Open Access Defined, Distilled, and De-mythed by Katherine Gerwig


It’s that time of year again! Time to dust off the orange twinkle lights, throw on a cardigan, and open up the scholarly communication system for examination.

No, it’s not Fall, it’s better…Open Access Week is here!

Open Access Week

What is Open Access (OA)?

Open Access describes products of scholarship and research that are digital, online, free to access, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.
In short, it means unleashing knowledge and providing it to the WORLD!

What kind of things can be OA?

Articles, data, books, book chapters, educational resources (textbooks, quizzes, lectures, etc.), conference presentations.

All of these products of scholarship can be made openly available.

Where did OA come from?

There are two primary reasons why OA has taken hold in the scholarly communication system.

  1. Digital computing and the internet allow anyone to publish and make their work available.
  2. Journal subscriptions are extremely expensive and prices continue to rise, outpacing inflation.


OA myths debunked

OA articles are not peer-reviewed = FALSE!

This myth is likely caused by confusion between Gold and Green OA. Green OA describes open access of scholarly work achieved through archiving the work in a repository. Most repositories do not provide peer-review services.

Gold OA is open access where the cost of publishing is placed on the author. Most OA journals use article processing charges (APCs) to cover the costs of publication (one such cost being the review process)(PLOS One, eLife). These fees can range from $500 to $3000. The APC’s are typically paid by the authors out of grant funds or a university APC fund. In some cases, journals will waive the fee . There are other models being tried out at present, too. Check out PeerJ.

Regardless of which OA model dominates, experimentation is for a good cause: making knowledge available to everyone!

OA is just a fad = FALSE!

As the natural offspring of open source and open courseware, open access publishing has been around since the 1990’s. It started with support primarily from scholars in math and the hard sciences. OA has since gained traction in the social and environmental sciences, and is spreading to the humanities. Recently, academic journal publishers have started offering authors OA options in hybrid journals (traditional and OA), and have even started their own OA journals.

The OSTP memo has moved research funding agencies to start requiring data management plans with grant proposals. Some agencies have started favoring proposals which state they will make their data openly available at the end of the grant period. Some journals have even started requiring the supporting data for an article be made available and linked to the article.

New projects, such as Open Library of Humanities and Open Humanities Press, are making OA publishing a reality for humanities scholars.

What does OA mean to you?

  • Disseminate your work to the world without worrying about licensing restrictions.
  • Build upon the work of other scholars without worrying about obtaining the right to do so, opening up new forms of research.
  • Collaborate and discover the work of other other scholars more easily.
  • Use open educational resources (OERs) for courses possibly negating the need for costly textbooks.1d517f4ba2453923f69ffd8549686b85

What now?

For now, learn more. If this is the first time you are hearing about OA, it is a lot to take in. One thing you can do immediately, is pay attention to the licensing agreements you sign with journal publishers. You may be able to negotiate for better terms which allow you to retain some of your rights. Barring that, SHERPA/RoMEO is a site that is helpful for looking up publisher copyright policies.

Supporting OA means having tough conversations about technological infrastructure (creation of an institutional repository), tenure and promotion requirements (since most OA journals do not have high impact factors, but article-level metrics and other metrics (altmetrics) of article impact increasingly show promise), and solutions for handling article-processing charges.

Additional Resources

To learn more about OA try this link: Open Access Explained – Video 

To look up funding agency OA policy requirements: SHERPA/JULIET

OA Journals and Repositories

Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)

Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR)

PubMed Central – Central repository for research funded by the NIH

arXiv – Preprint repository for Math and Physics

Science Advances – OA journal published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Open Educational Resources (OERs)

OER Commons

University of Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library

Rice University’s Open Stax College

Data Repositories

Registry of Research Data Repositories



Data Repository for the University of Minnesota

OA Books

Directory of Open Access Books



National Academies Press

About the Author

Kat Gerwig (Arndt) Information Commons Specialist

Kat Gerwig is an Information Commons Specialist in the Metro State Library.

One thought on “Open Access Defined, Distilled, and De-mythed by Katherine Gerwig

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