KMWorld CRM Media Streaming Media Faulkner Speech Technology Unisphere/DBTA
Other ITI Websites
American Library Directory Boardwalk Empire Database Trends and Applications DestinationCRM EContentMag Faulkner Information Services Fulltext Sources Online InfoToday Europe KMWorld Library Resource Literary Market Place Plexus Publishing Smart Customer Service Speech Technology Streaming Media Streaming Media Europe Streaming Media Producer Unisphere Research

For commercial reprints or PDFs contact Lauri Weiss-Rimler (
Magazines > Online Searcher
Back Forward

ONLINE SEARCHER: Information Discovery, Technology, Strategies

Media Kit [PDF] Rate Card [PDF]
Editorial Calendar [PDF] Author Guidelines

You Say You Want a Revolution? - Open Access on the March
Volume 37, Number 2 - March/April 2013

Click here for supplemental contentDuring 2012, the landscape surrounding open access (OA) began to radically shift. What started out a decade ago as a small group of scientists and librarians advocating change in scholarfly communication has grown into a much bigger global discourse. Open access discussions now bring together large and influential groups of major research funders, national governments, the United Nations, publishers, academics from all disciplines, and, notably, librarians. Open access has become a movement, linked to the broader "open knowledge" philosophy that emphasizes maximizing the potential use and reuse of knowledge by making it freely and openly available via the internet.

Of the many groups involved in promoting open access, the library community plays a crucial role in implementation. Information professionals need to be aware of the issues surrounding open access and the broader scholarly communication ecosystem.

Why Now?

By all accounts, 2012 was a watershed year for open access and the entire open movement including legislative debates, a researcher-led boycott of a major academic publisher, new policies by major research funders, and increased interest in open access from the general public and mainstream media.

The year started with a battle in the U.S. against legislation proposed in the House of Representatives, the Research Works Act (RWA) (H.R. 3699; The text of the bill is succinct:

No federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that-(1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any prfivate-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.

If it had passed, this bill would have repealed the existing open access policy by the National Institutes fof Health (NIH) and have blocked similar policies from other U.S. federal agencies.

The bill was proposed on Dec. 16, 2011. In January and February, a spate of organizations launched attacks on the bill by issuing announcements, press releases, and public statements and engaging in discussions through the mainstream media. While the Association of American Publishers (AAP) endorsed the Research Works Act, many prominent members from the scholarly publishing community opposed the bill, including MIT Press, Nature Publishing Group, the Association for the Advancement of Science, the Modern Language Association, and John Wiley & Sons.

On Feb. 24, 2012, a joint letter opposing the bill and signed by 90 patient advocacy groups, public health organizations, libraries, research organizations, and major research universities was sent to Congress ( The letter em­ phasized the success of the existing NIH policy in providing public access to publicly funded medical research through the PubMed Central database:

As of today, the PubMed Central database contains more than 115,000 articles on hypertension research, 150,000 on diabetes research, and more than 110,000 on heart disease research. U.S. citizens whose tax dollars underwrite this research, believe that crucial details of the most recent medical advancements in these areas should be available to them, and to the doctors and caregivers whose responsibilities are the health and long life of all Americans. Access to up-to-date, health-related information plays a crucial role in ensuring that patients are as educated as possible about their individual situations, including the latest therapies. PubMed Central ensures that access, after a 12-month delay, for patients, as well as students, physicians, and others who do not have ready access to the exclusive publications.

The letter's signatories included the Alzheimer's Association, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Association of Research Libraries, Colon Cancer Alliance, HealthHIV, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association, Lymphoma Research Foundation, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, National Patient Advocate Foundation, Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, Parkinson's Action Network, and many other major organizations and individual universities.

Concurrently, in mid-January 2012, a global fight was gearing up against two other bills related to openness on the internet-the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) (H.R.3261) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) (S.968). The combination of all of these proposed bills led British mathematician and Fields Medal recipient Timothy Gowers to write a blog post entitled "Elsevier-My Part in Its Downfall" (Gowers Weblog, Jan. 21, 2012;, in which he detailed his issues with Elseiver, including its support at that time for the Research Works Act, SOPA, and PIPA.

