UC Libraries recently published a report detailing strategies to implement open access, suggesting that UC Santa Barbara’s library will be moving to a future with zero or fewer restrictions for students to use online articles, journals, and other scholarly materials.
Open access generally refers to literature that is accessible online to readers without barriers — typically financial, such as a paywall or journal subscription. Proponents of open access in academia argue that it fosters open knowledge, the faster dissemination of research, and less class-based hindrances to education for lower-income students.
UC Libraries is considering four different pathways to open access: green open access, gold open access (both with and without author processing charges), and a universal approach that combines aspects of each method.
A green open access approach relies on authors and institutions to manage and deposit articles in repositories, such as a database or website, that can be accessed for free and widely shared with students.
As the report notes, the perks of green open access is that it already works “with or on top of other scholarly communications infrastructure,” and doesn’t require much change from how researchers, journals, and universities already distribute their work today.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily make for the best outcome. Participation varies between individual researchers, as well as between universities, and there are few incentives that encourage sharing articles for free.
In the entire University of California system, only 25 percent of faculty deposit articles in eScholarship, which is one of the UC’s current repositories for open access articles.
Another type of open access is the “gold” strategy, which is divided into two subcategories, with and without author processing charges (APC).
With APC, authors would be charged a processing fee to have their work published, ranging from “a few hundred to several thousand dollars per article, often with STEM journals falling in the upper range.” As a result of this charge, the article would be free to readers.
However, the fear is that publishing costs might turn predatory, becoming too expensive for authors to pay. If authors find that they cannot pay, this might actually slow the research that is being published, especially in the humanities where author charges are “less established” and might further cut into “lower research budgets.”
Subsidies could alleviate APCs, but that would require universities to look for stable funding to be able to provide significant help for researchers looking to publish.
Without APC, the gold open access method works by relying on non-author-based funding such as charges to the institution or a publisher, or through endowments and national organizations.
A universal approach would take from all three of these methods by cultivating a repository culture while also looking for funding to make otherwise exclusive articles free to access.
Though methods differ, the movement to an open access model is reaching universities across the nation, from the University of California and University of Colorado, to Georgia State University and Yale.
“This is a global effort,” UCSB Library Outreach Coordinator Jane Faulkner told The Bottom Line. “The movement’s aim is to make research and scholarship inclusive, equitable, and available. By removing barriers, knowledge can be produced and distributed and used across the globe.”
Open access can be more than beneficial to students. It can also benefit researchers themselves, Faulkner says, as fewer barriers to scholar work might also “maximize research impact.”
Libraries stand to gain as well. Sherri Barnes, UCSB Librarian and Scholarly Communication Program Coordinator, explained. If less money is spent on journal subscriptions, libraries could provide more resources to the community.
“The library spends 75% of its collections budget to provide the campus community with access to the journal literature.” Barnes told The Bottom Line.
“If the current situation was flipped and the majority of scholarship was open access, the library’s purchasing power will increase, allowing us to spend more money on books, databases, and other research materials, providing researchers of all levels with access to more resources”, said Barnes.
The shift to open access has been underway for a long time, with 2017 marking the movement’s fifteenth anniversary, explained Barnes. But, it still has a long way to go.
Any students who are interested in moving open access forward can help by letting the library know what their preferred strategy is by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. In the fall, continuing students who are interested can also attend an Open Access Week of programs called “Pathways to Open Access: A Campus Conversation,” from October 22–26, 2018.