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Three Cheers for Open Access!

Posted in UC3

Open Access has two flavors (green and gold), but the concept of “open” has many more: open science, open source, open knowledge… From Flickr by aquarian librarian.

If you weren’t aware, this week is Open Access Week.  The word open gets used quite a bit these days… like open notebooks, open science, open source, open content, open access, open data, open government, open repositories, and open knowledge. If you are not sure what all the hoopla is about, read on. Note: I will talk about “Open Stuff” for the next couple of blog posts, so stay tuned.

Let’s start with the honorary “Open” for the week: open access.  This phrase is used to describe “content”, which is a rather ambiguous phrase used to indicate it could be just about anything digital… like pictures, data, articles, blog posts, etc. etc. Open access content has three basic characteristics:

  1. Digital
  2. Free
  3. Online

That means there are no price or permission barriers, the full content is available, and it is made available immediately. Although Open Access content can be anything that fitst the criteria above, the phrase is most frequently used to describe academic journals.

It might surprise some to learn that Open Access as a way of publishing is compatible with copyright, peer review, revenue, quality, indexing, and prestige.  If the journal is open access, there may be little or none of the following: printing, price negotiations for institutional subscriptions, site licenses, user authentication, access blocking.

Open access comes in two basic flavors: Green and Gold.

  • Gold OA refers to peer reviewed, open access journals. Examples include PLOS and Ecosphere. Sometimes authors are charged, but often fees are waived if their home institution has a subscription to the journal.
  • Green OA refers to open access repositories, traditionally with no peer review, that are institutional or discipline-specific. Examples include PubMed Central and MIT’s DSpace repository. Basically, these repositories are able to house articles for authors that may or may not be published in OA journals. This is known as “post-print archiving”, and is explicitly allowed by about 60% of journals and allowed by almost all others upon request.

Researchers: in case you weren’t paying attention, you can post-print archive ALL of your publications with an OA archive, which makes them open access! Why aren’t all researchers doing this already? Probably because they either don’t know they can (I didn’t until recently), or they don’t know what repositories are available to them to do this. If it’s the latter, here are a few suggestions:

  • Talk to your friendly institutional librarian.  They know all kinds of things (read my blog post about libraries being under-utilized), including whether your institution has a relationship with any repositories.
  • Check out OpenDOAR, the OA repositories list. It’s a complete list of “Green OA” repositories with over 2000 listings.

In honor of Open Access week, I challenge you to make at least one of your previously published articles open access. Go forth and open!

You might be wondering… why are some people against open access? What are the down sides? 

Not surprisingly, most of the folks that aren’t big fans of OA are traditional scholarly publishers.  They contend that publishers play an important gatekeeper role, keeping out the riffraff articles that will drag down the journal’s reputation.  Traditional journals also have a strong record of facilitating peer review, editing articles, and indexing them with various services.  The Association of American Publishers (AAP) is leading the charge against OA requirements for publicly funded research, and in 2011 they helped sponsor a bill put before congress called the Research Works Act.  Wikipedia sums up the bill nicely:

The bill contains provisions to prohibit open-access mandates for federally funded research and effectively revert the NIH’s Public Access Policy that requires taxpayer-funded research to be freely accessible online.

Needless to say, this bill would have severely restricted all kinds of open access progress that has been made in the last decade.  In response to this bill, an online petition was initiated called The Cost of Knowledge, which focused on the business practices of the academic publisher Elsevier.  It was signed by more than 10,000 scholars, who were calling for lower prices for journals and promotion of increased open access to information. The bill did not pass, and hopefully it or some new version of it never will.

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