International Open Access Week 2019: What is open access?

In recognition of International Open Access Week, we examine what open access is.

Open access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge to readers, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. The internet and the consent of the copyright holder[1] is what makes open access possible.

Much of the scholarly, peer-reviewed literature is locked behind expensive publisher paywalls. This is a problem because it limits access to the results of publicly funded research. Many people and organizations who could potentially implement or build upon this research often do not have access. This means the research does not meet its full potential and society does not benefit.

By enabling access to the results of research to anyone who wants to read it, open access has the potential to:

  • Accelerate the pace of discovery and the advancement of knowledge
  • Democratize and promote equity in education and research

The original intent of the open access movement was to unleash this potential.

The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) meeting of 2001 is considered by many to be the beginning of the open access movement. The BOAI produced a declaration which is where the term “open access” was first defined; it also highlighted the goals, strategies, and philosophy of the movement.

Here is the first paragraph of the declaration:

An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the internet. The public good they make possible is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds. Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.”[2]

Peter Suber, a Harvard professor and one of the original members of the BOAI, is a leading advocate of open access. His book Open Access is a clear, concise introduction to many of the issues involved. It is available online in several formats and the University Library also has a print copy

You can also find practical information and resources on the University Library’s Open Access Research Guide.



[1] Adapted from Peter Suber’s A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access (PDF)

[2] The BOAI declaration

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