Open access: A quick post

Today is apparently Open Access Day.

I’m not much for memes, and according to some folks I’m not a good OA proponent. I lack the “wholehearted” uncritical approach, for one–and my primary interest is in seeing academic libraries have the budgetary flexibility to maintain strong monographic and humanities collections, which I see as threatened by the outrageous and increasing costs of the STM (science, technical, medical) journal literature.

Peter Suber, the dean of open access and proprietor of the essential (if sometimes overwhelming) resource, Open access news, labels me an “OA independent,” and I’m comfortable with that label.

That said…

If you don’t know about open access, you need to

The fundamental idea behind open access (with or without the capital letters) is that people–all people, not just inner circles–should have access to published, peer-reviewed journal articles. The writers of the articles–the researchers–don’t get paid for the articles anyway, except indirectly (tenure, professional awareness, etc.) Most of the action (and most of the subscription money) is in science, technology and medicine (STM), although OA can involve any field.

The traditional journal system is broken. Too many of the journals cost too much–and strip academic libraries of the flexibility to maintain solid monograph and humanities collections because they’re trying, impossibly, to keep up with those faster-than-inflation price rises. The net result is that fewer people have access to less of the research over time. That’s not good for the fields, it’s not good for people seeking out information. It is, to be sure, very good for a handful of very large publishers and a much larger group of professional societies who are basically depending on libraries to subsidize their other activities, as they count on high-priced publications to cover other society costs.

Starting points

If you want to dive headlong into current issues in OA, the link to Suber’s blog is essential.

For a slightly more gentle introduction, I’ll refer you to the cluster on open access that we’ve put together at PALINET Leadership Network (PLN), which is free and open to everyone, particularly for reading:

  • Start with Open access basics, which combines Peter Suber’s two-minute introduction to OA with a few quibbles and definitions.
  • A somewhat longer and extremely useful Open access overview, taken directly from Peter Suber’s site, is well worth reading.
  • Open access: why it matters focuses on the benefits of OA and is a short read.
  • I published Thinking about libaries and access in June 2006 as one view on how open access can and should involve and affect libraries. It’s definitely not a canonical piece. (This version includes some July 2008 updates.)
  • You can explore some of the difficulties around OA with three other pieces:
  1. Open access myths, a compilation on some of the myths that continue to be raised as arguments against OA.
  2. Open access issues, notes on some of the real issues that remain.
  3. Open access controversies, discussions of some controversies that are more than myths.
  • Open access resources will guide you to half a dozen key sites, ten blogs, half a dozen ejournals and the Open Access Directory, a recent, growing, authoritative “compendium of simple factual lists about open access…to science and scholarship.”

It matters

To me personally? Not so much–at least not at the moment.

To the library field, to library leaders and to humanity? A lot. Maybe that’s why, even as a somewhat skeptical “OA independent,” I’ve devoted more than 130 pages of Cites & Insights to OA-related coverage over the years–the equivalent of two medium-length books. That’s certainly why I put together a strong OA cluster at PALINET Leadership Network and tagged it all as “policy.”

If you’re not already familiar with OA, you should be.

If you’re in an academic library, you should consider how your library could be involved in OA.

If you’re a researcher or article writer, consider how OA can help and what you can do.

It’s not about “losing copyright” (and certainly not about robbing authors!). It’s not about losing peer review.

It’s about gaining access.

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