Information Update - Fall 2012

The Open Access Movement: What Is It and Where Is It Going?

LogoOpen Access is an internet movement with the main objective of making scholarship easier and more open to the public by allowing free access to scholarly publications. In order to better understand why Open Access is gaining mass attention, it is first necessary to understand the academic journal publishing industry. Scholars need to publish scholarly articles in order to earn tenure and promotion. Also, performing written scholarship is one of the reasons they chose their career.
 
Publishers make it possible for scholars to publish by funding academic journals. However, these journals are not run by employees of the publishing company, but by volunteer scholars who work without compensation as peer reviewers and editors.  Because scholars need to build upon the work of their colleagues, they need access to various scholarly journals. It's not uncommon for there to be 10 – 20 journals in a single field that publish papers of substantial quality. Subscription fees to these journals are not the same as a magazine or newspaper fees; instead they are often thousands of dollars a year for four issues. Because it is part of the library's mission to support scholarship, the library is compelled to subscribe to many different journals. These journal subscriptions now usually come in the form of giant bundles of titles with significant price tags attached to them.
 
In essence, the problem behind scholarly publishing is that it is a vicious cycle: scholars need to publish and they need to have access to other researchers' scholarly works. This puts pressure on libraries to provide a wide range of journals to its university community regardless of the price of the subscriptions. Librarians have little negotiating power with publishing companies who know libraries need to provide access to their journals in order for the university faculty to continue their scholarship.
 
Subscription fees for academic journals continue to rise yearly at a rate well above the consumer price index.  In addition, business models such as bundling a few popular journals with a lot of unpopular journals have given publishing companies a bad reputation. Publishers do have operational costs, such as advertising for their journals, software licensing fees, salaries and such.. Many argue, however, that the cost to run a journal should not be as high as it once was, as journals see a fraction of the printing that they once did, and there are no longer shipping and handling fees since the large majority of libraries subscribe to academic journals electronically.
 
There are a few proposed options for making scholarship more equitable. The first route, Gold Open Access, is the preferred method of publishing from Open Access advocates. The Gold route suggests only publishing in journals that choose to make all of their content free on the internet. Depending on the chosen business model, these journals are funded in various ways. Very few are able to be supported by a professional organization or have their operational costs absorbed by a library or university. If a journal has no external financial support, then they will try to offset their operational costs in different ways. Some choose to sell advertising space or institute an unpopular publishing fee. Usually this is a turn off for most scholars since few have money budgeted to pay for publishing fees. Another difficulty with the Gold route is that junior faculty need to publish in journals in order to earn tenure. By limiting themselves to the small number of Open Access journals in their field they are severely limiting their ability to publish and in turn earn tenure.
 
The other route is referred to as Green Open Access and it encourages publishing in any journal, so long as the author attaches a copyright addendum to the publishing agreement. Usually publishers ask for all of the copyright holder's rights to their article, but will license some privileges back to the author, such as the ability to use classroom copies with their students. A copyright addendum allows the author to retain their copyright and in turn grants the publisher certain privileges to their article such as the right of first publication. Depending on what you want from the agreement, terms of the copyright transfer can usually be negotiated. One particular clause imperative to Open Access is that the addendum allow for self archiving of the forthcoming article on a personal website, a scholarly repository, or within a university's institutional repository. Self archiving essentially makes your article free on the internet for anyone to find, but this route is still not ideal because a personal website and even an institutional repository has far less exposure than a journal indexed in a database. In addition, not everyone has a personal website, every field does not have their own scholarly repository, and every university does not have an institutional repository.
 
A third route referred to as Hybrid publishing has been recently proposed by publishers. The hybrid model allows your work to be Open Access while still being published in a journal that is traditionally not Open Access. Though this model would solve all the problems previously mentioned, it is very unpopular because publishers require an upfront fee that often ranges from $1,000 to $3,000 per article. This far exceeds the fees that Open Access journals often ask of authors.
 
The Open Access movement is continually gaining momentum. Just recently, there were two Open Access bills in congress. The Federal Research Works Act, lobbied by the publishing industry, sought to remove the mandatory Open Access requirement for all National Institute of Health (NIH) funded research. On the other side was The Federal Research Public Access Act which sought to extend the NIH's Open Access policy to all government bodies funding research such as the National Endowment of the Humanities and the National Science Foundation. Fortunately for those who do scholarship in the health sciences, the Research Works Act was dropped, meaning all NIH funded work will remain Open Access through the government database PubMed. Unfortunately, the Federal Research Public Access Act was dropped as well. This means that all other tax payer funded research is behind a pay wall, unless the author chose to take one of the Open Access routes we covered.
 
Various universities and faculty bodies have publicly announced their support for Open Access publishing. Some universities go as far as to mandate that their faculty always submit a copyright addendum in order to retain the ability to self archive their article. At The University of Scranton we too are exploring ways to support the Open Access movement without comprising the excellent scholarship being performed by our faculty.

—George Aulisio


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