What’s the deal with Open Access?

Knowledge unfortunately isn’t free.

Much of the research being conducted at universities, colleges, and institutes around the world is written up by professors, graduate students, and research associates and published in toll-access (subscription) journals. Anyone lacking a subscription to that journal will not be able to access the articles published there. This creates a serious access problem for many people across the globe.

An alternative method of publishing, called Open Access, is gaining in popularity and it allows for anyone to read the results of research for free.

Why should I care?

The short version:

expensive journals = less access to research results, especially for those outside of wealthy higher-ed institutions

less access = less research being done and/or research not happening quickly because of access barriers

The long version:

Most scholarly work is currently published through toll-access journals. The work is given to the journals for free by researchers and faculty at colleges and universities – they do this in exchange for the prestige that comes with publishing their work. Many times the research being described in the journals was funded by public agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. These journals charge a subscription fee for access to the articles they publish. Sometimes the subscription fees are quite reasonable and other times they are outrageously expensive. At most colleges and universities, the Library assumes responsibility for the subscription and for providing access.

For students, researchers, and faculty at wealthy institutions this arrangement has worked relatively well for the past 100+ years. For those researchers at less-wealthy institutions or those unaffiliated with a college or university, it has created an access barrier that makes research difficult. Without a subscription to a journal, a researcher needs to try contacting colleagues at other institutions that do have a subscription or needs to email the authors to see if they will send a copy. These techniques are not always successful which means those researchers are left without access to information they need.

In addition, costs for scholarly journals have been rising rapidly at rates outpacing what libraries can anticipate and plan for based on the inflation rate.  This has created an unfortunate situation in which libraries have to cancel some journal subscriptions and purchase fewer books each year in order to keep up with price increases for the journal subscriptions that are considered critical to maintain.

What is Open Access?

Open Access (OA) is the free, immediate, online availability to works without significant copyright or licensing restrictions. Put another way, it means access to scholarly and creative works without price and permission barriers.

There are two main routes to OA:

  • publish in an open access journal – this means the work is freely available from the moment of publication. This is sometimes called gold open access.
  • Deposit a copy of your work in a freely available archive – this generally happens either at the time of publication or after publication. This is sometimes called green open access.

What can I do?

As a student you can support OA by asking your professors if they publish their work openly – either in open access journals or in an openly available archive. You can also deposit your own work in the University of Texas at Austin online archive called Texas ScholarWorks.

As a researcher or faculty member you can publish your work in an open access journal, and/or you can deposit copies of your work in Texas ScholarWorks. And, you can start discussions in your department about how faculty and researchers are evaluated for promotion and tenure.

For anyone at UT:

  • Stop by booths we’ll have set up during Open Access Week. We’ll have one booth outside PCL on Monday, Oct. 19th from 11am-1pm. We’ll be in the PCL Lobby on the East Mall near CLA on Thursday, Oct. 22nd from 11am-1pm. We’ll be handing out free stuff and answering your open access questions.
  • Tweet about open access using #openaccess
  • Read about, write about, and talk about open access

What is Texas ScholarWorks?

Texas ScholarWorks (TSW) is an online archive managed by UT Libraries. The goal of TSW is to provide open, online access to the products of the University’s research and scholarship and to preserve these works for future generations. TSW is highly indexed by Google and managed by the Libraries for long-term preservation. It’s easy for members of the UT Austin community (faculty, researchers, students, and staff) to share their work through TSW. Simply check out the FAQs or send an email to tsw at utlists dot utexas dot edu for information about how to submit.