The introduction of the internet led to the emergence of digital archiving. Therefore, making digital access to information to increase significantly. However, the most important milestone in digital access to information and making it publicly and freely available was the emergence of the open access movement. Open access is a part of the wider open movement that encourages the free exchange of knowledge and resources to encourage creativity and widened access.
What Is Open Access?
Open access refers to freely available digital information online. Making research publications freely available so anyone can benefit from reading and using research is also termed open access. (Problems with open access journals)
However, open access goes beyond making research available to read, allowing others to make use of the research in their work. Scholarly literature that is open access is usually free of charge and most often than not, carry less restrictive copyright and licensing barriers than traditionally published works.
Versions of Open Access
There are majorly two distinct versions of open access; ‘gratis’ and ‘libre’. The terms were used in the BOAI definition to distinguish between free to read versus free to reuse.
- Gratis Open Access
Gratis’s open access makes scholarly literature and research available for others to read without paying for it. However, with gratis open access, readers do not have the right to modify, make copies, or distribute the work in any way beyond fair use.
- Libre Open Access
Libre open access like gratis open access makes scholarly literature and research available free of charge (What is an article processing charge?). However, it goes a little further to grant users additional rights that allow users to reuse and remix the scholarly literature or research freely. There are various degrees of libre open access, as some scholarly articles may permit all uses except commercial use. In contrast, some may permit all uses except derivative works and so on.
Why Open Access Matters
When writing a research or scholarly literature, new knowledge is usually synthesized from current knowledge. However, if the current knowledge is behind a publisher firewall where only those who can afford it can access it, it limits the number of researchers that can actually contribute to moving the knowledge of a particular subject forward.
Nowadays, non-open access journals are very expensive, therefore, making research a costly undertaken for researchers with a limited budget. Also, libraries usually have subscriptions to a large number of scholarly journals to allow members to access the library’s journals. Still, the ever-rising cost of journal subscriptions is beginning to become a burden to libraries.
Therefore, instead of scholarly materials being stuck behind a paywall with exorbitant subscription prices, open access allows research to be free to use and read by anyone with access to the Internet. The major importance of open access is to level the playing field so that independent researchers, students, faculty members, and the entire public have the same level of access to scholarly materials.
Benefits of Open Access
Scholars, students, and the general public are all beneficiaries of open access, the benefits of open access are as follows.
Research and scholarly literature that is being held behind a publisher’s paywall is restricted to being accessed by only those that can afford it. However, open access research can benefit anyone from students to small businesses to schools. This particular benefit is why many funders now require the outputs of the research they fund to be made open access.
Better for Researchers and Research Institutions
With the rising journal costs and constrained library budgets, researchers and research institutions have begun to benefit from open access. The benefit includes:
- Helps in the provision of evidence for an impact
- Increases the reach of research
- Increased citations which help to improve the reputation for researchers and their host institution
- Help to increase open, transparent and reproducible research practices that lead to improved quality research
- Increased applications of research findings
- Research can now better influence policies
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