What is Open Access?

Open access (OA) is the practice of providing access to peer-reviewed scholarly research in digital, online form that is free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. Authors make OA possible: they give consent to share their work openly on the internet.

Open access today takes many forms—from open monographs to open classroom materials—but is most common among scholarly journals. Journals are a primary method of communicating new discoveries in science and the humanities. Journals are widely read both inside and outside the academy, but are especially critical for university students and researchers. Historically, journals have been available only by subscription, restricting access to new scholarship to those with the ability to pay for it. Open access journals, on the other hand, make their content immediately and freely available to anyone on the internet upon publication.

Not Open? Duke Pays for Your Journal Access

While open access journals offer their content for readers without a cost, the majority of scholarly journals still charge subscriptions for access to their content. Duke students, faculty, and staff are privileged in their access to these materials. The Duke Libraries pay upwards of $12 million per year to buy access to these journals and research databases. Many other universities and colleges around the world cannot afford these exorbitant prices, and therefore do not have access to current literature in many fields.

Who Are We Paying for This Access?

Over the long history of scientific journals (2015 marked the 350th anniversary of their inception), there were many publishers in the field, from small societies to larger companies. However, over the last three decades, a number of major corporate publishers have been buying up smaller companies and consolidating the publishing world. Today, there are only a few major players which, as this 2015 article published in open access journal PLOS One shows, control over 70% of the published papers in the world. What does this mean for academic literature?

Four or five major publishers have built an oligopoly that allows them to extract massive profits from the research system by steeply increasing prices for the many journals they now control. A recent story in The Guardian explores the history of commercial publishing of scientific research and how this transition to major publishers took place.

This chart from the article “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era” clearly shows how five major publishers—Reed-Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, Taylor & Francis, and Sage Publications—have drastically increased their control over publishing in the humanities, social sciences, and especially the medical and natural sciences.

These dramatic increases in costs every year have strained library subscription budgets. Open access publication is in part a reaction to these market dynamics, but is also built on a philosophy that argues that scholarship should be available to everyone to advance the collective knowledge of society, not kept behind artificial barriers that benefit corporate publishers at the expense of researchers.

Some scholarly societies are pushing back against big publishers by ending their deals with them to publish their society journals and instead transitioning them to open access. Cultural Anthropology is one of these journals, and Duke helped to facilitate their transition. You can read more about that here.

How Does Open Access Help Researchers?

As a researcher, open access has significant benefits in terms of research impact. What is the overall goal of getting published? To share your discoveries with the world. It’s a part of your professional identity and your work at your university. If you stop and think about it, what is the most effective way to get your research out there? Make it as widely available as possible. How can you do that? Make it open access rather than putting it behind a publisher’s barrier.

Open access journals are rigorously peer-reviewed and now have journal impact factors and citation rates that rival any subscription-based journal. Some have argued that open access articles are more highly cited than closed-access ones. The data is still being collected and debated, but whether or not you have the statistics in front of you, there’s logic in exploring open options to get your research out in the world more broadly and earn more readers who might not otherwise have access to your work.

Open Access at Duke

Duke has been taking steps to support open access at the university for many years. The major initiatives include:

The Duke Open Access Policy

In March 2010, the Duke University Academic Council adopted an open access policy that applies to all Duke faculty members and provides Duke a license to make scholarly articles authored by Duke faculty freely available via a Duke University Libraries repository known as DukeSpace. While one version of open access is to publish in an open access journal, it is also possible to archive your research in a university repository. Publishers of all kinds have self-archiving policies, which dictate how researchers can share their work outside of the journal itself within copyright restrictions agreed upon in a publication contract. DukeSpace is the venue for Duke researchers to make their work openly available for download by anyone. The Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communication at Duke Libraries can help you explore your options for sharing your research in DukeSpace.

The Compact for Open Access Publishing Equity (COPE) Fund

Open access journals do need to cover costs of publication, and instead of charging subscriptions, many OA journals fund themselves through article processing charges (APCs). This is an upfront fee at the time of publication that the author is responsible for. In many cases, grant money can be used to cover these costs, but when Duke researchers don’t have a source of funds, they can apply for COPE funding. The COPE Fund is a joint effort by the Duke Libraries, the Office of the Provost, the School of Medicine, and the School of Nursing to support open access publishing at Duke. If you’re considering publishing in an open journal, explore COPE to see if you can apply for funding for your article.

Open Initiatives at Duke Libraries

The Duke Libraries are committed to fostering open access outside of just paying APCs for individual articles. There are a number of outside open access initiatives that rely on funding by libraries and other institutions rather than using just author charges through APCs. These projects and publishers operate with the goal of disseminating research openly and are therefore less expensive for libraries to support than buying journal subscription packages from the large academic publishers. Explore the open initiatives by clicking here.

Open Access Success Stories from Duke Researchers

Interested in learning more about how open access has helped Duke faculty and students? Learn about:

Quick videos testimonials, too!

To learn more about how Duke supports open access, contact scholarworks@duke.edu.