Open Access

An Introduction

Open access refers to the practice of making peer-reviewed scholarly research and literature freely available online to anyone interested in reading it. Open access has two different versions—gratis and libre.

Gratis open access is simply making research available for others to read without having to pay for it. However, it does not grant the user the right to make copies, distribute, or modify the work in any way beyond fair use. Libre open access is gratis, meaning the research is available free of charge, but it goes further by granting users additional rights, usually via a Creative Commons license, so that people are free to reuse and remix the research. There are varying degrees of what may be considered Libre open access. For example, some scholarly articles may permit all uses except commercial use, some may permit all uses except derivative works, and some may permit all uses and simply require attribution. While some would argue that Libre open access should be free of any copyright restrictions (except attribution), other scholars consider a work that removes at least some permission barriers to be libre.

In addition to the gratis/libre distinction regarding users’ rights to a work, there are also distinctions regarding the venue in which open access works are published and archived—green and gold. Green open access involves authors self-archiving their articles by sharing them on their own website, or more preferably, in their institution's Institutional Repository or in some other public archive. Gold open access articles are published in a journal that is open access, which means the journal will handle hosting and distributing the journal article in a free and open manner. Gold open access can come with a cost—some gold open access journals have publication fees that need to paid by the author (or the author's employer) to cover the cost of publishing the article. These publication fees can be costly, but thankfully less than a third of gold open access journals have a publication fee. Currently, most Gold open access journals are still publishing gratis (free of charge to read) as opposed to libre (free of charge to read, copy, distribute, etc).

Why does open access matter?

New knowledge is built by synthesizing current scholarship and then building upon it. If the current scholarship is behind a pay-wall, only those who can afford access can truly contribute to moving our knowledge of a subject forward. Non-Open Access Academic journals can be very expensive, making scholarly research a costly undertaking for someone with a limited research budget. Academic libraries have subscriptions to a large number of scholarly journals, and many allow members of the local community to access the library's journals if they visit the library in person, but the ever rising costs of journal subscriptions is a burden on libraries' budgets. A single institution's annual subscription can cost university libraries anywhere from $5,000 to $600,000. Instead of being stuck behind a paywall imposed by often exorbitant subscription prices, Open Access research can be read by anyone with access to the Internet. Open Access levels the playing field so that an independent scholar, an adjunct faculty member at a small college, and a tenured faculty member at a major research university have the same level of access.

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What are Open Access Resources (OAR)?

Open Access Resources are research materials that have been made available to the general public, free of charge: data and datasets, books and articles, including scholarly research articles.  This is not the same thing as public domain works, or those items that have fallen out of copyright protection; open access authors have chosen to share freely, so anyone can use the works legally without permission or fees.


You don't need a domain username and password to use these resources, but remember that they may be limited by your location and you may have to register or subscribe before you can start using them. Some may be distributed in either print, electronic form, digital or audio formats that may be downloaded or purchased at little or no cost.

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More Information

  • The Open Access Directory (OAD)
    It is a compendium of simple factual lists about open access (OA) to science and scholarship, maintained by the OA community at large.
  • The Case of Open Access
    Position statement from the Public Library of Science (PLOS)
  • The Definition
    The advantages of open access to the public
  • The Open Access Stories
    Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment. Open Access ensures that anyone can access and use these results—to turn ideas into industries and breakthroughs into better lives.