October 21st-27th is the 12th annual International Open Access Week across the globe. Events, ranging from pop-up displays and webinars to panel presentations and screenings of the film Paywall, are taking place this week in countries from Australia and Bangladesh to Uganda and the United States.
What exactly is Open Access? According to the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Coalition (SPARC), Open Access is defined as “the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment.” The journal Nature states that Open Access (OA) “refers to free, unrestricted online access to research outputs such as journal articles and books. OA content is open to all, with no access fees.”
There are two models for Open Access: Green and Gold. Green OA sources may be freely available somewhere other than a publisher’s website, for example, on the authors’ websites. Green OA sources may also be free to anyone only after an embargo period, which can be a year or more. Gold OA sources, however, are freely available on all platforms immediately upon publication. Gold OA is the ideal model for those who are interested in the latest research in any field. As SPARC states: “Open Access ensures that anyone can access these results—to turn ideas into industries and breakthroughs into better lives.”
Beyond SPARC’s platitudes, why is Open Access important? OA provides equity to everyone with access to a computer and the Internet; scholarly sources are there for people to discover through the Directory of Open Access Journals and countless other resources. The theme of the 2019 International Open Access Week is “Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge.”
More importantly, Open Access sources are increasingly important in education at all levels. Open Educational Resources (OER), which include textbooks and media as well as journals, are being adopted by community colleges and universities to help students save money on the materials they need for their courses. CMU librarians regularly work with instructors to identify OER that the instructors can adopt for their courses, if not to replace all of the expensive textbooks, then at least to enhance student learning with additional and free sources.
Open Access is also critical across all fields, but perhaps most notably in science and medicine. That has led to open-access mandates by governments, funders, and research institutions around the world. Since 2008, for example, all articles that are the results of funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) must be archived through PubMed. Since 2012, the NIH has blocked the renewal of grants to authors who don’t comply with that mandate. Other federal institutions that have followed suit with open-access repositories and strategies include the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy. The latter hosts OSTI.gov, which has more than 700,000 full-text federal works as of today.
There are still some roadblocks to true Open Access. Many OA journals have Article Processing Charges (APCs), which are fees authors must pay to publish their research in those journals. The lack of centralized funding and decision-making in education and research are also roadblocks to OA. However, with more and more researchers and funders pushing for true OA on an international scale via Plan S (which will require publications that result from publicly funded grants to be OA from 2021-onward), Open Access will, hopefully, be the future for almost all research that is completed and published around the world.
Image by A. Morrison and is licensed by the CC: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/af4a5989-dfcc-4800-8385-f4e240b45884