InfoIssues: March 2005 | Mansfield Library | The University of Montana-Missoula

The University of Montana Libraries—Missoula

A publication of the faculty of the Mansfield Library at the University of Montana

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To comment on this issue or to suggest an issue, please contact Jennie Burroughs, Chair, Key Constituencies Committee.

Issue of the Month: March 2005

Open Access

-Barry Brown, Associate Professor
Science Librarian and Head of Access & Collection Services

Open Access, simply put, is access to peer reviewed articles freely available on the internet. This is accomplished by either post publication archiving by authors or original publication by authors in Open Access journals. Calls for Open Access have evolved over the last few years from the fringe rantings of a few idealists to the mainstream musings of many researchers and scholars with discussions in prominent peer reviewed journals, at professional association conferences, and around the table at faculty meetings. Open Access is accomplished by authors willingly allowing their articles to be freely accessed and used and can coexist with traditional scholarly publishing features such as: copyright, peer review, publishing in prestigious subscription based journals, and indexing.

Open Access stands in stark contrast to the current model of expensive institutional journal subscriptions. The Mansfield Library, like most academic libraries, spends a tremendous amount of its budget to purchase access to journal articles for library users. If the library stopped spending that money, UM students, faculty, and staff would lose access to most of the electronic journals available to them today. The need and demand for Open Access is partly a reaction to the never ending “serials pricing crisis” resulting in the ethical dilemma of publicly funded research that after publication in peer reviewed journals becomes too expensive for the author’s institution to buy access to for their students and fellow researchers. Additionally, many publishers now further limit, by legal contract and with technological barriers, what libraries can do with their expensive electronic subscriptions which produces a new problem described by Peter Suber as the “permissions crisis." Open Access potentially solves both of these problems while also increasing the dissemination and impact of scholarly research.

Open Access appears to be gaining momentum with the recent NIH announcement that all peer reviewed articles resulting from NIH sponsored research will be deposited in public archives within 12 months of publication. The Directory of Open Access Journals has grown to over 1,400 journals. Many commercial journals have had editors and/or board members defect, in protest over high prices, and start alternative, competing, open access journals; examples include: Vegetatio (Kluwer) to Journal of Vegetation Science; Molecules (Springer-Verlag) to Molecular Diversity; Evolutionary Ecology (Chapman and Hall) to Evolutionary Ecology Research; Journal of Academic Librarianship (Pergamon) to Portal: Libraries and the Academy; Journal of Logic Programming (Elsevier) to Theory and Practice of Logic Programming, Archives of Insect Biochemistry & Physiology (Wiley) to Journal of Insect Science, European Economic Review (Elsevier) to Journal of the European Economic Association, etc. Many commercial journal publishers have started giving advance permission for authors to archive their articles in Open Access archives. Many scholarly associations have made declarations in support of Open Access. Google and Yahoo have started indexing Open Access repositories.

Critics of Open Access maintain that: it will merely shift the cost of publishing from subscribers to authors (which may not benefit academic institutions) and that users/ buyers may exert better economic judgment on value than authors; the current system is not as broken as popularly portrayed and in fact that most libraries now provide access to far more journals than ever before; some individuals and organizations may “cheat” by exploiting Open Access sources without any funding of publishing activities; disciplinary differences make Open Access much less of an issue for some disciplines than others; some scholarly associations may be devastated by the loss of subscription revenues; and that tampering with a well established publishing system may jeopardize the strong tradition of peer reviewed, scholarly journals.

Open Access articles currently comprise a relatively small part of the total available scholarly literature and the widespread adoption of Open Access remains an open question. Several different paths are currently being explored. The option that appears most promising for rapid change is for funding agencies to require the post publication archiving of papers by researchers. The goal of most academic researchers is to be widely read, widely cited, and influential in the future research of their discipline. To further those goals and support Open Access, faculty are encouraged to deposit articles after publication into Open Access repositories (either discipline based or institutional) or publish in Open Access journals, and discuss these issues further with their colleagues.

To learn more about Open Access try these links:

Open Access – SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition)

Open Access Overview – Peter Suber

To comment on this issue or to suggest an issue, please contact Jennie Burroughs, Chair, Key Constituencies Committee.