Open Access Publishing Pathfinder

Created by Clyde Smith (2003)

Entering the World of Open Access Publishing


Open access publishing is developing at a rapid pace that was unexpected only a few years ago.  Greeted with widespread acclaim and dismissive complaints, the open access movement is shaking up academic publishing in ways that affect not only researchers, publishers and librarians, but also the lives of those who depend on emerging research.

But what is open access publishing?  To help answer that question, I've designed this online pathfinder to help orient you to the terrain of open access.  This orientation begin with an Introduction to Open Access below.

To understand open access we must consider both the stars of the movement, Open Access Journals, and their less publicized brethren, Open Access Archives.  While scientific researchers and journal publishers get much of the attention, we will also consider Libraries and Open Access.

As you examine various sites you will find the names of certain projects and institutions appearing repeatedly.  You may want to find out more about these Movers and Shakers.  And once you're packed full of open access knowledge, you may find yourself in the mood to Start Your Own Journal.  Whether or not you're ready for that step, you'll certainly want to Keep Track of Developments.

Introduction to Open Access

Open access publishing is typically understood to involve online dissemination of peer-reviewed research, especially research supported by public funds, with no cost for the reader.  The move to open access has been inspired by the spiraling costs of journals, the desires of scientists to freely distribute their research and the availability of the Internet as a publishing medium.  Libraries are strongly affected by this development and the Association of Research Libraries is involved in many ways, including providing the introductory guide Framing the Issue: Open Access and the co-sponsored Policy Perspective To Publish and Perish.

Other groups, like the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, are also providing information for becoming involved with open access publishing including Create Change, a guide to reclaiming scholarly communication for librarians and faculty.  As the movement has built, important figures like Harold Varmus, former director of the National Institutes of Health, have become involved.  Varmus explains the context for his involvement with open access and the founding of the Public Library of Science in an interview entitled Freedom Fighter.  Varmus also addresses the many misperceptions regarding open access publishing in this interview.

Although relatively little peer-reviewed research of open access has been published, media coverage has been quite extensive with a focus on scholarly journals.  Unfortunately, much of this coverage is simply a series of quotations from competing parties that reveals that most reporters are currently unable to fully investigate the issues.  Nevertheless, one can gain a sense of the overall debate from such articles as The Promise and Peril of 'Open Access' from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Open Access Journals

In most media coverage open access journals are the focus of attention.  Often such coverage reveals that many folks could use a basic definition, like that provided in What Is An Open Access Journal?.  As one becomes clearer about definitions, understanding how Open-Access Journals impact the life of the library will help clarify their importance.

Much of the action in open access publishing is in scientific, technical and medical research.  Researchers in such fields have been at the forefront of creating the open access movement and have addressed the issues in such essays as What We Can Do About Science Journals.

To gain a sense of the breadth of the open access movement, you can explore the many new journals being created via the Directory of Open Access Journals.

Open Access Archives

Open access archiving is an often undiscussed element of open access publishing.  Although much attention has been given to the high prices of research journals, many scientists would have accepted such practices if they were allowed to post their findings online within a reasonable time period.  This approach to disseminating knowledge is called self-archiving and can be better understood in this Self-Archiving Faq.  Stevan Harnad has been one of the most visible proponents of self-archiving and he shares his perspectives in The Self-Archiving Initiative.

Academic institutions are increasingly interested in creating archives or institutional repositories for the knowledge produced at their institution.  The SPARC Position Paper makes The Case for Institutional Repositories and the Online Computer Library Center shares its perspective in Institutional Repositories, Scholarly Communication and Open Access.

This website, Cultural Research, is an example of a self-archiving effort and the arXiv.org e-Print archive offers an example of an archive supported by Cornell University.

Libraries and Open Access

Libraries have been the hardest hit by the rise in journal costs and librarians are becoming strong advocates for open access.  The Cornell University Library has been in the forefront of addressing the situation and has made an official statement that serves as a useful introduction to the journals crisis in Issues in Scholarly Communication.

The editor of the Journal of the Medical Library Association considers the issues with a positive perspective on open access in Embracing Open Access.  However, Barbara Quint provides a unique concern in Searcher's Voice: The Great Divide, claiming that open access could put librarians out of work.

D-Lib Magazine is an excellent example of an open access publication devoted to the issues of digital libraries.  It regularly publishes peer-reviewed articles on open access.

Movers and Shakers

As you read various sources on the open access movement, you may notice that certain projects appear repeatedly as initiators or examples.  Though the list grows ever longer, mention should be made of organizations that represent multiple participants.  The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) is an important joint effort established by the Association of Research Libraries.  Another important gathering point has been the Budapest Open Access Initiative, endorsed by representatives from an international range of organizations.

Since the sciences have been in the forefront of open access publishing, science, technical, and medical projects have been the most visible.  The Public Library of Science is, in many ways, the flagship of scientific and medical open access publishing.  Another well known effort, BioMed Central, has published over one hundred open access journals in science and medicine.

Start Your Own Journal

As you become more familiar with the terrain of open access, you may find yourself stricken with an inexplicable desire to join the fray.  If so, groups like the Budapest Open Access Initiative have provided relevant resources such as the Open Access Journal Business Guides.

Another possibility is working with an open access publisher such as BioMed Central who has a handy page for those who want to Start a Journal With BioMed.

If you do it yourself, many of the issues you'll be facing involve nonprofit online publishing.  SPARC has produced Declaring Independence, a guide for creating scholar-run journals, and Gaining Independence, a planning guide for nonprofit electronic journals.  You may also wish to consult Tools and Resources for Online Journals and Editing, to link to a wide variety of resources for online publishing.

Keep Track of Developments

Although developments in open access publishing are occurring rapidly, keeping up is not as difficult as one might think.  One useful source for following developments in open access is Open Access Now, an online journal from BioMed Central.

By far, the best tool for tracking daily developments is Peter Suber's blog, Open Access News.  Every day Suber posts multiple news items with brief commentary and the posts are available as an RSS newsfeed.

If that's too much news for you to handle, Suber also produces SPARC's monthly Open Access Newsletter.  You can read it online or subscribe for email delivery.  It's the longest newsletter I receive and would be a great source for those who simply want to follow developments without becoming a total open access geek.

Peter Suber also provides a glossary of terms,  Guide to the Open Access Movement, as well as a historical perspective, Timeline of the Open Access Movement.