Information Resources: Open Access: The Dust Hasn’t Settled Yet

Key Words: open access, scholarly publishing, Internet, World Wide Web

Open access is a movement to provide free and ready access to the scholarly literature. Its appeal harkens to the vision of the Internet as an online commons providing democratic access for all—in this case, unrestricted access to the scholarly literature to researchers around the world. Open access also suggests the possibility of a different publishing model that would eliminate the ever escalating journal subscription costs that libraries now labor under. Various varieties of open access have emerged with no clear sense of how it will all shake out.

What is it?

Open access has many different definitions. Widely accepted is that from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) which describes open access journals as those "that use a funding model that does not charge readers or their institutions for access." For DOAJ this means that all content is freely available and that no embargoes are placed on the most recent articles.


The open access movement is typically dated from 1994 when Stevan Harnad, Professor of Cognitive Science at Princeton University and the University of Southampton, United Kingdom, proposed that scholars post their unpublished, unrefereed preprints on a freely available, network-accessible archive. Those preprints would be replaced later by the refereed, published article. Harnad had already started Psycoloquy, the first-peer reviewed, electronic journal in 1990. Other electronic-only journals were to follow. In 1998, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) was formed to support efforts to disseminate scholarly research using the networked environment. SPARC continues to work to address what they term "market dysfunctions in the scholarly publishing system." This includes fostering the development of new journals that can compete for the same scholarly audience as an existing commercially available title, as well as the conversion of existing journals to open access.

Open Access Models

Economics is the core issue of scholarly publishing. For journal publishing to be viable, someone has to pay to make the content available. Rather than subscription fees, an open access journal may rely on advertising or sponsorships. However, advertising may not be a fit with the philosophy of the journal. Sponsorships may be difficult to acquire.

One well-established journal, the Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA), became open access in September 2001 by contributing all of its content dating from July 1911 to PubMed Central, the archive of the life sciences literature managed by the National Library of Medicine. Additionally, current issues are made publicly available concurrent with distribution of the print copies. Journal costs for JMLA are borne in large part by membership fees. The decision to go to open access was based on the desire to put into action the values of the library profession, although concern remains about whether membership in the association and non-member subscriptions will decrease. The editor recently reported that from June 2004 to May 2005 the journal had over 20,000 uses per month (Plutchak, 2005). More use than might have been expected is being made of the older content and by users in new arenas as well. So the promise of open access seems to have been fulfilled, although financing into the future is a bit uncertain.

Another publishing model that has emerged is for authors (or their institutions) to pay to be published. Manuscripts still go through the peer review process. For Public Library of Science (PLoS) journals—such as PLoS Biology or PLoS Medicine, there is a $1,500 publication fee upon submission of the manuscript. The fee is waived if the author is unable to pay. If the author’s institution is a member, there is a 50% discount on the fee. BioMed Central (BMC) uses a similar model. If the author’s institution is a member, the article processing fee is waived. BMC also accepts requests from individuals for waiving of the fee. For example, their 2006 fee for their nursing journal, BMC Nursing, is $590.

A variation on this model is the Open Choice initiative from Springer publishing. This offers the author a choice. Using the traditional publication method, an author submits a manuscript to a Springer journal as usual, and upon acceptance the article is published and made available to subscribers. The other available option is to pay a fee of $3,000 to make the article upon acceptance freely available to anyone through an open access site at Springer.

Political Pressure

The U.S. Congress has demonstrated interest in making NIH-funded research freely available online. Legislation was signed in December 2004 directly NIH to consider comments from all parties before issuing its final policy. That policy released in February 2005 was criticized for falling short of the initial intention. Authors were requested to submit final copies of published articles within twelve months to PubMed Central. An NIH-appointed Public Access Working Group reviewed the policy six months later and found that fewer than 5% of NIH grantees were in compliance. The recommendation was to make article submission a requirement and to reduce the allowable time to 6 months.

A more expanded version of this recommendation was introduced in the U.S. Senate this year by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Joe Lieberman. (D-CT). This proposed legislation, the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, would apply to research funded by any federal agency with an extramural funding program of at least 100 million dollars. Researchers funded by those agencies would need to submit digital copies of their accepted, peer-reviewed manuscripts in repositories of those agencies or at other suitable sites. These copies would need to be submitted as soon as possible after publication and within a six month deadline. Vigorous opposition from commercial publishers can be expected.

