Open Access: Everything A Researcher Needs To Know

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What is Open Access?

Open access is built on the premise that research should be available to all to facilitate its use in further studies and increase the global access to scientific knowledge. When it comes to research publication, there are two basic tracks: the traditional subscription-based model or open access. As a researcher, you should be familiar with both models along with their advantages and disadvantages. Open access can often be confusing for researchers so this article provides an overview of open access and its types along with the critical things you should consider when deciding whether to choose open access or subscription-based journal. 

The basics of subscription and open access models

Subscription-based model is the traditional method in which readers pay to access journal content. Typically, institutional libraries pay for bulk subscriptions to journals, and thus students and researchers have access to the content in those journals. However, individuals without an institutional connection or those whose institution does not subscribe to a desired journal often must pay for a specific article. In this model, the copyright is generally transferred from the author to the journal.

Open access model is the publication method in which articles are freely and immediately available to everyone. Although authors are typically required to pay article-processing charges (APC) to publish in an open-access journal, they generally retain the copyright. Open access journals frequently use Creative Commons licenses, which allow for sharing and reuse. Several types of open access models are briefly described later in this article.

An important trend in scholarly publishing

According to the STM Global Brief, more than 30% of all scholarly articles in 2019 were published through open access, and in some countries, such as the UK, that percentage was much higher. This number is expected to grow significantly as public access to research continues to be promoted.

Open access is an important shift in scholarly publishing as it greatly facilitates the equal access of research to all. Traditional subscription-based access has been becoming increasingly more expensive and even price prohibitive for some institutions, especially for those in developing countries. Open access offers the opportunity for more equitable access to research worldwide.

Some journals are fully open access and freely provide all content, and others are hybrid and offer only some free content while keeping the remainder behind a paywall. Still other journals provide open access to their content after a specific embargo period.

Types of open access models

There are two general types of open access models, referred to as gold and green models. The following are brief descriptions of these types, although many variations can be found within each category. Usually, articles under these models are peer reviewed, except as noted below.

Gold model – Open access journals of this type provide readers with free online content; however, the publication cost is typically borne by the authors. This article-processing charge (APC) is sometimes financed by the author’s institution or funder.

Green model – Under this model, articles are published in subscription-based journals but a post-acceptance version of the article may be deposited in an open access repository by the author prior to publication. This method is frequently used by authors who cannot pay the APC. However, these self-archived articles are often deposited in the repository prior to being peer reviewed. Additionally, some journals do not permit self-archiving; therefore, authors need to check with the journal before using a repository.

Variations of these two models also exist. For example, subscription-based journals sometimes provide free access to special issues or specific articles. In addition, some journals are now using what is called a diamond or platinum open access model in which neither the author nor the reader is charged.

A brief history of open access

The history of the open access model can be traced back to the first web page in 1991. Here are a few major milestones3.

  1. 1991 – An online repository of scientific papers was set up by American physicist Paul Ginsparg. This collection was later renamed as ArXiv.org and currently contains nearly 2 million submissions.        
  2. 1993 – The Open Society Institute, based in the US, was created and renamed the Open Society Foundation (OSF) in 2002. The OSF promotes the open and free exchange of ideas worldwide.            
  3. 1997 – The Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO) was launched in Brazil. The SciELO is an electronic database and model for open access publication.
  4. 1998 – The Public Knowledge Project (PKP) was founded in British Columbia, Canada. The PKP is a non-profit initiative dedicated to promoting open access to publicly funded research results.
  5. 2000 – BioMed Central, which claims to be the first open access science publisher, was created. With its acquisition in 2008 by Springer, it became the largest open access publisher in the world.              
  6. 2001 – The Public Library of Science (PLOS) was created to serve as an alternative to traditional publishing, and scientists from 180 countries have participated. Its journal, PLOS ONE, currently publishes the largest number of papers of any journal.             
  7. 2002 – The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) was released. The BOAI was a public statement of policies related to open access and research literature. It was reaffirmed on its 10th anniversary when some specific recommendations were added.
  8. 2008 – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy was made official. This policy required that research funded by the NIH must be freely accessible to the public within 12 months of publication.
  9. 2012 – The Academic Spring began. Academics and researchers worldwide started promoting free online access to scholarly articles over publication in traditional academic journals. In addition, the US-based Access2Research campaign began, which advocated that taxpayer-funded research should be made freely available to the public.  
  10. 2013–2014 – Groups of students and early career researchers in Berlin and Washington DC held conferences on open access to scientific research, data, and educational resources.  
  11. 2018 – cOAlition-S, a coalition international funding agencies, published Plan S with the goal of making all research open access.   

Considerations when making a publishing decision

The decision about where to publish your research can be extremely complex. All methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Here are some things to consider when you’re deciding where to submit your work.

  1. Publication charges – Open access is not always free. There is typically a charge to the author, although this is often paid by the institution or funder. Check with your target journal prior to submission. Ethical open access journals will clearly indicate this cost up front.
  2. Copyright – Authors retain their copyright when publishing in open access journals. However, the license used by the journal affects how the readers can use the content. Authors should be aware of the license offered by the OA journal. One of the commonly used group of licenses is  the Creative Commons licenses.
  3. Predatory journals – Be careful to avoid predatory journals. How can you spot one? They provide false or misleading information and lack transparency. They may deviate from normal practices. Investigate all journals thoroughly before submitting any research.

Open access resources for reference
Below is a small listing of open access resources, including databases, for your reference.

  1. Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ): Multi-subject searchable online directory (https://doaj.org/)
  2. BioMed Central (BMC): Online database specializes in biology and medicine but is expanding into other disciplines (https://www.biomedcentral.com/)
  3. PubMed Central (PMC): The US National Institutes of Health free digital archive (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/)
  4. Hindawi Publishing Corporation: One of the world’s largest publishers of open access journals (https://www.hindawi.com/
  5. Purdue University Library Guide: List of available online resources for open access (https://guides.pnw.edu/openaccess)
  6. OpenDOAR: Directory of open access repositories (https://v2.sherpa.ac.uk/opendoar/search.html)

References

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