Introduction to open access publishing

What is open access?

Open access (OA) is an electronic publishing model that prioritizes the greatest possible scholarly and public access to scholarship. It seeks to level the playing field among researchers worldwide by allowing equitable access to research, and prioritizes the ability for all citizens to share the results of publicly funded research.

Peter Suber, in his freely-available online book Open Access, offers the following definition:

“Open access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.” (Suber, 4)

Suber further clarifies:

“There are many degrees and kinds of wider and easier access to [research] literature. By “open access” to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.” (Suber, 7)

The term “open access” is now widely used in at least two senses.  For some, OA literature is digital, online, and free of charge.  This is referred to as gratis OA, as it removes price barriers but not permission barriers. For others, OA literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of unnecessary copyright and licensing restrictions. This form of open access is called libre OA, as it removes both price barriers and permission barriers.  It allows reuse rights which exceed fair use. Journals that support libre OA often make use of Creative Commons licensing.

Many open access journal providers provide libre OA, but others may only provide gratis OA. For the purpose of the Tri-Council Open Access Policy on Publications, either interpretation of OA will suffice.

Why is OA important to researchers?

Open Access provides authors with the means to maximize their visibility and increase the usage and citation impact of their research. When authors retain the rights to share their work they can self-archive it in a digital repository, which makes their work available to everyone who may be interested, not just journal subscribers. This effectively enhances the public value of their research by opening it up to service providers such as Google, making it quicker and easier to access. Authors also boost their online presence and raise their research profile since Google and other web search engines index OA repositories, resulting in their availability to anyone with Web access.

A number of studies have shown that openly accessible publications are cited more frequently, although there is some controversy in this area . Steve Lawrence’s early study results indicated that the citation count of computer science papers tripled with free online access, and Michael Kuntz’s study on astronomy literature found that open access can double the readership of articles. A summary of all citation impact studies can be found at eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/18516. The increased citation impact found in these studies is a direct result of the authors making their work open access so that more people can read and cite it.

In summary, OA offers the following benefits:

  • OA promotes equitable access to research for scholars and the global public
  • OA increases the dissemination of research works, which in return enhances the impact of research (citation count, reputation, visibility, etc.).
  • OA offers research greater control of their published work, for example, distributing one’s work to colleagues and students
  • Self-archiving of preprints allows one’s work to be accessible before it is officially published. This strategy allows researchers to claim a particular finding in a timely way and is helpful in disciplines where advances happen at a rapid pace
  • OA reduces the costs for students to access teaching and research materials and for libraries to acquire materials.

For more information on the benefits of open access, “Why Open Access to Research and Scholarship?” by John Willinsky is an excellent resource.

Open Access at York University Libraries

On October 1 2009, York University librarians and archivists unanimously voted to pass an open access policy for the complement. The York University open access policy for librarians and archivists respects that open access options are not always available for the publishing avenues that we choose. The spirit of the policy is that we are aware of our publishing options and make efforts to choose options that allow us to share our works without access restrictions.

Further Reading

Canadian Association of Research Libraries, (2017). Open Access.
SPARC. (2010). Digital repositories offer many practical benefits.
Chan, L. & Swan, A. (2010). Benefits of Open Access for research dissemination.
Suber, P. (2012). Open Access. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.