Similar discussions to make government-funded research publicly available were held in the British Parliament beginning in 2004. A more pronounced step was taken when the Wellcome Trust, an important UK research funding body, required that beginning in October 2005 all articles emanating from their funding must be deposited within six months in PubMed Central.

These additional pressures for open access have encouraged some publishers to make their older content freely available. Their hope is that by retaining tight control through subscriptions of the current content that they will be able to maintain the needed revenue stream. One example is Rockefeller University Press which makes all of their content available six months after publication and free immediately for 142 countries.

Even some publishers who have not moved to any variation of the open access model have begun to make changes in their author agreements. Elsevier is one example where authors now are permitted to post a pre-print version of an article on the Internet, the article on a personal or institutional Web site (with a link to the journal home page), and the right to reuse published works.

Tools for Finding Open Access Articles

Ideally, access to articles available through open access would be possible through the traditional channels allowing the researcher to follow the usual paths for finding scholarly information. Libraries are making a significant effort in this direction; cataloging open access journals in their online catalogs and using "link resolvers" to connect users from their traditional finding tools (CINAHL, MEDLINE, Web of Science) to the cited open access article. These initiatives offer the advantage of providing access to both the articles available under subscription and those that are open access.

Several free tools exist which at this time do not offer this combined access. Here are some of them:

  • Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), ( This site aims to link to all "free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals." Over 2,000 journals are now represented. Over 600 of those are searchable at the article level.
  • Google Scholar ( This subset of Google-indexed content strives to make scholarly information of all types (peer-reviewed articles, theses, preprints, etc.) searchable. Open access articles are part of the mix. All versions of a work are grouped together determining the rank of an item. A publisher’s full-text (if indexed) is the primary version. However, not all commercial publisher content is available for indexing and much of what is retrieved is an abstract only.
  • Scirus ( This tool from Elsevier purports to be "the most comprehensive science-specific search engine on the Internet." It also covers information of all types, including technical reports, patents, and preprints. Again, open access articles are included.

Effects of Open Access

The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and HighWire Press released results of a study in 2005 on the effects of open access publishing on scholarly journals (ALPSP, 2005). The findings on open access journals included; less is published in the average open access journal; the rejection rate is lower; there is greater dependence on advertising and sponsorship; most have never published a print edition; they are operating at a deficit or break-even point, trending upward. All journals in the study planned to undertake a new business model in the next three years. Most of the traditional journals and delayed open access journals in the study "expected the open access movement to have a negative impact on their journals and on scholarly publishing overall. Reasons for this included the potential for ‘devastating’ loss of revenue, inability of authors to pay, and concern that ‘Open Access’ might be mandated by various governing bodies and funding agencies (p.13)."

What about authors’ reaction to these changes in scholarly publishing? We know from personal experience and anecdotally from talking with other users that full-text, online content is highly desirable. At this time, however, when only a modest amount of scholarly content is truly open access, it is intellectually limiting to rely only on access through a Web search engine.

The Future?

Only some things are clear. User expectations for quality, online content will continue to increase. Libraries and database publishers will continue to adapt in an effort to provide reliable, comprehensive tools for access. Web search engines will sustain their objective to be the one-stop search destination through new technological applications and more partnerships with publishers. However, the biggest questions surround which business models will survive and what will open access look like. The economic realities of publishing will not be dismissed. Someone has to pay.


Barbara F. Schloman, PhD, AHIP
Associate Dean, Library Public Services
Libraries & Media Services
Kent State University
Kent, OH 44242

Disclaimer: Mention of a Web site does not imply endorsement by the author, OJIN, or NursingWorld. Links to web sites are current at the time of publication, but are not subsequently updated.


Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers. (2005). The facts about Open Access. Retrieved on May 1, 2006, from

Plutchak, T. S. (2005). The impact of open access [Electronic version]. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 93,419-421.

Citation: Schloman, B. (June 19, 2006). "Information Resources: Open Access: The Dust Hasn’t Settled Yet." OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Vol 11, No.3.