Open access is a movement that seeks to expand the availability of scholarly work. Many journals and independent scholars have opted to make their work freely available in lieu of submitting it to journals that have extremely high fees for many libraries, universities, institutions, and most independent researchers.
Why open access matters
As these prices continue to rise (as displayed by this graph from SPARC for 1986-2003), even the most affluent libraries are having difficulty maintaining access to all of the resources that would be of value to their institution.
As the open access movement has expanded, one of the issues has been a lack of visibility of the resources that are available. DOAJ is one of the best known resources for finding open access journals and articles. I did my semester project for the Reference course here at the iSchool on Open Access Resources and have made this pathfinder available online.
How is the rest of the world affected?
Perhaps the greatest issue caused by the rising prices of journals is felt by nations in the Global South. In spite of the value of open access, there are only approximately two hundred fifty institutional repositories in Australia, South America and Africa (compared to over four hundred in North America and eight hundred in Europe).
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that much of the research done within the Global South can never be seen by organizations that may have hosted its researchers. Not only does this seem inappropriate, the only way that these areas’ policy can be influenced by the science is if policymakers can see the data.
These philosophical viewpoints were elaborated upon in a presentation by Laurie Kutner, an iSchool grad. As well as being passionate about these ideas philosophically, Kutner has had a very real impact on the ownership of research in the Global South.
For five years she has been bringing interns to the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica to help digitize student works created there so that the institute, individuals connected to the research community there and across the globe can have access to them. This summer, I took part in this internship program, and it broadened my view on information equity, and made me a better professional.
Open access = better collaboration
The philosophic arguments for open access are clear: It allows for broader access to knowledge to allow for more collaborative work and more unique research to take place. It eliminates redundancies in research and allows for researchers to be able to more easily see patterns in data.
Finally, it allows for more economic equity, both within a given country and across borders. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, we must understand the values of open access, and make the commitment to not exploit regions for our potential intellectual gain.
It is absolutely appropriate for universities within the United States and elsewhere in the North to conduct research in the Global South, but this should be done with not only our own institutional goals, but also a more global perspective. One community’s benefit does not, and often should not, be at the expense of another.
What are your thoughts on open access? Did you participate in any Open Access Week events? Join the conversation with a comment.