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Open Access: Progress, Possibilities, and the Changing Scholarly Communications Ecosystem
March/April 2014 Issue

Five Ways Librarians Can Support Open Access

Libraries have always been involved in supporting access to information and knowledge, but open access brings with it new roles, responsibilities, and opportunities for libraries. As Kathleen Shearer, executive director of the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR), believes, supporting open access should not be the exclusive domain of academic libraries: “People outside the academic community are [also] beneficiaries of open access. Until now, many scholarly journals have been far too costly for public and even special libraries to subscribe to. Therefore, other libraries have an interest in the expansion of open access. Advocating for OA on behalf of their users could be very helpful, including collecting stories about the benefits of OA for their clients.” Furthermore, she notes, “libraries can and should take an active role in promoting OA.”

The tremendous growth in openly accessible research mixed with the complexity of the OA infrastructure and rampant myths around OA lead to opportunities for all types of libraries—public libraries, corporate and special libraries, and academic/research libraries—to get involved, particularly in terms of raising awareness and getting involved in advocacy issues.

Here are five ideas for how all types of librarians and information professionals can get involved in supporting open access.

1. Encourage use of OA literature.

All libraries, everywhere in the world should be promoting their users—whether students, researchers, staff from an organization, or members of the public—to incorporate open access into their information-seeking tactics. OA literature can be found through Google, Google Scholar, Bing, Microsoft Academic, other search engines, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) or by directly going to repositories or OA journals.

Libraries of all types should be encouraging students, researchers, and their core constituents to incorporate the use of OA literature into their work.

2. Raise awareness about OA.

Libraries have a key role to play in debunking myths runing rampant around open access. Three common examples should spark librarians to spring into awareness raising: 1) OA literature isn’t peer-reviewed, 2) OA literature is inherently low quality, and 3) publishing in OA journals requires steep author fees.

Host events at your library or start an outreach campaign to raise awareness about OA. See for ideas.

3. Lead by example.

Most of the work libraries do to support OA is focused on authors and researchers, yet we have many opportunities to use and add to the growing body of OA materials. For instance:

  • Use CC-licensed materials in your presentations, handouts, brochures, and posters
  • Apply CC licenses to materials you create to allow others to reuse.
  • Deposit articles, presentations, and reports into appropriate subject repositories such as E-LIS ( or your own institutional repository if one is available.
  • Consider publishing in open access journals.
  • Consider implementing an OA policy or issuing a statement in support of OA by the library.

4. Advocate for OA.

Get involved in national, international, or regional advocacy campaigns. Pay attention to current proposals for legislation in support of open access and public access. For example, within the United States during 2013, several legislative acts were introduced into Congress, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a public access directive. This activity at the national level usually includes requests for public comment and/or public hearings in which librarians should contribute comments or participate. Furthermore, anyone interested in supporting Senate or House legislation should contact their congressional representatives to urge them to support the bill(s).

OA advocacy exists on many levels; national policies are just one opportunity. Urge professional organizations to support OA by issuing their own policies, converting subscription-based journals to OA models, and setting up repositories to enhance access to organizations’ grey literature and articles. Academic and research libraries can provide encouragement for institutional policies and develop the necessary infrastructure to support policies.

5. Professional development for all librarians.

All members of the profession should be engaging in professional development in order to stay informed and aware of developments within the field of scholarly communication. Rapid changes in the field, blurred boundaries between publishing and library initiatives, and an increasingly complex technical environment demand that all librarians and managers become more proficient in areas of scholarly communication, metadata, repository technology, and interoperability.


Several individuals contributed their opinions and ideas to this article. Many thanks to the following people for sharing their thoughts via email interviews: Helena Asamoah-Hassan (KNUST, Ghana); Lars Bjørnshauge (DOAJ); Piers Bocock (CGIAR, France); Björn Brembs (University of Regensburg, Germany); Kathleen Fitzpatrick (MLA, U.S.); James Hardcastle (Taylor & Francis, U.K.); Iryna Kuchma (EIFL, The Netherlands); Deborah Lupton (University of Sydney, Australia); Jeffrey Pomerantz (University of Chapel Hill, U.S.); Curt Rice (University of Tromsø, Norway); Eloy Rodrigues (University of Minho, Portugal); Kathleen Shearer (COAR); and Nick Shockey (Right to Research Coalition, U.S.).

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


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