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Open Access & Open Content

Understanding Open Access

The defining moment for Open Access research publication came with the drafting of the Budapest Open Access Initiative in December 2001. The Initiative was dedicated to a public good, that of using the potential of the internet 'to make possible is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds'.

The Budapest Initiative draws on an old tradition: the willingness of researchers to publish their results without payment, in order to establish their own claim to their research and to enable other researchers to build upon it. The problem the Initiative addressed was, in the way of radically increasing journal subscription prices, that only the richest institutions (mainly in the developing world) have been able to afford a reasonable proportion of all the scholarly journals published. As a result, learning about and accessing such articles has not always been easy for most researchers, particularly in Africa, where many institutions cannot afford even a basic level of journal subscriptions without donor support. Open Access has the potential to change this.

What is Open Access?

The Open Access research literature now extends beyond journal articles alone and includes free, online copies of peer-reviewed journal articles and conference papers as well as technical reports, policy papers, theses and working papers. In most cases there are no licensing restrictions on their use by readers. They can therefore be used freely for research, teaching and other purposes.

The Budapest Initiative defines Open Access thus:

By 'open access' to this literature we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles,crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself."

Open Access Journals

There are two ways of using Open Access to increase the reach and exposure of journal articles. These are commonly identified as 'the green route' and the 'gold route'.

Green route Open Access involves placing online a version of a journal article published in a conventional journal. The article placed online can be a 'preprint', the version submitted to the journal, or a 'postprint', the version of the article revised after peer review, but before it is edited by the journal. The advantages offered include more immediate and wider circulation of the articles concerned, and access to this literature by scholars who could not normally afford journal subscriptions and readers from outside of the university community.

A surprisingly high proportion of the leading scholarly journals allow the deposit of journal articles in institutional or personal repositories. Current publisher policies on self-archiving and copyright are detailed on the SHERPA project website at Nottingham University.

Gold route journal publishing involves the publication of peer reviewed open access journals, that do not charge subscription fees. The cost of publication, instead of being recovered from subscribers, is borne by the publisher and recovered either from the author of the article (more commonly the organisation funding the research concerned); from donor funding; scholarly society support, or from a combination of all of these. Open Access journal publication offers particular advantages to developing countries, offering greater citation impact and increased readership and reach.

A number of universities now provide support and budget to cover open access publication by their researchers. A list of grant awarding bodies that explicitly permit funds to be used for this purpose is maintained on the BioMed Central website at http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/about/apcfaq. Many publishers now offer their authors the option of paying a publication charge to make a particular article open access, even if the remainder of the journal is only available on subscription.

In South Africa, gold route journal publication of local journals is supported by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), through the Academy of Science journal publishing initiative, which is progressively reviewing South African journals for inclusion in the SciELO South Africa platform. These journals receive support from the DST for their publication on this online open access platform, where they benefit from the addition of meta-tagging for local and regional impact measurement.

A comprehensive list of Open Access journals in all subject areas is maintained by the University of Lund. In October 2010 this list contained over 5,400 journals and close on 500,000 articles. Many of these Open Access journals have impact factors and are indexed by the Institute for Scientific Information for its Web of Knowledge/Web of Science service.

Why should authors provide Open Access to their journal articles?

There is accumulating evidence that shows that research articles that have been self-archived or published in open access journals are cited more often than those that have not. A bibliography of studies on "The effect of open access and downloads ('hits') on citation impact" is maintained by the Open Citation Project. Making research publications Open Access means that research has much more impact than before. Moreover, the research cycle - where work is published, read, cited and then built upon by other researchers - is enhanced and accelerated when results are available on an Open Access basis.

Open Access repositories are digital collections of research articles placed there by their authors. Open Access repositories may be multidisciplinary and located in universities or other research-based institutions, or they may be centralised and subject-based, such as the long-established phyisics archive, arXiv. A list of Open Access repositories is maintained by the University of Nottingham here. As of October 2010, there were 23 repositories listed in South Africa. What is less recognised is that in South Africa a number of academics, departments and research groupings make their research outputs openly available on departmental websites, particularly when their research is development-focused.

Self-archiving is an international movement that is developing fast, and many research funders - such as the National Institutes of Health in the US, the UK's Research Councils and the Wellcome Trust - require their grant-holders to make their articles Open Access by self-archiving.

Some universities have also introduced policies of this kind and a list of institutions requiring their researchers to deposit in a repository, finding that this adds to the prestige and reputation of their institutions and individual academics. A list of institutional mandates of this kind is available at the Registry of Open Access Repository Material Archiving Policies (ROARMAP).

Academic institutions are also finding open access repositories valuable in generating management information and reports on their research programmes and in raising awareness of their research profile.

Open Content

The use of open access extends beyond journals and repositories, to cover a variety of open content, including Open Education Resources (OER) for teaching and learning, open archives of heritage and other archival materials, and cultural resources. A growing movement motivates for open access to publicly funded information and the UK government has recently instituted a national programme for access to government information.

The UCT OpenContent directory is an online directory which facilitates the sharing of teaching and learning content from UCT with the rest of the world.

This article draws extensively on information made available on The Open Access Scholarly Information Sourcebook website. This is a a comprehensive and complete resource on Open Access available here.

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