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Open Access: A Review

February 20, 2012

Throughout the library profession over the past decade there has been an increasing buzz around the idea of “open access” to scholarly literature.  This has come about for a number of reasons including the growing number of academic periodicals and increasing subscriptions costs. Further, many are troubled by the fact that academics frequently conduct research and develop new ideas, then sign away ownership of this work to publishers who make this new knowledge available to only those individuals and libraries that are able to pay the fee.

As described by Peter Suber, one of the foremost authorities on the subject, “open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions” and is also “compatible with copyright, peer review, revenue (even profit), print, preservation, prestige, quality, career-advancement, indexing, and other features and supportive services associated with conventional scholarly literature.” (Suber, 2010)

It is generally agreed that there are two paths to achieving open access to scholarly literature.

  • Gold OA refers to Open Access journals that publish articles online with no access restrictions.
  • Green OA is possible when authors make their work available online using personal webpages or databases, known as repositories, that are maintained by an institution or other organization.

A number of universities and other agencies that fund research now require authors to make their findings available through open access.

The term “open access” should not be confused with “open source”, which refers to the open development and distribution of software.


Why is open access important to authors?

Open access allows authors to distribute their work more widely, resulting in a greater impact.


As librarians, what can we do to increase access to research?

  • Submit our own work to open access journals whenever possible. Encourage others to do the same.
  • If publishing in a journal that is not open access, read the publisher contract carefully to understanding what rights (if any) are retained
    • Negotiate to maintain some ownership so the work may be re-used and re-distributed
  • Make a version of the work available on a personal website, in an institutional repository like ScholarlyCommons at Penn or a subject based repository like arXiv or SSRN.
    • Many non-open access journals currently allow this practice of “self-archiving”. See the Sherpa Romeo database to view individual publisher policies. Individual cases may vary. Be sure to read your publisher contract closely
  • Encourage library projects and practices that support open access publishing
  • Help authors at our institutions understand the benefits of open access and the many opportunities that exist

For more information about how you can help authors see SPARC’s Resources for Authors.


Recent Legislation Related to Open Access

Open access to publicly funded research (known as public access) continues to be a topic debated in Congress.

In 2008, Congress enacted the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access policy which requires authors of all published articles resulting from research funded by the National Institutes of Health to submit a copy to the PubMed Central database within 12 months.

Congress also considered the Federal Research Public Access Act, in 2006, 2009, and 2010, which would have enacted similar requirements for research funded by other government agencies but this legislation never became law.

Although supported by many, not everyone supports such measures. Legislators in the United States have introduced measures such as the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act of 2008 and the Research Works Act of 2011 introduced in December 2011 that would restrict government sponsored open access requirements such as the NIH Public Access Policy. This most recent action was met with strong opposition.

Just earlier this month on February 9, The Federal Research Public Access Act was reintroduced in another attempt to expand open access to government funded research. The Alliance for Taxpayer Access supports this legislation and offers some additional information.


What is the College & Research Division of PaLA doing? 

The CRD is currently exploring the possibility of initiating an open access online publication. This would provide academic librarians in Pennsylvania an additional opportunity to share their ideas with others across the state and around the world — free to read for anyone who is interested.

What are your thoughts on open access?  What else can CRD and PaLA do to promote open access?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Linda Neyer permalink
    March 16, 2012 10:20 pm

    This is an excellent primer on open access, and a very nice summary of the issues and players involved. Thanks!

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