Skip to Main Content

Open Access

Learning about Open Access (OA), OA journals, and where to find OA

A Brief History of Open Access

a neon open sign

Image by Patrik Gupta from Pexels

The concept of open access research has been around for hundreds of years, albeit in a different state. For many centuries, scientists and academics were hesitant to share their work in any capacity in fear of losing their power, fame, and wealth due to their discoveries. This “closed science” began to change during the enlightenment era, when the concept of openly sharing research became necessary in order to verify whether complex theories, mathematical models, or insights were indeed valid—aka Peer Review. (See Schlagwein et al.’s article on the history of Openness for more information).

However, despite the spread of scientific information during the enlightenment, restrictive copyrights still prevented many individuals from accessing information. While there were some attempts through the years to create openly accessible materials, publication costs and the inability to easily spread information made it difficult to financially sustain this model. This financial barrier was lowered with the creation of the internet. Not only was online distribution less costly than physical production, but it could also be instantly accessible and allowed users to search through a slew of articles much easier than with traditional means. In the 1990s, open access repositories like ArXiv and PubMed hosted thousands of articles that allowed researchers immediate access to a wealth of information that was not previously easily accessible.

In 2002, the Budapest Open Access Initiative, a public statement released by the Open Society Institute, helped popularize the term Open Access as well as advocate certain OA principles such as the call for self-archiving articles and open-access journals. This short declaration helped quantify the movement, and its overall importance to society:

Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.

Since then, the Open Access movement has only gained momentum. For example, as of this writing, the Directory of Open Access Journals has over 20,000 open journals and over 9 million open access articles. This number is only going to grow, and all of it is completely free to the public. In short, with the complex issues that desperately need solving in the world, the more easily accessible important research is spread to the world, the better.

Benefits of Open Access

digital map of the world with connecting lines

Image by Sumanley xulx from Pixabay

Promoting equitable access

Access to scholarly journals can be quite expensive. Often, traditional journals are only accessible to the financially privileged or to libraries who have the budget to afford certain subscriptions. However, OA allows anyone, regardless of their financial situation, immediate access to information.

Enhances the spread of knowledge

While traditional journals can contain vital and life-changing articles, it may not be as impactful if the source is behind a paywall — limiting the material to only a select few. With OA journals and articles being free and instantly accessible, information can be shared and studied far more effectively. Especially with online access, OA can have an immediate global spread.

Reduces Financial Costs for Organizations

Libraries, universities, and other organizations host journal subscriptions to the benefit of patrons, it comes at a steep price — often spending an exorbitant amount of money to provide access to these materials. When more journals and articles become OA, then less funding is needed to purchase journal subscriptions. In addition, traditional journals may need to reduce their subscription rates in order to be competitive with OA alternatives.

Complies with Grant Funding 

Many grants are available with the stipulation that the article itself become OA. For example, organizations like the Gates Foundation and The Wellcome Trust may provide grant funding to researchers in exchange for an agreement that their work become openly accessible to the public. They also may cover APCs associated with Gold OA journals.