Instead of simply detailing his grievances, Gowers took action and started a petition, The Cost of Knowledge, objecting to Elsevier's business practices ( Signatories pledge to "declare publicly that you will not support any Elsevier journal unless they radically change how they operate" and agree to refrain from publishing, refereeing, and/or offering editorial work to any Elsevier journal until they change. As of December 2012, more than 13,000 researchers had signed the Cost of Knowledge petition.

The cumulative effect of the fights against RWA, SOPA, and PIPA plus Gowers' grassroots attack on Elsevier led to a groundswell of interest in open access and scholarly communication issues among researchers, scientists, academics, and, for the first time, the mainstream media. The interest in research also led to the reintroduction of the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) (H.R.4004 and S.2096) on Feb. 9, 2012 ( and By the time RWA was withdrawn on Feb. 27, 2012, open access had moved from the sidelines to the forefront of the openness movement. (For a more detailed analysis of the fight against RWA, see Peter Suber's post in the March 2012 SPARC Open Access Newsletter, "A Tale of Two Bills: The Research Works Act and Federal Research Public Access Act";

Elsewhere, by May 2012, news began to circulate of the intent of the European Commission (EC), the secretariat of the European Union, to increase its support for open access in the upcoming Horizon 2020 Programme ("Muscle From Brussels as Open Access Gets an €80bn Boost," Elizabeth Gibney, Times Higher Education, May 17, 2012; The EC has been supporting open access since August 2008, when it launched a pilot policy that required open access compliance for approximately 20% of EC-funded research in its current research programme. Details were officially released by the European Commission in July 2012 via several official statements-"Communication Towards Better Access to Scientific Information: Boosting the Benefits of Public Investments in Research ( and "Recom mendation on Open Access to and Preservation of Scientific Information" (

In the U.K., The Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, a task group commissioned by the government, released a report detailing its recommendations for U.K. implementation of open access. The report, "Accessibility, Sustainability, Excellence: How to Expand Open Access to Research Publications" (The Finch Group,, was published on June 18, 2012. The group's recommendations, which the U.K. government accepted on July 16, 2012, heavily favored "green" open access, in which authors publish their materials in journals that are open access or are presented as "open access" on a case-by-case basis in a particular journal. The report has been highly controversial among both the research and the open access communities, mainly due to concerns about funding and long-term sustainability.

In related developments, open data has been increasingly gaining traction and interest around the world. The World Bank has been a leader among United Nations agencies in supporting openness. It launched the Open Data Initiative ( and an Access to Information Policy (
), both in 2010. In 2012, The World Bank launched an Open Knowledge Repository (, in which all the Bank's publications are deposited and licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license. All these programs are designed to make the organization more transparent and accountable. As of the end of 2012, the Open Knowledge Repository had nearly 9,000 reports, books, and other types of publications; the Open Data portal provided download access to more than 8,000 indicators from World Bank datasets.

While the World Bank has been a leader in this area, other U.N. organizations are following suit, particularly in regards to open data. The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), signed by several U.N. agencies and the European Commission, requires signatories to publicly disclose "regular, detailed and timely information on volume, allocation and results of development expenditure (when available)." In connection with IATI, several U.N. agencies and programs launched open data portals in 2012: U.N.-Habitat launched its Open Data Platform ( in September 2012; the UNOPS Data Portal ( was launched in November 2012 to disseminate U.N.-wide procurement data; and the United Nations De­ velopment Program (UNDP) launched its open data portal ( in November 2012 to track its projects and development spending around the world.

Open data and open access are becoming closely linked, as several open access policies now include datasets in their coverage. For example, the newest European Com­ mission open access policy includes provisions for including datasets in repositories; the Department for International Develop­ ment (DfID) ( in the U.K. covers all types of research outputs, including data; and the National Science Foundation (U.S.) requires provisions for funding proposals to include a "Data Management" plan ( Figure 1 includes a timeline of key open access moments from 2012.

