Basically, scholars write up their research to share it. They submit it to their peers for review through the channels of book and journal publishers. Then their work becomes a layer of understanding as more research is built upon it and our understanding of the world is deepened.
Or at least that's the theory. In practice, there's a bottleneck.
Though the labor behind creating and reviewing research is part of a scholar's job, not a commercial enterprise, the results are often published by commercial publishers - whose prices can be too expensive for libraries. Journal subscription costs rise some ten percent annually. Some journals cost over $10,000 a year. And since publishers typically assume the copyright over work they publish, libraries that don't subscribe often have to pay $35 - $50 for the right to get a copy of an article made at another library. That money goes to the publisher, not to the author or the library. And that seems particularly odd when the research is paid for by our tax dollars through federal funding for basic research.
The open access movement is an attempt to make research conducted for the public good more easily available to more people. Here's how the Open Access Week website describes it:
Open Access is a growing international movement that uses the Internet to throw open the locked doors that once hid knowledge. It encourages the unrestricted sharing of research results with everyone, everywhere, for the advancement and enjoyment of science and society.
Open Access is the principle that all research should be freely accessible online, immediately after publication, and it’s gaining ever more momentum around the world as research funders and policy makers throw their weight behind it.
The Open Access philosophy was firmly articulated in 2002, when the Budapest Open Access Initiative was introduced. It quickly took root in the scientific and medical communities because it offered an alternative route to research literature that was frequently closed off behind costly subscription barriers.
Now Open Access is on a roll. Recent Funder Mandates — including that of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (the world’s largest research funder), which now requires that all their funded research be placed in an openly accessible database, and Harvard University — have further strengthened the prospects for Open Access to all research.
- Open Access Overview by Peter Suber (OA Guru Extraordinaire)
- Open Access News for the latest info, again provided by Earlham professor Suber
- Digital Koans Charles W. Bailey's blog
- Open Students the blog of a student group supporting access to research
- SPARC: Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition a group that's seeking alternatives to business as usual.