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Open Access

Find out what "Open Access" is, why it's important, and where you can find open access journals, books and resources.



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"Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder."  (Peter Suber)

In addition to scholarly publications, the Open Access Movement also includes Open Science, Open Data, and Open Education - freeing the research process for even quicker dissemination of knowledge and more rapid discovery.

We engage and invest in research in order to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery, encourage innovation, enrich education, and stimulate the economy — to improve the public good. Communication of the results of research is an essential component to the research process; research can only advance by sharing the results, and the value of an investment in research is only maximized through wide use of its results.

Yet, too often, because of cost barriers or use restrictions (paywalls), research results are not available to the full community of potential users (see the documentary Paywall: The Business of Scholarship on the Resources page). The Internet gives us the opportunity to bring this crucial information to a worldwide audience at virtually no marginal cost, and allows us to use it in new, innovative ways. This has resulted in a call for a new framework to allow research results to be more easily accessed and used — the call for Open Access. (from SPARC: Open Access Fact Sheet)

Open Access comes in many colors:

Green OA - 

This method allows the author to place a version of the published research in various platforms, including disciplinary repositories (e.g. ArXiv or PubMed Central), institutional repositories (e.g. ODU Digital Commons), or personal webpages.

Some publishers allow their final version (usually a pdf) to be self-archived, while others only allow the author’s pre-print or post-print (final version after peer-review) to be self-archived either immediately or after an embargo period. Publisher policies on self-archiving and versions are available in either the SHERPA/RoMEO database or on the publisher or journal website (usually more up to date than SHERPA). 

Gold OA -

The Gold OA method makes published works available immediately on publication.

Many publishers require the author to pay an Article Processing Charge (APC) for immediate open access. Public Library of Science (PLoS) and BioMed Central are examples of Gold OA publishers.

With Hybrid OA, publishers of subscription-based journals offer an OA option to authors (with an APC, sometimes up to $5,000). With this option, an individual article is openly available immediately, while the other articles are still available only through subscription.

Platinum or Diamond OA -

A true Open Access journal: there is no cost to the author or reader, because these journals are often sponsored by universities, government information centers, or even groups of researchers.

Bronze OA -

Publishers can choose to make an article freely available to read (with no APC), but they can also end the free availability at any time.


Self-publishing of books has become a viable option for some scholars interested in taking a more independent approach to distributing their works in an open access framework. Publishers and university publishers are also developing open access book programs and open textbook programs. The Directory of Open Access Books indexes academic, peer reviewed, open access books that are made publicly available under various types of licenses. The license terms associated with each book display as a link.


Open Access Myths

Myth: Open Access Materials Are Not Peer Reviewed

While it is possible to find journals on the Internet that do not use a peer review process, the vast majority of open access journals operate a peer review process that is identical to that used by traditional journals. The application of peer review is one of the selection criteria used by the Science Citation Index (TM) when evaluating journals for indexing. Thus, any open access journal that has received an impact factor uses a rigorous review process for submissions. The term “open access” only refers to the availability of published material.

Ben Mudrak, CC-BY

Myths: Open Access Materials Are Not Copyrighted

Some researchers fear that publishing an open access article means that the material is not protected by any form of copyright, but this is not true. In fact, open access frequently allows authors to retain the copyright to their material instead of handing the rights over to the journal. In some cases, authors publishing in traditional journals may require permission to reuse their own figures or text when teaching a class! Open access material has no such restrictions.
Many open access journals make use of Creative Commons licenses, which allow for reuse of material provided that the original author is cited at all times. Such licenses ensure the maximum visibility for your work, with proper attribution.

Ben Mudrak, CC-BY

Myth: Open Access Journals Are the Only Option for OA

You can submit and publish your article in any journal you like and still make it available open access in our research repository, ODU Digital Commons. You just need to plan for this in advance. You can send the article to Digital Commons at the same time that you submit it to the journal of your choice, giving ODU the right to make it available (subject to an embargo period if you like). (Text adapted from Boston College)

Myth: Publishing in Traditional Journals Disallows OA

Most conventional publishers give standing permission for author-initiated green open access.  Many of the others will give permission on request. For authors unsure of a publisher’s position, check out the Sherpa RoMEO database of publisher policies, read the publishing contract, or ask an editor. It’s always worth asking, if only to register demand and show rising expectations.

Myth: Author Fees Must Be Paid Out of Pocket

According to the comprehensive Study of Open Access Publishing (SOAP), when researchers publish in fee-based open access journals, the fees are paid by funders (59%) or by universities (24%). Only 12% of the time are they paid by authors out of pocket.

Open Access Materials Are Inherently Low-Quality

Open access journals are sometimes thought to be a last resort for otherwise unpublishable material. However, many open access journals have established themselves as leaders in their fields, receiving high impact factors (IFs). For example, the 2012 Journal Citation Reports® from Thomson Reuters ranks PLOS Biology#1 in the subject area of biology (IF:12.690), and PLOS Pathogens is ranked #2 in both parasitology and virology (IF:8.136). Nucleic Acids Research, an Oxford University Press publication, chose to go to a completely open access model in 2005, yet the journal has seen its IF remain high (2005 IF: 7.552; 2012IF: 8.278). Over 100 open access journals published by BioMed Central have now received IFs, and several are among the top 10% of journals in their subject categories. Certain journals, such as PLOS ONE, explicitly seek to publish any scientifically and ethically sound research, regardless of perceived novelty or broad appeal. Even with its broad scope,however, PLOS ONE is still cited frequently overall (2012 IF:3.730). The IF is not the only way to assess a journal, but this commonly used metric still speaks to the success of many open access titles.

Ben Mudrak, CC-BY

Access Is Already Easy

No. It’s true that preprints and postprints are made widely available on the internet, with or without the consent of the publisher of the final article. However, many authors are constrained by publisher policies from making all their research available, and disciplines vary in their support for making pre- or post- prints available. One 2006 paper co-authored by a leader in the OA movement, Stevan Harnad, estimates that only 15% overall of articles are being made available “through spontaneous self-archiving” into institutional repositories by their authors.

recent study (pdf) by Ted Bergstrom, an economics professor at UC Santa Barbara, showed that of very recent economics articles published in 25 journals, 73% were available in a free version through a Google search. This is a significant percentage, but it still indicates that more than ¼ of the articles were excluded from access. Bergstrom concludes that the self-archived, freely accessible copies are very important since “many readers have no access to publisher-posted copies,” including “small universities, private sector, and third world countries.”

In the developing world, even though there are important initiatives to make research available at little or no cost (see for example HINARI and AGORA), access varies by publisher, discipline, and location. High priced subscriptions and exclusive/restrictive license agreements work to lock down access; these praiseworthy methods of extending access do not provide broad and complete access to research. (See also: recent commentary on HINARI in PLoS Medicine.)

Retaining Author Rights Makes Me "Difficult"

Publishers are very used to dealing with these requests at this point. Far from being unusual, the retention of rights by authors is becoming a mainstream choice.  Approximately 72% of academic journals allow some form or open access archiving without any use of an addendum to the contract.  For a searchable database of publisher policies about copyright and archiving, explore the SHERPA/RoMEO site. (Text adapted from Boston College)

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