Current Issues, Challenges, and Discussions

Debates on the Research Works Act, several new and revised open access policies by major research funding organizations, the release of the U.K.'s Finch Report, and broad support for open data have led to increased awareness of open access among researchers-which has implications for librarians, publishers, and others involved in day-to-day implementation of open access.

Funding Models to Support Open Access Publishing

Many current discussions on open access relate to funding. Many well-established publishers are struggling to come up with new, sustainable business models that work in the digital environment. In some instances, publishers are offering "hybrid" open access or open access on an article-by-article basis, creating a highly inconsistent and confusing environment for both authors and readers. In this model, authors are given the option of purchasing rights to deposit their articles in open access repositories upon payment of a fee. According to a list ("SHERPA/RoMEO List of Publishers With Paid Options for Open Access," maintained by the SHERPA/RoMEO project, these fees range from $562 at the lowest end of the spectrum to $5,000 per article, with most falling between the $1,500 and $3,000 price points.

Some open access journals are financed by a host institution, some recuperate costs through membership dues, while others sustain themselves on volunteer efforts. On the other hand, journals produced by commercial publishers or academic societies need to create a revenue stream in order to become viable. The publishing community is testing various business models. The current frontrunner is Article Processing Charges (APCs). In this model, APCs are charged to authors upon acceptance of articles; this model is sometimes referred to as "Author pays."

TableAs is the case with hybrid open access prices, the cost of APCs varies tremendously from publisher to publisher and even from journal to journal. One of the largest open access publishers, Hindawi, offers 463 open access journals. See Table 1 (right) for a breakdown of costs.

BioMed Central and PLOS, two highly successful open access publishers, have higher APCs, although offering various types of discounts and waivers. BioMed Central charges 1,075-1,230 GBP (approximately $1,745-$2,000 USD). PLOS's APCs are in the same range-one journal charges $1,350 for per article; charges for its other six journals are either $2,250 or $2,900 per article.

For many authors, particularly those who would be forced to pay out of their own pocket, these charges are quite steep. Several publishers, including BioMed Central and PLOS, offer waivers for authors from developing countries as defined by the World Bank list or a publisher-specific list. Blanket waivers like these can help authors from certain countries but are not designed to support those who conduct research without support from an external funding agency. Social science research, humanities research, and various types of private sector research are often conducted without such funding or with minimal funding, as is the case for research at many small colleges.

While it is clear that research dissemination incurs costs that someone needs to pay for, no perfect solution has yet emerged. However, the open access publishing space is still young, and new models continue to emerge. PeerJ ( was launched in late 2012 with a different twist on pricing models. It offers three types of lifetime memberships with different options, starting with a one-time fee of $99 for the basic plan. The bottom line is that there is still space for innovation, with new models still emerging.

Measuring Impact and Value

How to measure the impact and value of open access is of great interest to all involved. In the print world, the standard measure of impact has been citation count, which has its limitations. The other key indicator of an article's supposed merit is where it is published and, in turn, that journal's ISI Impact Factor (also tied to citations). Citations only provide one part of the story, particularly if the only citations that "count" are those in peer-reviewed journals or books-not policy reports, guidelines, government documents, or other types of literature.

No measures are complete, but by looking at a more robust group of indicators, one can get a better sense of who is reading an article or book and what next steps occur. Here are some of the alternate metrics-or "altmetrics"-of interest:

  • Abstract page views
  • Downloads-total number
  • Geographic distribution of downloads
  • Tweets
  • References in blog posts, wikis, mainstream news media, links from other websites
  • Saves to Delicious and other social media bookmarking sites
  • Saves to Mendeley and other open-research-oriented tools

Another type of altmetrics comes in the form of article-level metrics. For open access journals, it is possible to have composite download and page-view information and disaggregate this data to provide the same types of information for each article. PLOS has been leading the way in setting up systems to collect and share article-level metrics for open access journals (

Citations have limitations in the print world, but it is only with the shift to a digital environment that alternative metrics have emerged with ways to look at the usage of digital objects of any kind. Altmetrics is still in its infancy, but new tools such as Impact Story ( can help researchers get a better understanding of how other people interact with their research output through a range of social media networks and websites, including Twitter, Facebook, and SlideShare.

