Beginning in the 1980s but accelerating over the last decade, libraries have been unable to keep pace with the skyrocketing costs of scholarly journals. For both private and publicly-supported research universities the publication “circle” looks something like this: 1) scholar obtains money to conduct research, perhaps through government grants or internal, tuition-supported funding; 2) scholar conducts and then publishes research in peer-reviewed journal; 3) university library “buys back” scholarly research from for-profit or societal journal publishers. The problem? Academic libraries, whose budgets sometimes do not even take inflation into account from year to year, can no longer afford to buy journal titles, especially in the sciences. Did you know, for example, that the annual $19,396 paid by Brown University Library for the journal Nuclear Physics A & B, matches the price of a “new midsize car” (Brown University’s George Street Journal).
Libraries and others who care about open access to scholarly information are fighting back. “SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, is an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system… It’s pragmatic focus is to stimulate the emergence of new scholarly communications models that expand the dissemination of scholarly research and reduce financial pressures on libraries” (About SPARC). The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is another such initiative. DOAJ defines open access journals as ones that “use a funding model that does not charge readers or their institutions for access” (About DOAJ). Explore DOAJ’s list of 110 scholarly, open access journals in history.
Who benefits from these initiatives? In my view scholars, libraries, small and even large publishers benefit when research is made readily available to industry and the public at large. Think about it this way: It is reasonable to expect that the public will be more willing to support research that is readily available, and that the impact of this research will be greater and longer lasting.
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the open access community is scholars’ fear that publishing in open access journals will not advance careers or lead to tenure. After all, academic journals were created in the first place, in part, to promote the careers of authors. Scholars are also often concerned with a journal’s impact factor. Despite these concerns, however, new information technologies and initiatives such as SPARC and DOAJ are here to stay. Consider the benefits of open access today!