Skip to Main Content

Open Access: Making Research Available to All

What is Open Access?

Peter Suber, former professor of philosophy at Earlham College, now director of Harvard's Office for Scholarly Communication, defines it this way:

Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder.

He provides further information about it in his "Very Brief Introduction to Open Access"

Image courtesy of PLoS and Wikimedia Commons.

Why Does it Matter?

There are many reasons that OA is gaining traction among academics. These include:

  • reducing inequality; many scholars are not affiliated with institutions that can afford to provide access to published research
  • making research findings available to the public
  • increasingly, funders want the research they fund to be available as widely as possible and require it to be OA
  • enhancing discovery and sharing of a scholar's work to increase its impact
  • because, as most journals move to online publication, there's no reason to restrict access to subscribers other than to sustain a traditional business model

Read More About It


Author's Alliance Guide to Open Access - download for free.

Take Action!

Here are some of our ideas:

Upload your work to SocArXiv.

Consider submitting an article to Open Library of Humanities.

Take a look at the Open Science Framework and what it can do for your projects.

Browse the Open Textbook Library and see if there's a textbook that could be used in one of your courses.

Make a conference paper open by submitting it to GustieScholar.

How Does it Work?

There are basically two ways to make your research open access.

Publish in an open access journal. There are lots of these today. Some are published by entirely new ventures, such as PLoS (launched in 2001) and Open Library of Humanities (launched in 2015). Some are published by small groups of scholars interested in a subject area using open source software to create new journals. A few are venerable journals that have switched to open access (such as Cultural Anthropology) and others are new journals published by traditional publishers. Nature now publishes more articles that are open access journals than toll-access - though their most prestigious journals remain behind a paywall. Many publishers allow an author the chance to make a single article open access, but this "hybrid" approach is usually very expensive. These journals have various business models, from charging authors an APC (author processing charge) - most common in the sciences, where grants are expected to cover the costs - to seeking funding or technical support from library sponsors, to entirely voluntary operations. As with publishing in traditional journals, authors should think about whether a journal is a good fit and is gaining a reputation for scholarly quality. 

DID YOU KNOW . . .  the Kendall Center has funding for APCs.

Reserve the rights to make a version available online. A majority of journal publishers allow authors to place some version of an article online even though they require a copyright transfer. You can check on a publisher's policies by searching the SHERPA/RoMEO database  Typically, publishers will specify whether a pre-print (manuscript copy before peer review) or post-print (manuscript copy after peer review) can be posted. Less frequently, publishers allow authors to share a finished PDF. If your preferred journal doesn't have a policy for self-archiving, you might be able to negotiate the opportunity. There's a model addendum to copyright agreements that you can use.

In either case, we would be very happy to add your publications in GustieScholar, our institutional repository, making them available to anyone in the world, assuming you have retained some rights to do so. If you aren't sure, we can do our best to discover what rights you hold.

DID YOU KNOW . . . GustieScholar makes your research available to all.

Open Access Myths and Misperceptions

Open access journals are poor quality if not outright scams. Most OA journals have the same editorial processes as traditional journals. Though fraudulent websites that bill themselves as open access publishers have gotten a lot of press, they are no more typical of open access as Nigerian scams are of email communication. They are a nuisance, but easily avoidable. If a journal is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals, it has been verified as a real journal. However, there's a backlog in vetting journals for this database, so newer journals of quality may not yet be listed there.

You have to pay to publish in an open access journal. Most OA journals are not supported by author fees, though some of the OA journals that publish the most articles do typically have article processing charges (APCs). This revenue model is most common in the sciences, where grant funding often covers the cost (and, in the past, often required authors to pay page charges even to publish in subscription journals). Most journals that sustain themselves through APCs offer authors without grants reduced fees or waive them entirely. OA journals in the humanities and social sciences rarely charge APCs.

How will I get tenure if I publish in OA journals? It's certainly the case that decades of prestige have accrued to traditionally published journals and there aren't as many highly-respected OA journals available to authors - yet. That said, authors can choose traditional journals carefully and submit their work to those that allow authors to post a version of their research online through their own website or in an institutional repository. Meanwhile, some respected journals are flipping to open access. Highly prestigious publishers such as Nature, Springer, and Sage are launching OA journals. In fact, Nature reports that a majority of the articles they published across all of their journals in 2014 were open access.

Why bother? Nobody really wants to read this stuff. It's just for CVs. We feel sorry for you. Really. Also, we know from experience with traffic coming to GustieScholar that a lot of people are surprisingly interested in faculty research.

I don't see what problem this solves. If my library doesn't have a journal, I just get it through interlibrary loan / from the author / from a friend / by using #icanhzpdf on Twitter. Libraries, including those at Harvard and other well-funded research institutions, are finding it increasingly difficult to sustain annual price increases that have been problematic for decades. It will become increasingly hard for anyone to supply articles as libraries are forced to cancel subscriptions. Besides, not everyone has friends who they can pester for copies. The system is unsustainable and unequal, and these work-arounds are not a fix.

Open Educational Resources

In addition to open access to scholarship, progress is being made on the open textbook front. Here are a few resources for using or creating open course materials.

OpenStax - based at Rice University and funded by Gates, Hewlitt, and other foundations, this site offers a number of peer-reviewed introductory textbooks for mathematics, sciences, and social sciences. 

OER Commons - a project of the Silicon Valley-based Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education that offers both open resources and a platform for creating new textbooks and curriculum materials. Includes both K12 and higher ed resources.

Open Textbook Library - a clearinghouse for open textbooks reviewed by faculty; from the University of Minnesota's Center for Open Education.

Adding Your Research to GustieScholar

You can make your scholarship available to the world! At least, if you haven't given a publisher exclusive rights.

We will automatically include any publication listed in Inside Gustavus if the publication's copyright policy allows it. You can also tell us about publications, and we will do the research to find out whether it can be included. Book chapters are tricky - we may need for you to find your publishing agreement before we can be sure it's okay to post.

We are happy to include publications, presentations, posters, or other kinds of scholarship that you want to make available online.

News About Open Access

open sign

image courtesy of A. Currell

Loading ...
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License