Expanding and Refining the Definition of Open Access

2012 saw an important shift in how researchers view open access. Instead of focusing exclusively on peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles, the generally accepted definition of open access is growing to include other types of research outputs, specifically datasets and, to a lesser degree, books. Furthermore, since open access is so often implemented at the institutional level, each institution has the ability to define it in such a way that it is aligned with its organizational mission.

At the University of Cape Town (UCT), for instance, the OpenUCT programme ( supports openness for any and all types of materials related to teaching or scholarship. For many scholars, the lines between teaching and research are extremely fuzzy-where does one start and the other end? In terms of reuse or adaptations, one scholar's research output often turns into another scholar's teaching materials-so should an item be housed in an open educational resources (OER) repository or an open access repository? Does it matter?

But How Do You Find OA Content?

Many researchers are not aware of the vast amount of open access content they can access or how to find it-not always a particularly easy process. Raising awareness of the existence of this treasure trove of materials should be an integral part of any and all information literacy efforts.

There's no simple way (yet) to search for OA content. Open access materials housed in OA repositories or journal systems that are interoperable with key standards should be indexed by Google, Google Scholar, Bing, and other search engines-but that doesnmean it is easy to find the OA results. These results tend to be buried among other search results.

For example, a search in Google for "Apis mellifera" will return a result from the OA journal PLOS ONE as result #19.

The same search in Google Scholar will return results from a mix of journals and books:

  • Some free-to-access, but with copyright restrictions on usage
  • Some pay-to-access journal articles and books
  • Some open access journal articles (free to access, free to use with minimal restrictions)
  • Some open access preprints housed in repositories (free to access, free to use with minimal restrictions)
  • Some abstracts housed in OA repositories with links to pay-to-access journal articles from publishers' websites

Unfortunately, a reader needs to go into each result to see if it is freely available to access, and then needs to understand what usage rights are associated with each article.

To search exclusively for open access content, try going straight to the Directory of open access Journals (DOAJ). A search for "Apis mellifera" in DOAJ returns 274 results, all of which should be free to access. However, not all of these items include full reuse rights, and this search only covers one subset of open access materials, namely those available through open access journals.

Other places to search could include the following:

Implications of Open Access for the Library Community

With new policies mandating compliance and an in­ creased level of interest and awareness among re­ searchers, it is imperative that institutions are equipped to support and implement open access. For most institutions, the library is seen as the natural source of such support-libraries already interact with publishers, are familiar with copyright issues, build and disseminate collections of knowledge, and work to support researchers of all types in their quests to find and use knowledge. But the day-to-day work for supporting open access can be quite different than traditional library works and require new skills and additional knowledge, particularly as the landscape continues to change at such a rapid pace. Most activities take place in five general clusters as de­picted in Figure 2.


All types of libraries-even public libraries-should be aware of the general issues surrounding open access, know how to find open access materials as part of the research process, and be able to support patrons who wish to understand how they can or cannot use and reuse both open access and copyrighted materials.

For libraries primarily serving researchers, it is particularly important that librarians stay informed of research funding agency policies that affect their scientists. As with institutional policies, each funding agency policy has its own details and requirements-some policies include data, others do not; some policies require manuscript deposit in a specific repository such as PubMed Central, while others require manuscript deposit in an institutional repository; some policies require immediate deposit of manuscripts, while others allow 6-12 months.


Advocacy can happen at various levels. College and university libraries as well as any other kind of library serving large populations of researchers can advocate for institutional open access. Most institutional policies focus on green open access-i.e., requiring faculty to deposit a copy of each manuscript into its repository. Institutional policies should not be launched from libraries; instead, libraries should work closely with researchers and their administrators to push for the development of, buy-in to, and support the implementation of a policy that follows good practices established by others. Harvard University recently published "Good Practices for University Open Access Policies" (, a guide endorsed by members of the Coalition for Open Access Policy Institutions (COAPI).

