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Scholarly Communication Toolkit (ACRL): Open Access Policies & Publishing

Open Access - A Brief History and Explanation

The launch of the internet nearly 30 years ago allowed for the development of the concept of open access. Early open access initiatives included the launch of the online subject repository arXiv in 1991, the publication of several free, peer reviewed online journals in the early 1990s, and the development of the National Institute of Health's repository PubMedCentral in 2000. Then, in 2002 and 2003, three distinct meetings took place in Budapest, Berlin and Bethesda which gave rise to a formal and still globally accepted definition of "open access." The widely accepted definition of open access literature is as follows: Open access literature is digital, online free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.1

Although costs for digital publishing can be lower than print publications, open access publishing is not free. Instead of charging the reader for access through purchase or subscription, alternative business models have arisen that provide the publishers with the financial means for providing access to scholarship. One cost recovery model is the implementation of article processing charges (APCs). These charges are paid by the author (who may get assistance from research grants, his university, or his library) prior to publication. Production costs can also be offset by the sale of memberships, add-ons and enhanced services by the publisher. In some cases, journals are fully subsidized by a sponsoring institution, funder or other organization without charging authors or readers. However, while open access publishing has the potential to reduce costs, this is not the only driving force behind open access advocacy. The benefits to individual scholars, related institutions, scholarly communication, and the general researching public are also primary motivating factors.

There are two primary routes in which open access literature can be published or otherwise made available. These two routes are frequently described as "gold open access" and "green open access.

  • Gold Open Access is when an author publishes in an Open Access Journal. The article is published in an open access journal that provides immediate open access to all of its articles on the publisher's website. The term "Hybrid Open Acess" is also sometimes used to describe an open access model where a journal provides gold open access only for those individual articles for which an open access publishing fee has been paid. A common misconception about open access publishing is that it is not peer reviewed. However, many open access journals adhere to the same strict review process as more traditional journals. Peer review is medium-independent, as relevant to online journals as to print journals. It can be carried out in cost effective ways with new supporting software and technologies.
  • Green Open Access is when an author archives a version of their work in an open access repository, irrespective of where it is finally published. After publication, author self-archives a version (peer-reviewed postprint) of the article for free public use in their institutional repository (IR), in a central repository (e.g., PubMed Central), or on some other open access website.

There are many ways2 that libraries and other institutions can support open access, ranging from simply providing information to enacting open access policies and establishing institutional repositories:

  • Preparing guides to open access 
  • Encouraging dialog about open access, e.g., through blogs/newsletters
  • Holding Open Access Week events to promote awareness
  • Endorsing statements on open access such as the Berlin Declaration
  • Establishing open access publication funds
  • Establishing institutional repositories
  • Establishing open access databases
  • Issuing open access resolutions and enacting open access policies
  • Purchasing institutional subscriptions that provide discounts on open-access publication fees
  • Negotiating open access agreements with publishers
  • Providing copyright advisory services to researchers
  • Providing assistance in the conversion of institution-based journals to open access journals
  • Forming academic centers devoted to scholarly publishing

1 This definition comes from Peter Suber, who is considered the foremost leader and expert on the topic. His Overview of Open Access is an excellent brief explanation of what open access publishing is and why it is an important initiative.

This list comes from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Library Guide to Open Access



Further Resources on the History of the Open Access Movement:

Further Reading on Open Access

Open Access Publishing - Studies on Business Models

  • Harvard Journal Flipping Project - project to gather options and best practices on converting subscription-based scholarly journals to open access. This is a response to the serials crisis as well as an open access initiative.
  • Pay it Forward Project - investigation into a sustainable model of open access article processing charges
    for large north American research institutions

Open Access: Tools and Presentations

How to Debunk Common Open Access Myths

Institutional Open AccessPolicies

Open access policies are increasingly being adopted by individual colleges and universities. These policies typically endorse open access principles and define guidelines by which persons covered by the policy should disseminate research and knowledge, usually through the college or university's institutional repository. The following resources are useful for libraries who may be helping to enact an institutional open access policy or support it after its passage:

Good Practices for University Open Access Policies - this guide, developed by Harvard University, sets forth good practices for college and university open-access policies. It's based on the type of rights-retention OA policy first adopted at Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and the University of Kansas. although the guide includes recommendations that should be useful to institutions taking other approaches.

Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions (COAPI) - organization whose members have passed or are working to pass open access policies at their institutions. See also the recently released COAPI Toolkit OA Policy Resources. The public facing version of this site includes various resources under "Files" including documents to assist with policy development, promotion, and implementation.

ROARMAP (Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies) - searchable international registry charting the growth of open access mandates and policies adopted by universities, research institutions and research funders that require or request their researchers to provide open access to their peer-reviewed research article output by depositing it in an open access repository.

MELIBEA - Open Access Policy Effectiveness Indicator - MELIBEA is a directory and an estimator of institutional open access policies regarding scientific and academic outputs. As a directory, it describes the existing policies. As a estimator, it subjects them to qualitative and quantitative analyses based on fulfillment of a set of indicators that reflect the statements of an institutional policy.

Planning Open Access Week at Your Library

open access week logo

Open Access Week is an annual scholarly communication event focusing on open access and related topics. It takes place globally during the last full week of October in a multitude of locations both on- and offline. Typical activities include talks, seminars, symposia, or the announcement of open access mandates or other milestones in open access. The following resources are available to assist libraries with their Open Access Week planning: