Open Access: what is it and how can it help me?

Image c/o Gal on Flickr.

Research articles typically exist behind paywalls. This means that the only means of accessing them are by paying to access the article itself, subscribing to the journal or accessing via a library subscription to the appropriate database. However, there is increasingly a move towards making research articles available as “Open Access” – that is, available publicly and without restriction, enabling anyone with an internet connection to freely access the research.

The current government have been particularly keen on encouraging the adoption of an Open Access approach to the publication of publicly funded research. David Willetts, the former minister for Business, Innovation and Skills (which oversees Higher Education), for example, committed to an “open access policy for publicly-funded research”, arguing that publicly funded research should be accessible to the general public.

There are two main methods of providing Open Access research:

1)      Open Access repositories.

2)      Open Access journals.

Repositories hold digital copies of published articles (or other research outputs) that are then freely accessible (like our own ROAR). Repositories have a number of advantages, not least that the research contained within them is also indexed by internet search engines. This means that research will usually rank higher in Google or Google Scholar, increasing its reach.

An alternative way of providing research Open Access is to publish in Open Access journals. Such journals make their articles available for free but sometimes require a fee to be paid by the author to support the associate publication costs, ensuring that the article and journal are freely accessible by the general public.

The key point to recognise is that publishing research Open Access does not affect peer-review, articles are still peer-reviewed as normal. Consequently, there is no fear that an article published Open Access is somehow ‘inferior’ to one that has not been published in this way. Indeed, making research accessible in this way benefits not only the general public (who are then able to access research that may otherwise exist behind paywalls) but also the researcher. Some studies have shown a significant citation advantage of research published as Open Access, demonstrating clear benefits for the researcher as their work becomes more widely distributed (see useful links below).

Ok, so that fills in a little bit of background on what Open Access is, how about actually finding research available via Open Access? Well, there are a number of options:

ROAR – Our institutional repository hosts over two thousand research outputs*.

CORE – a search engine that facilitates free access to over 20 million open access articles held in institutional repositories from across the world.

OpenDOAR – a directory of Open Access Repositories.

If you are conducting a literature review, it is well worth checking out these resources to see if any relevant research is accessible. Furthermore, if you come across an article and find that it is unavailable because we do not subscribe to the particular journal, it’s well worth conducting a search of repositories to see if you can access a copy by this means.

Useful links

Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) – The DOAJ offers links to full text scientific and scholarly open-access journals. The service covers free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals and aims to cover all subjects and languages. There are over 2600 journals in the directory and many of the journals are searchable at the article level.

Evaluating Open Access Journals (Ryerson University Library & Archives) – A useful guide of what to consider with regard to Open Access journals

SHERPA/RoMEO – A useful search facility that enables you to find summaries of permissions given as part of each publisher’s copyright transfer agreement.

Open Access Button – An OA advocacy campaign that encourages supporters to download a bookmarklet which can be used to indicate research that is behind paywalls.

Research Information Network – The Research Information Network recently conducted research investigating the impact of Open Access on citations and views (July 2014). The report is available here [PDF] and the data is available via Figshare here.

* If you have any queries regarding ROAR, please contact Stephen Grace, the repository manager here at UEL.


2 thoughts on “Open Access: what is it and how can it help me?

  1. Pingback: The General Election – a literature overview | UEL Library – Psychology Blog

  2. Pingback: Can’t access the article you need? Try this… | UEL Library – Psychology Blog

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