In addition to policies, many institutions are beginning to create and administer funds for authors who wish to publish in open access journals that require an APC. In these cases, libraries are often either the overseer of such funds or heavily involved in their development and administration.

For an institutional policy to succeed, particularly within a typical university environment that resists top-down mandates, the policy requires a tremendous amount of buy-in from researchers. Getting and maintaining such buy-in from academics is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Once a repository is up and running, even with a policy in place, libraries are often tasked with the daunting challenge of getting content into the repository. This means working with faculty to get their materials, creating article-level metadata, and working with faculty on an ongoing basis to feed new manuscripts into the repository. Most institutions have not been terribly successful getting faculty to deposit their own manuscripts into the repository and have relied on librarians to support this process.

Advocacy can also involve sharing relevant news with the institutional community-news about open access and related issues such as scholarly communication, open education, and open data-and by getting involved in national and international dialogue.

Authors' Rights

Another way libraries can support researchers is by helping them sort through issues related to copyright and CC licenses. Often, by the time researchers ask questions about reusing their own materials, it is too late. They have already signed away copyright through a standard copyright transfer agreement at the point when an article has been accepted for publication. Libraries can take a more proactive stance and work to raise awareness among their communities of the range of choices authors have. Doing so will help authors understand different types of licenses so they can make more informed publishing decisions.

Repository Management

Developing, implementing, and overseeing long-term management and administration of repositories is an important role for many libraries. The work associated with repositories varies tremendously, from highly technical system administration work to tasks more often connected to outreach activities. The exact types of technical work can include one-time work at launch as well as ongoing, routine maintenance. The complexity and quantity of technical work in some ways depends on whether a repository is already up and running or if it is in the early stages of development; if a vendor is handling the initial configuration and setup work; and whether the repository is locally hosted, hosted by an IT department, or hosted off-site by a vendor. Once a repository is up and running, systems work continues. Research and development groups around the world continually are working on ways to further enhance and expand repository capabilities. In order to build new tools for researchers, repositories need to meet guidelines for interoperability. (See the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR), " The Case for Interoperability," July 2011;

In addition to technical work, libraries often are responsible for content acquisition, metadata, collecting and sharing usage data with authors, and handling outreach and marketing. Building and implementing a repository is the first step. Getting content into the repository is an ongoing process, as are getting and measuring usage.

Library as Publisher

A new role-and one that not all librarians agree with-is that of publishing. Some large, state-funded universities such as the University of Michigan and University of Arizona and Göttingen State and University Library in Germany oversee their university's press. Library-run presses are not necessarily open access, although some such as Göttingen University Press ( exclusively print open access books and journals.

Not all library publishing efforts are at large universities. Amherst College in Massachusetts announced in De­ cember 2012 the launch of a new publishing venture focused on printing open access books in liberal arts disciplines mainly from the social sciences and humanities ("Amherst College to Launch First Open-Access, Digital Academic Press Devoted to the Liberal Arts"; https://www The press will be run by the library.

Other college and university libraries have gotten involved in publishing. Open Journal Systems (OJS) is an open source system designed and supported by the Public Knowledge Project. As of December 2011, more than 11,500 journal titles are using OJS (Open Journal System-List of Journals; In many cases, libraries run OJS for journals published by their organizations.

Final Thoughts

With changing technology, the scholarly communication ecosystem continues to evolve. Opportunities abound for the library community to step up and serve as the ultimate information brokers. But this work requires new skills, engaging with new stakeholders such as policymakers, and working with scholars in new ways. Conversations about open access are no longer about whether it is a good idea; rather, the focus is on best practices, sustainability, and maximizing OA's impact. With this shift in conversation, it is imperative that information professionals are ready to support open access and all it entails. 

Supplemental Content

For two additional sidebars by Abby, "What Is Open Access" and "Why Open Access," go to

Abby Clobridge is is founder and consultant, FireOak Strategies, LLC. 


Comments? Email the editor-in-chief:

       Back to top