Introduction to Open Access

Why Open Access?

Open access is an “emerging model of scholarly communication that promises to greatly improve the accessibility of results of research. In general terms, scholarly research that is published in open access is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions (although it does require that proper attribution of works be given to authors)” [1].

“Based on the principle that all research should be freely accessible online after publication, open access removes barriers that once restricted public access to scholarly research and knowledge… Open access means greater dissemination of knowledge, a larger research impact, and potential for higher citation rates” [2].

Open Access Removes Barriers to Knowledge

In his book, Open Access, Peter Suber describes how open access can remove barriers to research and education:

A price tag is a significant access barrier. Most works with price tags are individually affordable. But when a scholar needs to read or consult hundreds of works for one research project, or when a library must provide access for thousands of faculty and students working on tens of thousands of topics, and when the volume of new work grows explosively every year, price barriers become insurmountable. The resulting access gaps harm authors by limiting their audience and impact, harm readers by limiting what they can retrieve and read, and thereby harm research from both directions. OA removes price barriers.

Copyright can also be a significant access barrier. If you have access to a work for reading but want to translate it into another language, distribute copies to colleagues, copy the text for mining with sophisticated software, or reformat it for reading with new technology, then you generally need the permission of the copyright holder. That makes sense when the author wants to sell the work and when the use you have in mind could undermine sales. But for research articles we’re generally talking about authors from the special tribe who want to share their work as widely as possible. Even these authors, however, tend to transfer their copyrights to intermediaries—publishers—who want to sell their work. As a result, users may be hampered in their research by barriers erected to serve intermediaries rather than authors. In addition, replacing user freedom with permission-seeking harms research authors by limiting the usefulness of their work, harms research readers by limiting the uses they may make of works even when they have access, and thereby harms research from both directions. OA removes these permission barriers.

Removing price barriers means that readers are not limited by their own ability to pay, or by the budgets of the institutions where they may have library privileges. Removing permission barriers means that scholars are free to use or reuse literature for scholarly purposes. These purposes include reading and searching, but also redistributing, translating, text mining, migrating to new media, long-term archiving, and innumerable new forms of research, analysis, and processing we haven’t yet imagined. OA makes work more useful in both ways, by making it available to more people who can put it to use, and by freeing those people to use and reuse it.[3]


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Ryerson Open Textbook Authoring Guide by Ryerson University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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