Open access

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  • Updated.jpg 20 January 2017


See also Concept map - OA | Information technology topics | Institutional repositories | Open access (OA) journals in medicine | Predatory journals discourse 2017 | Research Portal for Academic Librarians | Utopia Documents

"...the digital is the realm of the open: open source, open resources, open doors. Anything that attempts to close this space should be recognized for what it is: the enemy." — The Digital Humanities Manifesto
"...Open access – the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need – is transforming the way research and scientific inquiry are conducted. Providing open access to research has the power to directly enable scientific advancements and innovative job growth in a wide range of fields, from health care to energy to agriculture..."

Open access (OA) is a scholarly publishing and communication movement that has generated considerable interest and debate among researchers. OA has wider social and economic implications in dissemination of research and is placed high on research agendas at all levels of government and business as societies move to more open and transparent forms of research publication and access. The rise of the web and social media are a big part of this global trend. Recurring issues in the discourse are economics, and whether OA models are viable financially, and whether publicly-funded research (such as CIHR via PubMed Central Canada (PMCC)) or other platforms should be made available immediately on publication. Canadian health librarians are required to know more about the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy (of which the CIHR is a signatory). The OA movement demonstrates synergies with other digital trends such as data management, open education and social computing. Some advocates point out that OA is not the opposite of "closed" and that there is a spectrum of openness or closedness. (See Open Access Spectrum (OAS) Evaluation Tool. For more information, see PLOS "How open is it"?.)

What is open access (OA)?

Open access is free, open access to research with no restrictions. It's a form of access that is possible when researchers publish in open-access journals, self-archive on personal websites and place their research in repositories. However, merely making materials available does not ensure their findability. The search space must also be open; there is little sense in providing free access to articles only to charge for access to abstracting and indexing services such as EMBASE or CINAHL. According to Ulrich's web, ~26,000 peer-reviewed journals are published worldwide. As knowledge-output has been estimated at about ~2.5 million articles a year, most libraries at universities and research institutions - even the largest and most-endowed libraries of Harvard and Yale - can only subscribe to part of this content. If research were more freely available the usage, impact and productivity of research would increase. In the paper era, there was no way to remedy this but in the digital era there is OA. A central tenet of OA is that information should be freely available to those who need it. In knowledge-based societies, information that is freely and openly-shared contributes to the health of economies. Blogs, wikis and other media are representative of new models of easily-accessible, instantaneous scholarly publishing.

In medicine, see the Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM) movement. There is also a collection of links re: FOAM here:

What is an OA publication?

According to the Bethesda Statement on Open Access, an open access publication is one that meets the following criteria:

  1. Author(s) and copyright holder(s) grant(s) to users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to distribute derivative works in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution as well as the right to make printed copies.
  2. A complete version of the work and all supplemental materials, including a copy of the permission as stated above, in a suitable standard electronic format is deposited immediately upon publication in at least one online repository that is supported by an academic institution, scholarly society, government agency, or other well established organization that seeks to enable open access, unrestricted distribution, interoperability, and long term archiving (for the biomedical sciences, PubMed Central is such a repository)."
    - 2003 Bethesda Statement on Open Access
  • Open access is a property of individual works, not necessarily journals;
  • Community standards, rather than copyright law, will provide the mechanism for enforcement of proper attribution and responsible use of published works.
  • The Berlin Declaration mentions, among other aspects, that "(OA) contributions include original scientific research results, raw data and metadata, source materials, digital representations of pictorial and graphical materials and scholarly multimedia material."

Examples of 'non-textual' OA materials

Other definitions

According to the Canadian Stevan Harnad, open access is the free, immediate, permanent online access to the full text of research articles.

The two major roads to OA are the:

  1. golden road of OA journal-publishing , where journals provide OA to their articles (either by charging the author-institution for refereeing/publishing outgoing articles instead of charging the user-institution for accessing incoming articles, or by simply making their online edition free for all);
  2. green road of OA self-archiving, where authors provide OA to their own published articles, by making their own eprints free for all. The two roads to OA should not be confused or conflated; they are complementary.

OA self-archiving is not self-publishing nor is it online publishing with no quality controls (ie. peer review). OA is also not intended for publications where authors are being paid, such as books or magazine/newspaper articles. OA self-archiving is for peer-reviewed research, written solely for research impact rather than royalty revenue.

Major & new initiatives

Have you heard about PeerJ started by Peter Binfield from PLOS? The access model is a one-time lifetime publishing fee/membership as long as you do one peer review a year. Each author up to the first 12 has to buy a membership. Their plan is to have open reviews that might even be published alongside the article.

