Schedule of Events
ProfilesOpen Access JournalsUWSpace
Consultation Process
This is the "Open Access FAQ" page of the "Open Access" guide.
Alternate Page for Screenreader Users
Skip to Page Navigation
Skip to Page Content

Open Access  

Last Updated: Apr 27, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Open Access FAQ Print Page

About This Page

This page answers frequently asked questions about Open Access (OA). It includes information about the movement, the technicalities and challenges surrounding Open Access, and how OA impacts faculty and students.

For information on a specific topic, click the relevant link in the On This Page box.

How to Evaluate Open Access Journals

Predatory publishers do exist. These publishers take advantage of the open access model to make money from unsuspecting researchers. Predatory journals often are not peer reviewed (even if they claim they are), do not have an editing process, and/or claim to have editors that don't exist. Use the following resources to help you avoid predatory publishers and journals:


Open Access

Get Behind Open Access

Access to scholarly journals can cost as much as a car, every year. Your library can't afford it.

That article you couldn't read might have earned your paper an A+. But you'll never know.

While researching the newest cancer treatments for a family member, you can't get past the abstracts.

Get Behind Open Access.

Your research will continue after graduation-the same time your library card expires.

Our taxes fund the research you need. But you can't read it.

The journal you need is at the library-100 miles away.

Get Behind Open Access.


All About Open Access

What is Open Access?


Open Access (OA) is an increasingly important and growing mechanism for scholarly communication throughout the world. “Open Access” is the term used to describe scholarly literature available online free of charge to the user. Such literature may be freely copied, distributed, and used with proper attribution.

From: Promoting Open Access to Research in Academic Libraries by Dr. Priti Jain:

Open Access has the following characteristics:

  • It is free availability of scholarly publication
  • It is free of most copyright and licensing restrictions
  • Materials are available online or on the Internet
  • Material is full text
  • Material can be accessed by anybody from anywhere without any discrimination
  • Material can be freely used by anyone
  • Open Access contents can be in any format from texts and data to software, audio, video, and multi-media, scholarly articles and their preprints

However, it has to be taken into account that:  

  • OA publications are not cost free or cheaper than traditional scholarly communication
    The costs of publication are shifted to other sources, like universities and colleges. For instance, some Open Access journals such as BioMed Central, operate on a model where a university or college pays a membership fee to subsidize the cost of publication. This model is particularly useful for institutions with prolific faculties (Giarlo, 2005).
  • OA publications are free to readers, not to producers, and also, they are not free of rights
    The author grants permission for a broad scale use and reuse of information. The author is assigned the right to be properly and fully acknowledged and no permission is granted to change a publication or to distribute it for commercial purposes (Giarlo, 2005, Tilburg University, 2010).
  • There are two main approaches to Open Access: Open Access publishing, and self-archiving of articles in Open Access archives
    There are different forms of Open Access archives, including institutional repositories and subject or disciplinary repositories (Morrison, 2006).

Other Background Documents:

Top of the page.

What are the origins of the Open Access Movement?


Open Access initiatives can be traced back to the mid-1960s; one of the earliest efforts, Project Gutenberg was launched in 1971. By the 1990s, with the increased availability of the Internet, several issues greatly advanced Open Access:

  • The development of open source software
  • The creation of Open Access repositories by scholars (e.g., arXiv, for physics pre-prints) and institutions (e.g., UWSpace, for UW theses)
  • The public’s desire to access results of publicly-funded research without paying again (in 1997, the U.S. National Institutes of Health launched the free digital archive: Pubmed Central)
  • The escalation of journal subscription costs

Open Access principles have continued to gain the support of governments, scholarly societies, educational institutions, and libraries world-wide. Countless organized campaigns, declarations, and group initiatives such as those of the Budapest, Bethesda and Berlin Open Access meetings in 2002 and 2003 and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) have advanced the movement. As of 2010, Open Access repositories and journals number in the thousands.

Top of the page.

If Open Access is free to the reader, who pays for it?


In the Open Access model, publishers cover their costs in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Charging authors a fee to publish in their journals
  • Selling memberships to institutions; a membership may reduce the amount that authors from the institution need to pay to publish in a journal
  • Receiving subsidies from a university or scholarly society that hosts the journal. In such cases the university or society may generate funds for Open Access publications by selling other publications; through advertising fees; and/or by providing fee-based add-ons.
  • Charging subscription fees for print copies and using those funds to cover costs for both print and Open Access
  • Charging subscription fees for both print and immediate electronic access and delaying Open Access until sometime later, e.g. 6-12 months
  • Publishing both fee-based and Open Access articles in the same journal, and charging author fees for the latter

Top of the page.

How do authors cover fees that may be charged?


  • They might be able to use grant funding
  • If their institution has established a special fund in support of Open Access, authors might apply to that fund
  • If their institution has memberships with Open Access publishers, fees may be reduced or waived
  • Some Open Access publishers may waive author fees for those who simply cannot afford them, typically researchers in developing nations

Top of the page.

