By Justin Daras, Reference Librarian
Imagine if every student could write a paper on the topic of their choice, and every faculty member could develop new courses and conduct research, never having to worry if the library had full-text access to articles on any topic? What if traditionally marginalized fields like LGBTQ, Women’s, and Latino & Latina Studies—to name a few examples—could expand the scope of their scholarship by reaching broader audiences, increasing their citation impacts, and eliminating the costs of providing access to their subject-specific journals?
This is not a far-fetched fantasy about making the cost of scholarly journals affordable. It is about engaging with a movement called Open Access (OA) that could make these scenarios real by making journal articles free to access. Walt Crawford, in his report “Open Access: What You Need to Know” (2011), defines OA as literature that is “available online to be read for free by anyone, anytime, anywhere—as long as they have Internet access.” This does not mean authors are not compensated for their work or copyrights are violated. Open Access means that scholars remove financial barriers for readers by publishing in journals that make articles free for anyone to access. Open Access allows the same peer-reviewed process employed by many pay-to-access journals—so the academic record can continue, as rigorous as it is now, but for everyone to read.
Traditionally, authors, such as Framingham State’s professors, conduct research that they may or may not be paid to do (funded vs. unfunded research). Authors then write scholarly articles examining their work, and submit them to journals that conduct peer-review. The peer-review is also typically done by other scholars for free. The journals then process, promote, and publish the articles, and then libraries pay to access the journals. The cost of subscribing to these journals is the reason why when you search our library’s databases, you cannot get full-text access to every article. We simply cannot afford to pay for everything. No one does, not even Harvard or MIT. And this is why OA is such an important idea.
There are barriers to transitioning to OA that students should know about. First, academic inertia puts pressure on scholars to publish in certain high impact non-OA journals in order to qualify for tenure—publish or perish. Second, there is sometimes a perception that because OA journals are free, they may be less desirable than pay-to-access journals—a paradox of value. Third, as OA is a relatively new movement, there may not be a journal specific enough for a given subject area—a catch-22.
We encourage students to educate themselves on OA, and how it affects their ability to study and make the university a diverse and academically challenging place to be. The library publishes a research guide on Open Access that covers many resources. The Right to Research Coalition website also includes information for students, student government, and professors. We urge Framingham State students, faculty, and administration to make Open Access a priority on campus.