OA leaders can be found in many countries but several Canadians are worth mentioning, for example, John Willinsky, Stevan Harnad and Heather Morrison. At the first Budapest Open Access Initiative meeting, three Canadians were involved: Leslie Chan; Jean-Claude Guédon and Stevan Harnad. A 2007 OA initiative in biomedicine brought several Canadian physicians together over concerns of lack of editorial independence at the Canadian Medical Journal. The OA publishing initiative is called Open Medicine and represents a bold new direction for scholarly, open-access publishing in biomedicine. Prominent Canadians include Drs. Anita Palepu, Claire Kendall and Stephen Choi. Peter Suber's Open Access News was updated several times a day but is now updated less often (see Open Access Overview and A Very Brief Introduction to OA.) In 2012, Suber published a monograph on open access. Librarians interested in reading about library-related issues may find the Open Access (OA) Librarian blog worth a read. Other resources include Charles Bailey's bibliographies, American Scientist Open Access Forum and Open Access Archivangelism.

For information about Open Science, see the Open Science Directory.

Open Access (OA) in Canada

In 2005, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council adopted open access. In 2006, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) proposed an OA mandate, adopting it in 2007 (see OA Self-Archiving Policy). CIHR is the first North American public research funder to do so. The Canadian Association of Research Libraries / Association des bibliothèques de recherche du Canada leads a number of OA initiatives. As a founding member of SPARC, it provides basic information on OA and the Canadian context for it. CARL/ABRC libraries participate in the Institutional Repositories Project, which includes development of a portal, CARL's Metadata Harvester, hosted by the University of Calgary Library, with the metadata harvester coordinated by Simon Fraser University Library. The Harvester includes records from 17 repositories. A significant number of works on CARL's What's New Page involve open access. Some of its iniatives are directly supportive of OA such as its Brief to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council concerning Open Access and AlouetteCanada, the Open Canada Digitization Initiative. Other CARL initatives are indirectly relevant to OA, such as its Knowledge Dissemination Study. See also PubMedCentral Canada

The Canadian government, under the Department of Canadian Heritage, provides funding for the publishing of books, magazines, newspapers, films, music and other cultural industries. The department's mandate is to create "...national policies and programs that promote Canadian content, foster cultural participation, active citizenship and participation in Canada's civic life, and strengthen connections among Canadians." The artists that create work funded by the Canadian Heritage retain their copyrights. Artists are provided with help in finding distribution and exhibition but are not required to make their publicly-funded work freely available.

Canadian leaders in OA

Canada’s involvement in OA can be traced back to the early 1990s. In 1991, Jean-Claude Guédon of the Université de Montréal founded Surfaces, the first Canadian electronic publication. Guédon served on the Board of Directors of the Open Society Institute's Information Program until 2006. OSI is a world leader in the OA movement. Guédon's In Oldenburg’s Long Shadow: Librarians, Research Scientists, Publishers, and the Control of Scientific Publishing is a thoughtful analysis of the history of scholarly communications and has been translated into five (5) languages. University of Toronto's Leslie Chan serves as the Associate Director of Bioline International, a not-for-profit electronic publishing service committed to providing OA to quality research journals published in developing countries, thus reducing the south to north knowledge gap. Bioline International assists local publishers with developing top-quality electronic platforms, including high metadata standards and working with abstracting and indexing services to enhance the impact of scientists in developing countries. Medknow's Journal of Postgraduate Medicine is an excellent example of the high quality of the work of Bioline and its publishing partners.

Stevan Harnad founded one of the first "gold" OA journals, Psycoloquy, in 1989. In 1993, he created BBSprints, an archive of preprints from Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Since then, his focus has been at the University of Southampton in the UK and as Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Sciences at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Harnad's students created Eprints, the first free OAI-compliant software for IRs which is used around the world. Harnad provided the policy models for the Green OA self-archiving mandates by universities that are growing rapidly: see ROARMAP. In 1997, Harnad created CogPrints, an early repository made OAI-compliant in 1999. During this period, Tim Brody created Citebase, a citation-based, scientometric search engine and Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR). Harnad's students and collaborators have amassed evidence of the usage and citation advantage of OA as a basis for promoting it. Harnad has moderated the American Scientist Open Access Forum since 1998. Links to his publications are here and his postings are archived and available on the American Scientist Open Access Forum. Harnad has had a role in writing the Berlin Declaration. OA advocates can be found at Canadian university libraries but Kathleen Shearer, Coordinator of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) Institutional Repository Project, exemplifies the leadership in Canada:

"I have always believed that there would be tremendous benefits from a freer and more open exchange of knowledge, research knowledge or otherwise. Not only does access to knowledge allow people to make informed decisions about their lives, their governments, and their health, etc., but it also facilitates the creation of new knowledge. New knowledge is built on old. The problem with limiting access to knowledge is that it probably also limits knowledge creation, particularly so for knowledge that comes from collaborative work."

