Open Access (OA) publishing enables research articles to be made freely available to other researchers and the public. It encourages the sharing of results and findings, which in turn helps to further the field of research.
Many funders now require researchers to publish their findings Open Access. There are two types of Open Access publishing: Gold and Green. Gold Open Access is where somebody (an author, funder or a sponsor) pays a fee (an article processing charge) to make the final published content freely accessible through a so-called Creative Commons (CC) license. The CC license means people can redistribute the article themselves, at least for non-commercial purposes. Gold provides a sustainable and scalable mechanism to support high quality Open Access publishing. Green Open Access is where content is archived in an Open Access repository at an institution, for example. This is often the pre-print version of the article, allowing immediate access. As publication is an intrinsic and necessary part of the research process, the costs of publication are, in some cases, best born by the researchers or funders, as a way to enable everyone to access new findings.
Research benefits everyone, globally, and in an ideal world findings would be readily available to everyone, especially if the work is publicly funded. Open Access makes publications more easily accessible to researchers in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Schemes such as Research4Life aim to make access to peer-reviewed research more accessible to researchers in LMICs. However, LMIC research communities only benefit from Gold Open Access when they are consuming more research than they are producing. Consequently, article processing charge waiver programmes are vital to prevent researchers being priced out of publishing their work. Overall, Open Access has a vital role to play in helping authors from LMICs to fully engage with the academic record.
It can be a challenge to track the success of Open Access publication of research but as more data becomes available, it will be easier to see what content is being made Open Access, and whether authors and publishers are fulfilling their Open Access obligations to funders. For wholly Open Access journals, tools such as Scopus and Web of can be used to track Gold Open Access content, but this is more difficult for content published in hybrid journals (subscription journals that give authors the choice of publishing Open Access articles). Publishers are starting to send more information to the industry’s central data broker, Crossref, which will help us to understand the reach of Gold Open Access publishing.
There is currently a lot of experimentation in scholarly communication, from pre-print servers to open peer-review and post-publication commenting, and also third party services such as social sharing sites and altmetrics. One example of an alternative Open Access initiative is the UK’s Access to Research project, which makes journals freely accessible in public libraries. Through this initiative, we see that many thousands of people do want to read material that would otherwise be difficult and/or expensive to obtain.
Open Access is likely to become a more central part of peer-reviewed research publishing going forward. Overall, Open Access is beneficial to the global scientific community and also for increasing public engagement in science. Any initiatives that promote the dissemination of research findings to a wider audience and make content more accessible should be encouraged. It will be interesting to see the long-term gains of Open Access publishing over the next few years.