What is the relationship between Open Access and copyright?


Open Access adheres to existing copyright law. The copyright owners of the intellectual property (e.g. research paper, data sets, educational resources, videocasts, etc.) own the rights to reproduce or publish the work. In the Open Access model, authors permit free access to their work for scholarly use, with proper attribution. To fit within the definition of Open Access, permissions should include the right to copy and distribute the work. Authors may grant more permissions by appending a Creative Commons license or other Open Access license to their work. Additional permissions could include commercial use and the right to produce derivative works. Authors retain the right to control distribution of their work.

Top of the page.

How scholarly are Open Access journals?


The goal is to make Open Access “compatible with copyright, peer review, revenue (even profit), print, preservation, prestige, quality, career-advancement, indexing, and other features and supportive services associated with conventional scholarly literature.” (Suber, 2004)

  • The term Gold Open Access is used to describe scholarly Open Access journals that provide unrestricted online access to scholarly articles. There are two types of Gold Open Access: Gratis Open Access, which is free online acces and Libre Open Acces which is free online access with some usage rights defined, e.g. Creative Commons licensing.
  • The term Green Open Access refers to (non-scholarly or scholarly) journal articles that are made freely available via subject-based or institutional repositories. Authors are not charged to self-archive in these repositories and content does not go through a peer review process upon submission to an archive or repository. A significant aspect of Green Open Access is the deposit of articles reporting on research funded by agencies and sponsors mandating open access to research results.

One way of maintaining high scholarly standards is to evaluate Open Access journals continuously:

Top of the page.

What is the relationship between Open Access and repositories?


A repository is an online locus for collecting, preserving, and disseminating in digital format the intellectual output of a discipline or of an institution, particularly a research institution.

The intellectual output could include material such as journal articles, before and after peer review, and digital versions of theses and dissertations. It might also include other digital assets generated by academic life such as administrative documents and records; course notes; learning objects; or raw data.

The Directory of Open Access Repositories or OpenDOAR lists over 1500 institutional repositories, subject-based repositories, and repositories set up by funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health in the US and the Wellcome Trust in the UK and Europe.

Such repositories can be Open Access compliant to encourage, or require, faculty members to deposit their research output. For example, all research papers generated from Canadian Institutes of Health Research funded projects must be freely accessible through the publisher's website or an online repository within six months of publication.

UWSpace, the institutional repository for the University of Waterloo, currently houses an Open Access collection of University of Waterloo theses. As well, uWaterloo hosts ENGINE, an Open Access repository of e-prints from the journal Transactions of Vehicular Technology.

Top of the page.

Who pays for repositories?


The costs of developing and maintaining repositories are usually covered by the host institution and individuals are responsible for adding their material.

Top of the page.

How is Open Access valuable for faculty and students?


Open Access publications increase the breadth and depth of information available at no cost to faculty and students or to the Library. Open Access literature can ease the inflationary pressures of journal subscription costs on library budgets, allowing funds to be redirected to other materials. In addition, when students leave the university they continue to have access to these publications and may find them useful in their work, or other endeavors.

Open Access journals review and publish faculty and student research faster and more transparently (e.g., peer reviewers may be known). With a shorter publishing cycle, science and medicine, for example, progress faster.

Through Open Access publications, faculty research can reach new audiences around the world and new research partners can be identified e.g. interdisciplinary, corporate, underfunded and independent researchers. Spreading research to these new readers may increase uWaterloo’s research profile and graduate student recruitment.

Since Open Access research results are readily available to the general public, taxpayers have the opportunity to see some of the contributions of scholars to society.

Students and faculty also benefit from new methods of scholarly communication inspired by Open Access, for example:

  • H-Net Humanities and Social Sciences Online - interdisciplinary organization of scholars dedicated to developing the educational potential of the Internet
  • Jurn - Search tool for open access Humanities journals
  • Open Notebook Science - primary record of a research project is recorded and made publically available online

Top of the page.

What are the challenges facing Open Access?


There are a number of challenges:

  • Is the OA market too small to survive? Only a few institutions worldwide have mandated OA as a means of publishing and archiving academic research.
  • Is there a loss of ‘value-added’ aspects with OA?
  • Is the peer-review process the same as with subscription journals? The peer-review process is integral to academic publishing, and authors and the public need to have confidence that this process is the same.
  • Does Green-OA weaken copyright laws? There is general acceptance that the author-pays model adheres to copyright laws, but there is a concern that the rules can be easily broken in repositories.
  • Is there long-term, viable storage for digital documents? Technologies change quickly and how will OA publishers and repositories adjust? Will OA publishers provide perpetual access to articles and academic documents?
  • Does a completely OA model have financial sustainability? Have the costs of providing OA access been under-estimated by OA publishers and institutions?
  • Who ultimately pays to fund faculty publications? Are researchers using institutionally-provided funds, and if so, how does this re-allocation of funds affect department and library budgets?

Top of the page.



Loading  Loading...