The Present and Future of Open Access

Oct 10, 2017 | Abbey Elder


Open Access (OA), “the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment,” has existed as an idea since the 1970s, but it first began gaining mainstream popularity in the 1990s, as the World Wide Web was being used by the public more often and it became easier to access information online (SPARC, n.d.). The original task of OA was to combat growing journal prices by providing an alternative publishing route for researchers in the sciences, for whom journal subscription costs had grown exponentially in a relatively short time span (Suber, 2004). Although the Open Access Movement’s intention of making research more accessible to the public was seen as idealistic and perhaps implausible at its inception, since the 1990’s, the ideas that fueled the Open Access Movement have grown and accomplished even more. To commemorate Open Access Week 2017 (October 23-29), this article will showcase a selection of new developments in scholarly communication which have grown out of OA, and consider how the ideas that fueled the Open Access Movement led to these developments.

The Open Science Movement

The Open Access Movement was originally a movement comprised largely of scientists, for whom the inaccessibility and cost to access their own research, the “serials crisis,” was a major concern (History of the Open Access Movement, n.d.). The Open Science Movement grew out of that foundation, and diversified the ways in which researchers could practice open research. Open Science drives the conversation of “open” away from deliverables and toward the idea of an open process, in which the methods, data, and results of research are accessible to researchers and the public alike (Foster Open Science, n.d.). Often, people use Open Science as an umbrella term to refer to these “open” actions, such as publishing openly, using open source software, and making the data collected in scientific research openly available online. This evolution from OA publishing to open research is one major development that has come from the Open Access Movement in the past decade, but there have been many other developments during this time as well.

Open Monographs

Unlike in the sciences, faculty in the humanities often rely on the publishing of scholarly monographs to secure tenure and promotion (Sondervan, 2017). Because of this, the historical focus of OA on scholarly journal articles, especially as counterpoints to expensive journals in the sciences, did not interest humanities faculty, causing much lower OA adoption rates in humanities disciplines than in the sciences and social sciences (Eve, 2017). However, a recent trend in OA publishing has made OA more attractive to scholars in the humanities: Open Monograph publishing. Recent pushes to support Open Access Monographs has caused a growth in OA publishing among humanities faculty, and statistics show that the usage of these digital monographs has grown as well (Denbo, 2017). National initiatives and institutional funding have both helped to push Open Monograph publishing forward, with the American Association of University Presses (AAUP) being a notable voice in recent conversations about Open Monographs (AAUP, 2017). Although Open Monograph publishing is not drastically different from the OA in general, the growing support for these publishing efforts proves that OA is not purely for scientists, and faculty in the Humanities can benefit from these innovations as well.

Open Data

Open Data and Data Management Plans follow another major trend which began in Open Access publishing: funder-mandated OA. Over the past few years, it has become common practice for federal funding agencies to require their grantees to make their research Open in some way, whether by publishing in an OA journal or depositing their work in an OA repository (ROARMAP, n.d.). Recently, this trend has broadened to include the mandated sharing of research data as well. Today, many researchers are choosing to share their data on data repositories and creating data management plans to ensure the longevity of their data. This trend has become popular in the sciences as well as the social sciences, where sharing archaeological data has become especially noteworthy (Doug’s Archaeology [blog], 2017). Although Open Data is still a relatively new trend in scholarly communication, it shows a broadening of the concepts introduced in the Open Access Movement, and how to manage Open Data will surely become a point of discussion in the future.

Looking to the Future

The examples listed here comprise only a small sample of the innovations which have arisen in the fifteen years since the Budapest Open Access Initiative’s Declaration first officially defined Open Access in 2002. Some of these “open” developments, like Open Monograph publishing, rose logically from the path that OA set out before them, but others, like the Open Science Movement, have arisen through the willpower of groups who are pushing the boundaries of what research can be and how it can be conducted. If these myriad tools, methods, and ideas can arise from what was originally a very small group of like-minded individuals seeking to make their research more accessible to the public, what comes next will surely be even more excellent. One cannot predict how these offshoots of the Open Access Movement will develop as time goes on, but it is certain that these ideas will continue to grow and change, and that more developments in the ways research can be conducted will evolve in the decades to come.