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What is Open Access

Page history last edited by Sukhdev Singh 15 years ago

What is Open Access?

Isaac Newton in a letter to Robert Hooke in 1676 wrote, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Implying that he would not have been able to carry out any advancement in knowledge without knowing what all had been done earlier. Very true, creation of scientific knowledge is a systematic process of building upon previous work of others - brick by brick. Any barrier to this “previous work of others” would hamper further knowledge creation and advancement of human race. Communication of “work of others” plays a vital role in this type of “community work” of scientists and scholars. In principle, there should not be any problem in keeping this communication free as scientists and scholars do not write for direct monetary benefits. They write to propagate their ideas and research output. They only seek maximum impact of their work in form of appreciation, acknowledgment and citations of their work. Rewards come to them indirectly by virtue of carrier advancements and peer rating. Propagation of ideas is their prime objective for writing and publishing about their research.


Scholarly journals are the major source of publication, distribution and archival of authors’ ideas and research results. They attribute research to their authors, provide quality control mechanism through peer-review process. Articles published in these journals represent the information that flows within scientific community. Thus scholarly journals can be labeled as prime communication channel of the scientific community. For the sake of knowledge generation and betterment of human race, it becomes the responsibility of the scientific community to keep this channel within the reach of all its members. Any barriers in this channel are detrimental to the very progress of human race. Unfortunately, business models of traditional journals have certain barriers that prevent wide spread access to them. The situation is grimmer for scientists from developing countries.


Researchers in developing countries are facing basically two types of barriers: “price barriers” and “permission barriers”. Price barriers are high subscription rates for core journals. Libraries, especially from the developing countries, fail to subscribe to those journals due to paucity of funds. Online journals are no respite as it may also require license to view or pay-per-view fee to access the full text of articles. Further, journals operating on traditional business models require authors to transfer their copyrights in favor of the journal. This practice creates “permission barriers”. Thus, the subscribers as well as the authors are not permitted to distribute copies of the published papers. It is paradox that both the consumer and the producer are from same scientific community. Yet they have to pay for communication of their research results within the community.


Open Access holds promise to remove both price and permission barriers to the scientific communication by using Internet. The best resource to know about Open Access is "A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access" by Peter Suber. According to him "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".



Open Access is manifested in two forms – OA Publishing and OA Self-Archiving. OA Publishing is just like any other journal publishing. Like traditional publishing, it involves peer reviewing of submitted articles from authors and publishing. Published content is freely accessible over Internet and the users have right to download, use and further distribute it with proper attribution. While in traditional publishing model, it is the “end-user” who has to subscribe to access it. Open access publishing is sustained by various business models. It could be Government supported or by reimbursement of publication charges by funding or employing agency of author. Sponsorships and advertisement revenues are also prevalent models.


OA Self-Archiving is the process of uploading published or pre-published documents in publicly accessible digital repositories by their owners. In true sense it is not a publication process. Such digital repositories allow other systems to harvest the metadata associated with the documents in their collection. The exchange of such metadata is in accordance to now well-established “Open Archives Initiative – Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH)” protocol. Open Access Self-Archiving practice has been prevailing since 1991 with the establishment of arXiv in high-energy physics community. OA repositories are of two types – institutional and subject based. Institutional Repositories hold documents authored by its staff members and students. Subject based repositories hold documents pertaining to a particular subject area.


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