Open Access: What Every Researcher Should Know

Recently, a movement has grown up around the issue of open access to scholarly research. It’s likely that the debate surrounding this movement will have a profound effect on how the web is used for scholarly communications in the future. Open access advocates, like those involved in the Right to Research Coalition, seek to make academic research freely available to everyone regardless of financial or geographic boundaries. The Right to Research Coalition argues that open access to academic research can help solve three major problems (1) :

1. Rising costs have placed many journals out of financial reach for many institutions: Journal costs (as well as the number of journals) have risen exponentially over the past 30 years. At present, many journals cost thousands of dollars per annual subscription. This situation has put a strain on academic libraries and made access virtually impossible for individuals who aren’t affiliated with an elite university.

2. Much research, especially in scientific, technological, and medical fields is taxpayer funded: A number of federal agencies provide grant funding for research that ends up in journal articles. Some of this research is already being given an open access status. Since 2009, federally funded medical research has been made available through PubMed Central, for example, but this access has already seen a legislative challenge in the form of the Research Works Acts (2). Open Access advocates argue that taxpayer funded research should be a matter of public record and have drafted their own legislation, the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), which would require that public access, via the internet, to be granted to articles produced from research funded by 11 federal agencies (3).

3. Access restrictions make it difficult to assess the current state of the field, slowing the pace of new research and the distribution of urgently needed research. Students, researchers, doctors and other professionals need access to current research in order to do their jobs. If some of this research is inaccessible the quality of  future research is jeopardized. For students, this state of affairs can mean an incomplete education. For academic disciplines, it constitutes a barrier to advancement of knowledge and leads to duplicated research. In the case of medicine and other crucial disciplines, this lack of access can lead to lost lives.

The Open Access movement has seen successes in the growth and proliferation of open access repositories, like PubMed, that make make research freely accessible and the proliferation of Open Access Journals, like those that are part of the Public Library of Science (PLoS), many of which have become respectable high impact publishing outlets.

Academic authors who wish to give their published works open access status are often able to negotiate with publishers to allow the deposit of their articles into open access repositories. Here at the U of I we host just such a repository, called IDEALS, which exists to preserve and provide electronic access to research done at the University including dissertations, departmental and university-specific data, as well as open access articles by university affiliated researchers.

If you’d like to know more about your rights as an author and how to negotiate with publishers to retain those rights, contact us at the scholarly commons: sc@library.illinois.edu.

1. The Right to Research Coalition. “The Problem: Students can’t access essential research…” Accessed 12/7/2012

2. Eisen, M. B. “Research Bought, Then Paid For.” The New York Times. 1/10/2012. Accessed 12/7/2012.

3. SPARC. “Federal Research Public Access Act.” Accessed 12/7/2012.

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