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Open Access

What is Open Access?

Open Access (OA) refers to a set of principles and practices designed to make scholarship immediately and freely available to anyone who wants to read it.

Why is Open Access Important?

Open access publishing makes it possible for more scholars, policy makers, professionals, and the general public to be able to access research.  In the current scholarly communication landscape, for-profit companies own the majority of the most prominent scholarly journals, and they charge constantly-increasing subscription prices to universities for access to the work that their own faculty and students are producing.  This model is expensive for universities and limits the reach of scholarship by keeping it paywalled.  For example, see the below list of the average price to subscribe to a scientific journal in the table below:

Average 2023 Journal Price for Scientific Disciplines

Discipline Average Price Per Title
Chemistry $7,276
Physics $5,881
Engineering $4,911
Biology $4,430
Food Science $4,178
Geology $3,806
Technology $3,725
Botany $2,957
Zoology $2,940
Geography $2,805
Health Sciences $2,752
Agriculture $2,634
Astronomy $2,582
General Science $2,581
Math & Computer Science $2,435

Price data source: Library Journal's "Periodicals Price Survey 2023."

Open access shifts the cost from paying for access to paying for publication.  Rather than libraries paying subscription fees to a publisher, authors of OA resources use things like grants, stipends, and special university funds to pay a one-time cost at the time of publication to help make their work immediately accessible to anyone.  This way the publishers can still cover the costs of producing and hosting their publications, but access is not limited to only those with money or the correct institutional affiliations.

Who Benefits From Open Access?

Open Access Benefits Graphic


Faculty:  No library can afford to subscribe to every peer-reviewed publication faculty might need; OA both increases the amount of research faculty have access to and makes their own publications more widely accessible.

Students:  Students lose access to library subscriptions upon graduation, so open access provides them access to the peer-reviewed research they have been trained to use. 

Taxpayers:  Since a lot of research is funded through federal agencies (i.e., with taxpayer dollars), publishing the results of research funded through federal grants in open access journals ensures that taxpayers have access to the research their taxes paid for. 

Researchers in the developing world:  Many institutions in the developing world cannot afford the expensive subscription costs, limiting what their researchers can access for their own work.