Open Access (OA) is the immediate, online, free availability of research outputs.
Through Open Acces, the results of publicly funded research are freely available online and do not have to be bought (back) from the publishers by the scientific and scholarly institutions. The fact that the public sector has to fund research three times over is often criticised: firstly, the scholars and scientists carrying out research and submitting their findings for publication are usually paid by the public sector. Secondly, the submitted manuscripts are peer reviewed by colleagues who are also paid by the public sector. And thirdly, when the articles are published they must be purchased from the publishers by publicly-funded libraries and institutes.
As a result of the serials crisis and the major increase of journal prices, libraries are being forced to cancel journal subscriptions which means that they are unable to make certain journals available to their users. OA offers a solution to the serials crisis and a way out of the information supply problems it brings. Information which is made openly accessible online can be located easily and is immediately available to scholars, scientists, students and the interested public, without them having to pay a charge.
The main advantage of making research Open Access (OA) is often summed up in two words: visibility and impact. OA articles are much more widely read than those which are not freely available on the Internet. Webwide availability leads to increased use which, in turn, raises citation rates, a fact that has been empirically supported by several studies. Depending on the field in question, OA articles achieve up to three times higher citation rates and they are cited much sooner. Through OA, scientific research is available for individual researchers and students, even if they are on a small budget. OA is beneficial for poorer institutions as well, since it offers a way to avoid the high journal subscription fees. On a global level, OA enables people from poorer countries to access and utilise scientific knowledge and information which they would not otherwise be able to afford.
There are several ways to publish in Open Access: you can self-archive your publication into an institutional repository (the ‘Green road to OA’) or you can publish directly in an OA journal (the ‘Golden road to OA’). And also add this publication to your repository for better dissemination and archiving. A lot of traditional ‘closed access’ journals also offer the possibility to make individual articles Open Access, after paying a (often big) Article Processing Charge. While these ‘hybrid’ journals have a positive influence on the total amount of Open Access articles available, the fact that the journal as a whole remains closed does not remove the need to purchase journal subscriptions.
In the ideal situation, Open Access is not just limited to ‘accessible without cost’, but additional rights are granted too, such as the right to re-use, redistribute, mine. See Open Definition for the description of Open in this context.