Prospects of Open Access Initiatives in Academic Libraries

With the cost of electronic serials and database access steadily rising while library budgets continuing to shrink, more librarians seek to find less expensive ways to provide faculty and students with valuable scholarly information.  Principles of Open Access (OA) appear to fulfil these library needs. This movement has several different trends and approaches that have emerged over time, most notably publishing style. OA literature emphasises the movement’s effects on scholarly communication. Perhaps the most important trend is how OA proliferates the consciousness of academia through local to international celebrations of the movement, which increases awareness among scholars.  At the forefront of OA are librarians, who can proactively channel their autonomy and professional principles to increase the availability of emerging research.

Beginning roughly 10 years ago, the OA movement has gained popularity in academic research libraries particularly in parts of Europe, the United Kingdom, and North America. In stark contrast to restrictive copyright practices of many academic journals, users of OA publications can freely download, save, print, and share materials freely without subscription or login requirements. OA gained more attention at the 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative, which raised awareness on an international level on the value of scholarly research made freely accessible. The first, and perhaps one of the most important piece evidence of increasingly widespread OA journals occurred in 2003. At this time, the first Public Library of Science (PLoS) was released online for free and available to anyone with Internet access (Falk 2003). Although something of a grassroots movement, OA journals like PLoS have attracted well-known scholars particularly in the scientific and medical communities (Falk 2003).

In  a global sense, OA journals make the research of their authors public through two main channels, the gold model and the green model. In the case of the former, authors have more autonomy in deciding in which OA journal their work will appear. Another trend in the gold model is authors still publishing in subscription journals, while still being able to make their content available in an OA publication by paying a small fee. Interestingly, more subscription journal publishers are allowing authors to choose if their research will be published more openly (Rathe, Chaudhuri, & Highby 2010). One prime benefit of this model is that they are listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Having more than 5000 journals in the repository, the impact and increasing visibility and value of these publications is better put in perspective (Fernandez et al. 2010). This type of OA publishing also makes adding electronic journal titles to academic libraries’ resources at no cost.

The “green model” is slightly different. Researchers may publish their work in a subscription journal, while having the option to make it available on discipline or institutional pages (Rathe et al. 2010). This publishing model is increasingly geared to a “self-archiving” process of research. In fact, green model OA challenges traditional principles of copyright, in that authors can retain ownership over their work. In the case of John Hopkins University in the United States, for example, faculties encourage that their researchers allow their work to appear on the school’s repository site and freely available. Similarly, authors retain ownership by being able to edit their work at will, and not subject themselves to restrictive publication contracts (Falk 2003). Scholars in North America and Europe are increasingly open to these principles on the wide scale.

Another popular trend that is key when discussing the OA movement is the effect of grassroots planning in academic libraries and its potential to spread into a more global context. Open access advocacy events have the potential to create a high profile in academic libraries. The creation of OA days or weeks have proven to gain global attention. For example, the National Day of Action for Open Access originated in the United States in 2007, in celebration of the Budapest Open Access Initiative five years earlier. From there, the first Open Access Day in 2008 led to the Open Access Week in October 2009. Considering that many different countries celebrated Open Access Week suggests that there is a willingness and excitement from within the scholarly community to share their research with one another (Rathe et al. 2010). This high level of interest ties in well with causing a profound shift in notions of open scholarly communication and encouragement of discovery, particularly in the scientific community, which is arguably more collaborative than other disciplines.

In conjunction with faculties and university administration, libraries can develop their own mandates encouraging making their research freely available in OA journals on an independent or localised university level. Although independently mandated, this type of broad awareness in academic communities stems from events built from the ground up. An emerging trend in the OA literature related to local mandates is the potential impacts it has on scholarly publishing and communication (Emmet, Stratton, Peterson, Church-Duran & Harricombe 2011). Some librarians would argue that OA is not a new concept in academic libraries.  Indeed, it is an excellent alternative in dealing with the serials crisis, or the constantly increasing cost of electronic journal subscriptions (Van Orsdel 2008). More readily available content online poses a direct threat to traditional serial publishers, who aim to make a profit from scholarly literature. The price versus use of bundled journal title packages has plagued many academic librarians. OA appears to resolve these problems, and also challenge the monopolistic tendencies of academic publishing and “big deal” vendors (Van Orsdel 2008). Nonetheless, the generation of research is neither cheap nor free and publishing prices are also very high.   

Librarians are not only best suited for promoting the concept of OA in their academic libraries, they frankly have a responsibility to inform their campuses and faculties. For example, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and other funding agencies have created policies that require their researchers to make their research content through OA principles (Fernandez, Nariani, & Salmon 2010). There can be a myriad of requirements a particular OA publisher requires that can be very difficult to navigate without prior experience. While one funder may require results published within six months, another may expect the research released into a repository through a self- or independent repository (Fernandez et al. 2010). As such, librarians have the tools to ensure that these researchers understand the value and implications of these guidelines through several channels of communication.

Interestingly, not only must these librarians inform and educate their colleagues, they must essentially sell the principles and positive impacts of OA publishing. Workshop environments are ideal for providing not only a teacher-learning experience, but a productive collaborative environment where participants can freely express their concerns. Taking space in a faculty newsletter, maintaining an occasional emailing list, and creating a website with a clear set of guidelines of varying OA practices can help faculty and graduate students be more aware in new and changing publishing requirements (Fernandez et al. 2010). Participating in local or even international OA events also gives librarians opportunities to be more visible and by extension build awareness to their faculties. Additionally, librarians can use OA to demonstrate their faculties’ original research, which can create a positive image of the university as a whole (Emmet et al. 2011). Academic librarians can also work towards integrating more OA materials into their collections, but this must be done with the support of university administration, who ultimately decide how research will be made available (Emmet et al. 2011). This idea ties in quite nearly with changing values of more open scholarly communication between universities worldwide.

The prospects of OA gaining steam in academic libraries are exciting. Not only can libraries save their own budgets, they bolster principles of cooperative scholarship across disciplines and universities. Although not a new concept, OA is still experiencing growth and change especially in publishing models. Another popular trend in OA discourse is its effects on scholarly communication. Ultimately, grassroots movements at the local level will lead to international acceptance and enthusiasm, with librarians assuming a leadership role in the academic community.

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