Open Access, and Why it Matters to You

oaOpen access is a complicated (and somewhat controversial) new publication model for distributing academic articles, but a simple definition is this: as journal subscription prices rise dramatically and library funding diminishes, we are reaching a crisis point in terms of making new research accessible to educators and academics, who need to access scholarly articles in order to produce research. Furthermore, a significant portion of published papers in the sciences directly result from government funded (ie tax-payer funded) grants, and many open access advocates argue that we should not be paying to read the results of tax-payer funded projects.

Finally, researchers object to providing peer-review services for free to publishers who charge high subscription costs to academic libraries (publications those same academics, not to mention their students, read to stay current in their fields).

Enter the open access publication model, in which scholarly journals provide their content online for free. In basic terms, these are scholarly journals whose content is freely accessible to the public, with the explicit mission of making scientific and scholarly articles accessible to other scholars and academics.

Different types of institutions can play a role in the open access movement in a variety of ways, and there are a few working models in place to make open access work. Publishers can offer their content for free, in which case they must find funding to cover publication costs outside subscription fees. Some OA publishers charge authors to publish their works to offset this cost, while others seek funding through grants.

Gold versus Green

When an OA journal publishes peer-reviewed and edited articles in the traditional sense but seeks funds upfront from its users—either the author or the university—this is called “Gold OA.” A model where access to content is treated more as a repository than a traditional publisher—i.e. no traditional editor,  no exchange of funds—this is called “Green OA.”

For instance, libraries can enter the open access foray through their institutional repositories (or in plainer terms, their digital archive). This model asks authors to submit their previously published (or unpublished) works to their library’s digital archive for free. (See the Harvard Open Access Project for an example. Also, see the CUNY Academic Commons Open Access Group’s plans for a CUNY Institutional Repository.)

The Politics of Open Access

Finally, government policy can insist that tax-payer funded research be made freely accessible online. (This is already happening: ERIC and PubMed are both open access databases.) The Obama Administration agrees; responding to a petition of over 65,000 signatures asking for public access to the results from tax-payer funded research projects, they issued a statement in 2013 directing large Federal agencies to make publications publicaly accessible within one year.

If you would like to know more about this movement, or become involved in it, I would recommend starting at home with our very own CUNY Academic Commons community. As students, faculty, and staff of College of Staten Island, you can join the academic commons community by using your CUNY email address, and peruse the many groups and blogs it hosts.

Specifically, here is the Open Access Group’s blog. For more information on institutional repositories, here is the link to the Directory of Open Access Repositories. Or perhaps you’d read or submit work to an open access journal. Here is a link to the Directory of Open Access Journals.

If you’re curious about the financial aspects of open access, Nature, an open access journal, published an excellent cost analysis.

-Anne Hays, Adjunct Assistant Professor & Instruction Librarian