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Open Access: FAQ

Introduction to Open Access Resources and Information

Prentice Institute Affiliates & Open Access Discussion Q&As


What does the term Open Access mean?

  • “Open Access” is a term commonly used for a movement that promotes free availability and unrestricted use of research and scholarship.
  • Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge to the reader, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions, so there are no price barriers and no permission barriers.

The definition of the concept emerged from three conferences:

Also see:

Why do researchers support open access?

  • Many OA advocates support this unrestricted access because they believe the results of tax-payer funded research should be shared; since citizens have paid for this research, they should be able to access it at no additional charge.
  • Many OA advocates also support unrestricted access because knowledge itself, or information, is a public good. A public good is something beneficial to everyone who seeks it, without added use diminishing its value.Common examples of public goods include: law enforcement, lighthouses, clean air and other environmental goods, and information goods, such as software development, authorship, and invention.

Open access has been driven by several forces:

  • The web offers new methods of publication: it makes distribution of research easier, wider, faster, and frequently less expensive.
  • The web offers new outlets and methods for sharing and using research and for supporting teaching, creating demand for an access model that allows faculty and universities to take full advantage of these new outlets and methods (e.g. in settings like MIT’s OpenCourseWare) or in institutional or discipline-based repositories for research (e.g. DSpace@MIT, or the archive for physics and related fields, ArXiv.)
  • Some supporters believe that open access will address entrenched problems with high prices and strict use and purchase terms faced by universities buying traditional journals in digital form.

Why would an author be interested in pursuing an open access channel for publication?

How do the economics of open access work?

  • Open access to research and scholarship is not free—there are costs involved in making research available. The economic models to support unrestricted access to research are still being developed; the common thread among the models is that open access research is available at no charge to all readers.
  • One model that exists is for there to be a payment when the author submits an article. Usually this charge to publish an open access article is covered by research grant funds. In 2004, one study by Elsevier found that this “author side” payment model encompassed just 17% of open access journals. In an updated study in 2007, Bill Hooker did a survey of all known open access journals and found that only 18% charged fees. 
  • Other economic models are also being experimented with. For example, some new open access publishers, such as the for-profit BioMed Central, require author payments, but these are waived for institutions who’ve purchased a membership, as the MIT Libraries have for MIT. In other cases, such as the not-for-profit PLoS (Public Library of Science), the MIT Libraries’ institutional membership reduces the publication fee for MIT faculty and researchers.
  • Other titles are subsidized, often by scholarly societies, institutions, or foundations. The 2004 Elsevier study found that government or university subsidies accounted for 55% of the total open access titles, the largest portion. The remaining open access titles (28%) that were not supported by ‘author side’ payments, or by government or universities, were found to be subsidized by paid subscriptions to their print equivalents.
  • Some journals are entirely open access; every article is available without restriction. Other journals are ‘hybrid’ in that they are traditional subscription-based journals, but offer authors the choice to pay a fee to make their individual article freely accessible to anyone worldwide. The other articles in the journal remain accessible only through subscription.
  • Some publishers offer all their titles under one kind of open access policy, and others have different policies for different titles.

What is the NIH Public Access Policy?

  • The National Institutes of Health public access policy requires NIH authors to deposit their peer-reviewed articles in PubMed Central (the NIH’s digital repository for biomedical research) at the time of submission to a publisher. This policy became a requirement as of December 26, 2007. 
  • Other funding organizations around the world have mandated open access for research. One of the most prominent examples in 2006 was the UK’s Wellcome Trust, an independent charity that funds research to improve human and animal health. The Wellcome trust makes deposit mandatory for authors when submitting for publication, though a delay of up to six months prior to release to the public is acceptable. (Such a delay is called an embargo by the open access movement.)
  • Other research funding organizations also have open access policies. To review these policies, see:

How can I make my work more openly available?

There are several options for making your research more widely available:

  • Publish in an open access journal.
    o The Directory of Open Access Journals offers a list of free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals in a broad array of disciplines. Select “For authors” to see the various open access options available.
  • Choose an open access option in a traditional journal that has become “hybrid,” giving the author the option to pay for an individual article to be open access.
  • Include your work in MIT’s faculty research repository: DSpace@MIT.
  • Include your work in one of the Discipline-based repositories, e.g.:
    • Computer science: CiteSeerX
    • Physics, Math, nonlinear sciences, computer science, quantitative biology: ArXiv
    • Economics: RePec
    • Psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and other disciplines as they relate to the study of cognition: Cogprints

What other ways are there to participate in the evolution of scholarly publishing?

You can exert your influence through publishing decisions:

  • Consider publishing in a more cost-effective journal, which you can find by searching in a database that allows you to check the relative cost and value of a journal as assessed by a formula developed by an Economist at the University of California Santa Barbara, Ted Bergstrom.
  • Consider publishing in an open access journal. You can check a range of impact factors to help evaluate journals.
  • Consider publishing in an alternative journal; such journals are lower cost and offer publishing models that encourage broad distribution and reuse of content.
  • Consider starting an alternative or open access journal:

What are common myths about open access?

Where can I learn more?

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