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Open Access to Research

By Michael Yunkin on January 11, 2017 1:08 PM | Permalink

Ensuring academics and other researchers have immediate access to free, online articles is one of the goals of open access. Digital Scholarship Librarian Andrea Wirth shares insights on open access, why it is such an important issue for higher education institutions across the globe, and how the University Libraries support open access to UNLV faculty and student research.

What is open access?

Open Access refers to scholarly literature that is both free to read and free of most copyright restrictions. While open access conversations hit the mainstream in the early 2000s and focused primarily on access to journal articles, other types of scholarly publications can be made open access. For example many universities, including UNLV, make theses and dissertations freely available to read through an institutional repository. Other areas of the “open” movement include open data, open educational resources, open source, and more.

Open access to scholarly literature provides an alternative to traditional subscription-based publishing models that are often paid by libraries. Subscriptions limit the number of readers with immediate access to research since no library subscribes to every journal and not all potential readers are affiliated with an academic institution.

One point of confusion about OA that I have heard several times is that to make an article open, an author must publish in an OA journal, which may come with an article processing charge. This is not the case. Authors can publish wherever they wish and either take advantage of the rights most traditional publishers grant to authors about posting their final accepted manuscripts online (thus making the peer reviewed manuscript the open version) or by negotiating with publishers in the copyright transfer agreement for rights that allow them to reuse and post their own work online.

Open access resources have been growing in number and becoming mainstream. Examples include the passage of open access policies at numerous research institutions; the 2013 White House memorandum that directs federal agencies to develop plans for providing public access to federally funded research (articles and data); the increasing number of open access journals; and the inclusion of OA journals in respected research tools such as Web of Science and Scopus.

How did you become interested in supporting open access?

Before coming to UNLV, I was both a science librarian and collection development librarian at Oregon State University Libraries. These two roles gave me the opportunity to engage with scholars about information access issues that they were experiencing, as well as participate in the management of the library’s collection budget. During that time, the OSU library faculty developed an OA policy for library faculty scholarship and the university passed an institution-wide OA policy. My position responsibilities gave me insight into the odd situation of authors writing, reviewing, and editing for journal publishers for free and then the library purchasing these same works with subscription funds. That experience was eye-opening and helped make me an OA advocate.

Why is open access important for supporting research? And what benefits does open access offer for supporting research?

Visibility and impact are the areas that come to mind. I think these tie into some of UNLV’s goals for the Top Tier initiative. While every work that is read will not necessarily be cited formally, OA works are more easily available to the public and others who are not starting their research utilizing a library’s journal subscriptions. In fact, some systems including our own Digital Scholarship@UNLV provide data on downloads (how many and where from). Other systems provide alternative metrics (altmetrics) and go even further than downloads by capturing online sharing and conversations about the research.

OA ensures that the products of research are available to anyone interested in them. Many scholars have a target audience for communicating their results (disciplinary peers), but readers could be from a small or big business, a non-profit, the press, another university, government, members of the public interested in information that addresses an immediate need (medical), or potential students and scholars considering coming UNLV and looking at the type of research in which UNLV is involved. Use by these readers may not lead to citations, but they can provide evidence of the importance of research results on society, economy, and individuals.

What impact does limiting access to research have on student and faculty research?

Limited access impacts researchers at all stages of their education and career. Sometimes an information need is time-sensitive and sometimes simple convenience plays a role. Resource sharing between libraries provides a critical service to researchers that can wait a day or so for access to articles, but not everyone has either the time, patience, or knowledge of such services to take advantage of them. For those outside academia, resource sharing or buying individual articles may not be a practical option.

What resources does UNLV offer to support open access?

Digital Scholarship@UNLV is the institutional repository. It houses faculty, graduate, and undergraduate scholarship as well as locally hosted conference proceedings and several open access journals published here at UNLV. Both liaison librarians and the Digital Scholarship department can assist authors with placing their articles and other works in the repository. We can also provide usage reports (readership) of the works (such as articles, theses and dissertations) that are currently in Digital Scholarship@UNLV.

Additionally, we can answer questions on open access and related topics including consulting about journal quality and identifying predatory publishers, publishing metrics, data (discovery and management), copyright transfer agreements, federal mandates for public access to research, and more.