Open Access

Version française: Libre Accès

What is Open Access?  

An Open Access (OA) publication is one that is available freely and immediately online.  OA publications are free from a number of copyright and licensing restrictions: people have the right to not only download digital copies of OA publications free of charge, but also to copy, distribute, and re-use the content.

Why is Open Access important? 

Most academic publications in the world are not open access. Instead, the majority of research is published in closed-access journals, hiding knowledge behind expensive paywalls that only wealthy institutions can afford to bypass. We seem to live in a day and age where knowledge is available only to those who have money - a backward system considering that the internet has made information sharing easier than ever.  If you're still not convinced that OA is the way to go, consider the following points:

  • Profits goes into the pockets of wealthy publishers - not to the scientists who are doing the work. The research itself is usually funded by tax-payer money, and the peer review process is done by scientists on a volunteer basis.
  • It's not just the public who cannot access articles behind paywalls.  Many academic institutions cannot afford to pay for the sky-rocketing subscription fees of most journals. Science is intended to build on previous findings and be self-correcting, but how do we properly achieve this if many of the world's scientists cannot access these findings?
  • We shouldn’t have to live in a world where the manifestation of economic disparities includes disparities in access to knowledge. Is it fair that most university libraries in developed countries can have access to hundreds of academic journals, while students and researchers at universities in developing countries have access to next to none?

Does Canada have any Open Access policies in place? 

Yes! As of May 1, 2015, Canada has implemented a new Tri-Agency Open Access Policy. That means that any federally funded research (research supported by NSERC, SSHRC, or CIHR) must be made open access in some format. Here is a simple flowchart that you can download and distribute, which helps researchers determine whether they are required to make their publications open. Even if you are not required to, we encourage you to do so! 

I'm a researcher. How do I make my research open?

There are two primary different ways you can make your research open.

  • "Gold" Open Access: you can publish your article in an open access journal like PLoS One, PeerJ, or Frontiers.  This means you can download the article easily for free from the journal's website, since it's "open" from the publisher's end as well. 
  • "Green" Open Access:  you can also make your article open even if you don't publish in an open access journal, by making it publicly available yourself. The best way to do this is by depositing your article in an institutional repository, which gets scraped by publication search engines such as Google Scholar. Most journals will legally allow you to do this, as long as you deposit the pre-print version of the article.  This means that even if most of your existing publications are closed access, you still have the ability to retroactively make them open. 


But I'm a grad student! How would I benefit from making my research Open Access? 

 By making your research open, you are increasing your visibility as a researcher within the scientific community: your work will naturally be available to a wider range of scientists, and thus has the potential for being cited more often.  Your research will also be more accessible to popular media sources, enhancing opportunities for connecting with the general public.  If you don’t want to publish in a purely OA journal, be sure to retain your author rights before publishing in a journal; you can do this by using the SPARC Canadian Author Addendum, which will help you keep your right to reproduce and re-use your published work for non-commercial uses.    Talk to your supervisor about this option, ask your institutional librarian more about this, and read more about the author addendum on CARL’s website.

Want to learn more? A really great talk given by researcher Erin McKiernan sums up ways early career researchers can actively support the open movement, and is available here.

This was a useful introduction, but I want to know more! Where can I learn about Open Access?

Here are a list of helpful resources that will get you up to speed on the latest and greatest in the open access community:

  • General Resources:
  • Find more cool resources here

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