Removing Barriers to Access to Open Up Information

There are many disadvantages to toll access publishing: independent researchers, members of the public, and researchers whose institutions don't (or can't afford to) subscribe to a resource will not have access to it -- potentially including the authors themselves! Research published in subscription resources can also be difficult to access and share.

These barriers to access have wide-ranging effects. Price barriers, in particular, lock out researchers in poor countries or less-well-resourced institutions, not to mention practitioners in certain fields (such as nursing or education) where ongoing professional development is necessary but institutional access to articles may not be available. Members of the public who need access (for instance, those affected by rare diseases) or those who just want to pursue lifelong learning may also have difficulty gaining access to information behind a paywall.

Permission barriers, on the other hand, hinder the construction of a healthy scholarly communication infrastructure. Traditional copyright and licensing restrictions prevent materials from being archived, shared, reused, and aggregated.

The Open Access movement is working to remove price and permission barriers to scholarly information. The goals of this movement include access to information for all, access to larger audiences for researchers, faster, more collaborative scientific progress, and more public access to (and trust in) scholarly research.


*Graphics credit: Safia Begum


Open Access benefits authors and researchers

The removal of price and permissions barriers via Open Access (however open access is achieved in any given case) has many benefits for authors, including:

  • Greater Visibility.  Open access works are available to a broader audience, both locally and globally. Not only that, authors have more opportunity to make their works visible via their websites, social media, and author profiles. There is evidence of increased traffic for content that is openly available online. 

  • Collaboration. Open access presents the opportunity find collaborators by sharing one's work. Open access and open science practices such as data sharing also enable researchers to build on each other's work, advancing the progress of scholarly discovery.

  • Citation Advantage. There is some evidence that open access articles receive more citations than others. There is a large body of research on this subject, and it is difficult to make a direct comparison, as each research article is unique. However, a 2021 systematic review ("Is the Open Access Citation Advantage Real? A Systematic Review of the Citation of Open Access and Subscription-Based Articles") found that over 70% of the studies found evidence of a citation advantage for at least some materials, though it seems to vary by discipline.  

  • Reducing Costs. Open access (done well) may create less economic strain on certain budgets within libraries, universities, and institutions by eliminating costly journal access, thereby lowering barriers to access and the reading of scholarly works. 

  • Retaining More Rights. Publishers' standard contracts often force authors either to transfer their copyrights, or to forgo many of the rights that authors would otherwise have in their own work. The open access movement champions rights retention, which allows authors to make use of their work after it is published. For more, please see the library's guide on author's rights.

  • Changes to tenure. Universities are revising their tenure requirements to more fairly evaluate faculty contributions, to value non-traditional publications including data, digital scholarship projects, and OER, and to value open access and reduce the importance of publishers. The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) calls for a new and more productive standard of research assessment.

  • Preservation and Archiving. Open access works can be preserved in multiple places, so that they will still survive if a journal closes.

Open Access provides benefits to society

  • Allows authors from smaller and less well-funded institutions to participate in the scholarly conversation, improving the development of knowledge. (Note that this is also why APC-free open access is so important.)

  • Allows greater pooling of information to solve big problems. COVID is a great example -- one reason that COVID research progressed so quickly was that researchers openly shared their preprints.

  • Potential to advance citizen science initiatives. 

  • Potential to improve public trust in academic research.

  • Allows readers worldwide to access scholarly information. This post from the PLOS blog shows that low-income and lower-middle income countries rely on open access, both as readers and as authors.

Open Educational Resources (OER) benefits students

  • Lowers Cost. Lowers college costs for students through the elimination of expensive textbooks or article access, and by incorporating Open Access course bundling provided by the instructor. 

  • Better Student Retention. A 2016 study titled, "Maintaining Momentum Toward Graduation: OER and the Course Throughput Rate" authored by John Levi Hilton III, Lane Fischer, David Wiley, and Professor Linda Williams of Tidewater Community College, found better student retention overall for those who used OER, as well as better grade outcomes. Moreover, students using OER tended to take additional credits, thereby allowing them to graduate earlier. 

  • Up-to-Date Education. This video by BlinkTower illustrates why Open Educational Resources are so important for an effective, up to date, education. 

Arguments for Open Access

*Danny Kingsley and Sarah Brown present an Argument for Open Access illustration. Arguments include: "More exposure for your work, practitioners can apply your findings, higher citation rates, your research can influence policy, the public can access your findings, compliant with grant rules, taxpayers get value for money, researchers in developing countries can see your work."