British Columbia context

Bc flag.png

UBC's John Willinsky is an international OA expert and advocate who divides his time between Stanford and UBC. John founded the Public Knowledge Project which developed Open Journal Systems now in use by OA publishers worldwide. OJS is managed as a collaboration between UBC and Simon Fraser University with support from SFU. Canadian libraries and library associations have been leaders in the OA movement. The British Columbia Library Association and the Canadian Library Association are noted on Peter Suber's Open Access Timeline as early adopters of OA resolutions. Both resolutions were drafted by Heather Morrison, a librarian and open access advocate, who co-founded OA Librarian with Lesley Perkins, Andrew Waller, Marcus Banks, Dean Giustini and Anita Coleman. BCLA and CLA present strong support for OA and projects such as the CIHR open access policy consultation. Morrison currently teaches a course on Open access at the UBC School of Library, Archival and Information Studies.

At the University of British Columbia, there are provision for publishing in an open access journal here.

CIHR & the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy

See also PubMedCentral Canada

CIHR's mandate is stated in The CIHR Act: "to excel in the creation of new knowledge and its translation into improved health for Canadians, more effective health services and products and a strengthened Canadian health care system." CIHR has a fundamental interest in ensuring that research is available to a wide audience. Researchers, educators, decision makers and others rely on access to information (see CIHR's Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications) and the latest knowledge and research materials to make scientific discoveries, develop new technologies, and establish health-related standards and best practices. CIHR's policy promoting access to research outputs rests on the foundation of the CIHR Act and reflects the core values articulated in CIHR's Blueprint for Health Research and Innovation, the organization's strategic plan, which states that: "the primary purpose of all research in the public domain is the creation of new knowledge in an environment that embodies the principles of freedom of inquiry and unrestricted dissemination of research results."'

Access to NIH-funded papers

In 2008, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced its revised Public Access Policy. It now requires researchers to deposit copies of final manuscripts into a peer-reviewed journal so that they may be made publicly available within 12 months of publication. This policy applies to journal articles resulting from research supported in whole or in part by direct funds from NIH. A manuscript is defined as the final version accepted for journal publication and includes all modifications from the publishing and peer-review process. The NIH has provided a comprehensive set of resources to explain the details of the policy:

Libraries and universities in the US are working to help authors implement the revised NIH policy by helping authors to understand and negotiate their rights when publishing their work.

Other notable American scholarly papers

Librarians may also find the following links helpful:

The role of librarians

Academic librarians are among the most vocal OA advocates because access to information is a central tenet of librarianship. OA librarians strive to remove barriers that inhibit access to scholarly information. Some library associations have signed OA declarations or created their own. In 2004, the Canadian Library Association endorsed its own Resolution on Open Access; the ACRL of the American Library Association developed a Scholarly Communications Toolkit. The Association of Research Libraries recently documented the need for increased access to scholarly information, and founded the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). At many universities, libraries house institutional repositories where faculty can load their own self-archived articles. CARL/ABRC has a program to develop institutional repositories at all Canadian university libraries. Some academic libraries are starting to publish journals, such as the Journal of Insect Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library; others host and provide technical support. In Canada, many libraries are providing hosting services including UBC, Simon Fraser University, the University of Alberta, Athabasca University, and others. A study by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) found that 65% of libraries surveyed were offering journal hosting services or planning to do so. A summary of the findings and link to download it can be found on Open Access News. Many libraries promote OA through their websites, including OA journals in library catalogues or setting up automated searching. Some librarians are not in favour of full OA fearing that existing library funding for subscriptions may be removed or used to fund institutional repositories. Others are concerned about the long-term sustainability or uncertainty associated with business models.

American academic librarian Jeffrey Beall from the University of Colorado maintains a list of Beall’s List: potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers.


While there is much discussion about OA, there is insufficient discussion about how these materials will be found in an OA world. Will librarians rely on Google scholar or web 3.0 - or some yet to be developed search tool? For some discussion about open search spaces and findability see Open search or the The Search Principle Blog.

Select OA publishers

Lists of open access journals


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