fortunate enough to have a healthy financial surplus. However, we think it is wise to make sure we are sustaining a positive financial situation: i.e., we’d like it to be normal for our revenues to exceed our expenses. This lets us survive downturns (as in the early 2000s, when we were in significant financial trouble) and support new initiatives and worthy causes (strengthening HCI in developing countries, locating SIGCHI conferences outside our traditional geographic bases, providing student travel awards, etc.).

For the most recent year, 90% of SIGCHI’s surplus came from revenues we receive from downloads of SIGCHI content from the ACM Digital Library. If we provide OpenTOCs for our conferences in perpetuity, everyone could get the “definitive version” of all our proceedings from the ACM Digital Library at no charge, forever. So why would anyone -- individuals or institutions -- subscribe to the ACM DL? And if no one does, well, there goes 90% of our revenue.

At this point, the SIGCHI Executive committee did not think this was a risk we could take. We therefore decide that all conferences will have an OpenTOC for one year after the conference data. This will let us expand access to our publications, while simultaneously learning more about the potential effects on an important revenue source.

This decision does not end the conversation around providing access to our publications, and I welcome any questions and comments. Here are a few ways you can reach me and other SIGCHI leaders: email me at or any of the other SIGCHI officers (see,  post a message to the Chi Meta Facebook group, and come to the SIGCHI Town Hall held each year at CHI.

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