Monday, February 14, 2011

What is Open Access?

The term Open Access refers to scholarly articles that are available to be read without the reader having to pay for a subscription to a journal.

Scholarly journals traditionally pay for the costs of operation by having the reader pay to access them (or having a library pay on the reader's behalf.) The problem with this is that scholarly journals have become so expensive that academic libraries are having trouble affording them.

Open Access means that the costs of publishing an article are borne by somebody other than the reader. In some cases, the author pays to have an article published (once it is accepted, of course.) In other cases, research institutions pay for the costs of running a journal or an article repository, because they feel that it is their contribution to the academic community and will pay for itself in other ways. But however the costs are covered, Open Access means that the articles are available online for free, available to anyone who wants to read them.

Note that this does not mean that they are in the public domain! Free to read does not mean free to put up on your own web site, or re-use as your own.

So how do you access Open Access articles? Well, some of them are indexed in the Library's databases like any other articles. But there are two main ways to search for Open Access Articles:
  • Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) has a search engine that will let you search for your topic keywords across all the peer reviewed (scholarly) Open Access journals that are out there.
  • Google Scholar lets you search across all articles indexed in Google. That will include articles that are only available in subscription databases like the Library has, and also scholarly article repositories maintained by universities and other research institutions.
The Open Access Movement is growing every year. When I was in grad school, it was still a little controversial - people wondered if anyone would ever feel they could rely on scholarship found for free on the web. Now Open Access journals like Public Library of Science are leaders in their subject areas. It turned out that what mattered wasn't the heft of a print journal, or the cost of a subscription, but the quality of scholarship and the reliability of the peer review process.
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