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Open Access

Open Access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder. OA is achieved through two primary channels: archiving (Green OA) or publishing (Gold OA). OA is completely compatible with peer review.

OA archiving is the intentional act by content producers to make copies of their works available in a freely-accessible digital archive or repository. Repositories may be affiliated with funding agencies (PubMed Central) or institutions (WakeSpace), or may be subject-specific (arXiv). Although archiving of the final published version is the ideal, most archived works are either preprints or post-prints. Pre-prints are versions of works as submitted for review, and includes only the original work of the author(s). Post-prints, or the author's final version, are versions that incorporate all changes from the peer review process, but have not yet been copyedited and formatted for publication (i.e., no page, volume or issue numbers, etc.).

OA publishing shifts the costs of content creation and distribution away from subscribers. What this means is that OA published information is freely available to anyone worldwide with an internet connection—no subscription necessary. Instead of relying on subscriptions to subsidize publishing costs, those costs are covered by sponsorships or author-side fees, which may be covered by institutions or grant-funding organizations. Fewer than half of all OA journals charge author-side fees, and many of those that do will waive such fees for authors with economic hardship.

What is open access? Nick Shockey and Jonathan Eisen take us through the world of open access publishing and explain just what it's all about.

Key Terms

OA Gold: The publisher version of a publication is immediately and permanently freely available for anyone with internet access to read or download from the publisher site at the point of publication.

OA Green: A type of open access where a version of a publication is freely available via an institutional or subject repository, or other web-accessible digital archive, that is compliant with the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH). 

Hybrid: A subscription journal in which some of the articles are open access at point of publication.

Open archive: A repository that is compliant with the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH).

Pre-print: Preliminary version of an article that has not undergone peer review but that may be shared for comment.

Post-print: A manuscript draft after it has been peer reviewed.

Repository: Repositories preserve, manage, and provide access to many types of digital materials in a variety of formats. See Drexel guide on  Institutional Repositories to learn more.

Creative Commons: A nonprofit organization that creates licenses under which works are distributed with reuse permissions granted upfront.

Copyright: A legal right created by the law of a country that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights for its use and distribution. See Drexel guide on Copyright for more information.

Addendum: Attached to publication or copyright transfer agreements requesting additional author rights beyond those already granted by the publisher. See Drexel guide on Author Rights for more information.

To see more terms, visit CASRAI's Open Access Glossary.

We engage and invest in research in order to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery, encourage innovation, enrich education, and stimulate the economy—to improve the public good. Communication of the results of research is an essential component to the research process; research can only advance by sharing the results, and the value of an investment in research is only maximized through wide use of its results.

However, our current system for communicating research is crippled by a centuries old model that hasn’t been updated to take advantage of 21st century technology:

  1. Governments provide most of the funding for research—hundreds of billions of dollars annually—and public institutions employ a large portion of all researchers.
  2. Researchers publish their findings without the expectation of compensation. Unlike other authors, they hand their work over to publishers without payment, in the interest of advancing human knowledge.
  3. Through the process of peer review, researchers review each other’s work for free.
  4. Once published, those that contributed to the research (from taxpayers to the institutions that supported the research itself) have to pay again to access the findings. Though research is produced as a public good, it isn’t available to the public who paid for it.

Our current system for communicating research uses a print-based model in the digital age. Even though research is largely produced with public dollars by researchers who share it freely, the results are hidden behind technical, legal, and financial barriers. These artificial barriers are maintained by legacy publishers and restrict access to a small fraction of users, locking out most of the world’s population and preventing the use of new research techniques. See the documentary Paywall: The Business of Scholarship.

—image source: White paper - Assessing the open access effect for hybrid journals [PDF]

Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles combined with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment. Open Access is the needed modern update for the communication of research that fully utilizes the Internet for what it was originally built to do: accelerate research:

  1. Funders invest in research to advance human knowledge and ultimately improve lives.
  2. Breakthroughs often come from unexpected places.
  3. Researchers benefit from having the widest possible audience.
  4. The research enterprise itself benefits when the latest techniques can be easily used.

The more people that have access to the latest research, the more valuable that research becomes and we are then more likely to benefit as a society.

—from SPARC: Open Access

Misconception: Faculty can freely use their own published content in courses they teach.

This depends, but is usually not the case. If you transferred your copyright to the publisher at the time of publication, as most authors do, the publisher may restrict your right to re-use the content in teaching and publication. There are a few solutions to this:

  1. Publish in an Open Access publication so that everyone always has free access to your work.
  2. Publish in a journal that allows you to retain the rights you need to re-use your own work.
  3. Negotiate for the specific rights you anticipate on needing at the time of publication.

For further information on negotiating and publication, please see the Drexel guide on Author Rights.

Misconception: Open Access Materials Are Not Copyrighted

Some researchers fear that publishing an open access article means that the material is not protected by any form of copyright, but this is not true. Open access frequently allows authors to retain the copyright to their material instead of handing the rights over to the journal. In some cases, authors publishing in traditional journals may require permission to reuse their own figures or text when teaching a class. Open access material has no such restrictions.
Many open access journals make use of Creative Commons licenses, which allow for reuse of material provided that the original author is cited at all times. Such licenses ensure the maximum visibility for your work, with proper attribution.

To learn more about Copyright and Creative Commons, follow the link to the Drexel guide on the subject.

—Ben Mudrak, CC-BY

Misconception: Articles in Open Access journals are not peer-reviewed, are of lower quality, and are the equivalent of self-publication.

The myth that open access journals aren’t good quality (or less good than their subscription counterparts) is perhaps down to the emergence of ‘predatory’ or fraudulent journals. These are journals which do not provide the same quality assurance and services delivered by a reputable journal. Use the Think.Check.Submit checklist to make an informed choice about where you publish. The checklist includes ways to evaluate the credentials of any title and the society or publisher behind it.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), and the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) in collaboration have published Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing. These are a set of criteria used to assess journals or publishers. It’s a useful list of the indicators to look out for when assessing the quality of an open access journal. For example, reliable open access journals will have:  

  • An editorial board or ‘governing body.’
  • A clear policy on conflicts of interest.
  • A peer review process.

—from Taylor & Francis Group: Are open access journals good quality?


Hybrid usage report-OA advantage

—image source: White paper - Assessing the open access effect for hybrid journals [PDF]


Misconception: Open Access is just a way for libraries to save money by shifting the cost of scholarly publications to authors and funding agencies.


The price to purchase scholarly publications increased well beyond inflation for more than a decade. Library budgets are stressed, but librarians do not promote Open Access as a solution to a budget crisis. They promote Open Access as a new publication model that fosters increased access to research information. 

Misconception: Open Access and Public Access accomplish the same goal by making information freely available.

Only Open Access makes information freely available at the time of publication. Public Access, as implemented through PubMed Central and mandated by the NIH Public Access Policy, allows publishers to prevent open access to articles for up to one year. Public Access, as envisioned by the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), will allow publishers to prevent open access to articles for up to six months.

Misconception: Open Access does not work as an economic/business model for scholarly publishing.

Open Access does seem to be working as a business model for a number of important science-technical-medical journal publishers, for example, BioMed Central, Hindawi and PLoS. It is important to remember that Open Access journals do not have one business model, for example they do not all charge author fees. The Journal of the Medical Library Association is an example of an Open Access journal with no author fees.



In addition to credit given for various images, parts of this guide were adapted from work/guides by:

University of Massachusetts: Amherst, University of Oklahoma, Valparaiso University, Kirkwood Community College, Pacific University: Oregon, University of North Carolina, Old Dominion University

Used with permission or in accordance with Creative Commons Licensing.