In recent years, there has been a growing trend towards “open access” among librarians and academics. For instance, the University of Michigan recently held an Open Access Week, where they describe open access as:
free, permanent, full-text, online access to peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly material.
In an earlier blog post, I discussed some issues related to open access. Here, I attempt to look at the matter more comprehensively.
Rationales for open access
There are many rationales for open access. The simplest rationale is that open access means reduced cost of access to information, which allows more people to use the same research. Since the marginal cost of making research available via the Internet to more people is near zero, it makes sense from the point of view of efficiency to price access by yet another person to the research at zero.
Another rationale is a more romantic one: making scientific and scholarly publishing available openly allowsfor a free flow of ideas and a grander “conversation”. Support for this rationale also indicates that open access should be more than just free (in the sense of zero cost) access to materials, but also a license that permits liberal reuse of research materials in new contexts. Academia already has strong traditions of quoting from, linking to, and building upon, past work, but this form of open access seeks to provide a legal framework that explicitly specifies reuse rights that go beyond the traditional copyright framework of countries such as the United States. An example of such permissive licensing is the Creative Commons licenses.
As shorthand for these two rationales, I shall use cost rationale and conversation rationale.
Open access policies/mandates
One of the major problems the open access movement has faced so far is getting people to publish papers in open access journals. As long as the best papers continue to be published in closed-access journals, academics who want to read these journals will pressure their university libraries to subscribe to these journals, even when the journals overcharge. Thus, librarians are unable to push open-access terms on publishers. (more…)