Last week, the James A. Gibson Library joined the international celebration of open access week with a number of events. This programming was meant to highlight the need to develop open systems of sharing research that are inclusive and equitable. Events included a webinar entitled “Exploring Open Educational Resources” and a screening of Paywall: The Business of Scholarship.
Open access refers to the free and immediate online availability of research articles with the complete right to reuse material. The general idea behind open access is that publicly funded research should be available to everyone at no extra cost.
Through the Brock library, every student has access to a large number of publications to use in completing course work, as is the case at most post-secondary institutions in Canada.
Occasionally, the necessary information is not available at the library. If the research is closed access and not in the university databases, it can cost students upwards of $200 in individual subscription fees to search journals that may or may not contain relevant information. Should students in that situation seek to publish their research, they would not only have to go through a stringent application process for acceptance into a journal, but also shell out on average over $1,000 in publishing fees. For many independent researchers those fees are simply too overwhelming.
Open access can benefit students in scenarios like these because publishing fees are much lower, the discoverability of manuscripts increases, thus making it easier for people to find out about student research. The process aids innovation in each field by opening up independent research and work to others who could have ideas for applying the findings in new ways. In terms of general resources, open access can also refer to availability of certain textbooks and course materials free of charge, which is greatly valuable for any student whether or not they are taking part in research.
For publicly funded research to significantly benefit society, it has to be accessible, not only to the more affluent people among us, but also to private organizations and provincial and municipal governments. The research that is used by affluent organizations would be released to all to use in solving burning problems, creating innovative products and technology, educating people and aiding in making informed political policies.
Brock’s library can pay for access to several scientific journals, but that’s not the case for many private research and development departments, municipal governments and institutions with less funding than Brock. Scientific knowledge and research information is not just for academic scientists fortunate enough to be affiliated with large research universities in developed countries; individuals from less privileged backgrounds can have the talents and drive to contribute to scientific research and understanding but are currently at a severe disadvantage because resources are not accessible to them.
Even libraries at some of the bigger research universities can face struggles with the ever-increasing subscription costs of scientific journals, due to the ability of publishers to set the prices of “must-have” journals. Publishers tend to argue that publishing fees have to be as high as they are because the publishers still play an essential role in ensuring the quality of published research. Much of that quality control is performed by the scientists themselves. Some of the biggest journals with professional editors rely on countless volunteer hours clocked in by scientists who review the manuscripts. Additionally, the scientists whose works are published in these journals rarely receive pay at all.
One of the biggest reasons for students to push for open access resources is to ease financial constraints that many face with course materials. This also applies for students who plan to be involved in research in the future and will need to interact with journals and previously published manuscripts. With many students already dreading paying back student loans, open access resources are used to lighten the financial burden.