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About Open Access

The goal of open access is to provide free and unrestricted online access to scholarly literature, thus

"permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited."

The open-access movement originated in the North American natural sciences communities. In the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002) quoted above, the movement's objectives were for the first time formally outlined for all disciplines. Since then, the Initiative has gained worldwide support, as evidenced, for example, by the Berlin Declaration of 2003. The Declaration was signed by individual universities and leading national and international research institutions. By endorsing the Declaration, the signatories affirmed their strong support for the "transition to the electronic open-access paradigm".

Many research funders have incorporated open-access principles into their funding policy. For example, the German Research Foundation (DFG) adopted open-access guidelines in 2006. In Germany, the fact that the DFG-funded information platform, open-access.net, is also supported by the Volkswagen Foundation, the German Rectors' Conference, the Helmholtz Association, the Max Planck Society, the German Initiative for Networked Information (DINI) and several scholarly societies underscores the growing spread and acceptance of open access.

The spread of open access

The success of the open-access movement is due to several reasons (see also the Timeline of the Open Access Movement), for example:

1. The advent of the Internet and its media made radically different forms of scholarship possible. In contrast to the traditional value-added chain of scholarly communication and publication, a new model thus became conceivable and realisable. Under the traditional model, authors assign their knowledge and the rights to their own publication to the publisher. (In the case of journal contributions, this assignment is usually not remunerated.) The publishers then take care of the editing, printing and marketing of the work, and libraries, and other interested parties, acquire the publications for the use of their clientele or for their own use, as the case may be.

The Internet enables scientists to make manuscripts available via their own websites and to establish electronic (open-access) journals themselves. This is sometimes done in cooperation with publishers and sometimes independently in newly-established open-access publishing enterprises. Some of these projects are supported by local university infrastructure (libraries, data processing and media centres). Others are operated without any outside support using non-university providers and the low-threshold software now available for operating electronic journals. Documents are distributed via individual mails and mailing lists, they are archived in institutional or discipline-specific open-access repositories etc, etc.

2. The  foundations of the traditional model had become extremely shaky, as evidenced by the so-called serials crisis which developed around the mid-nineties. While library budgets stagnated or shrank, journal prices, especially in the natural sciences, technology and medicine, spiralled. This led to cancellations of subscriptions which, in turn, caused further price increases resulting in more cancellations. Commenting on this phenomenon, Nobel laureate Harold Varmus [German] said that scientific publishing had "run amok". 

In the ensuing heated debate, the relationship between the various participants in the publication process was critically examined, not only in the light of the technological innovations made possible by the Internet but also from an economic and moral point of view. It was noted that the public sector had to pay several times over before journal contributions were made available to a dwindling public: a) The salaries of the scholars and scientists who give their journal contributions for free to publishers and who do a considerable amount of unpaid editing for them are financed by the State. b) Very often grants are paid by research funders towards printing costs. These funders are generally from the public sector. c) The publications are then bought back by libraries at sometimes astronomical prices so that they can then make them available to scholars and scientists in their own institutions. (See for example: Sticker Shock: The Rising Cost of Scientific Journals.)

The key elements of the open-access idea can be traced to the growing controversy surrounding the traditional publishing model and the emerging contours of a new model. In the words of the Budapest Open Access Initiative:

"An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the internet. The public good they make possible is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds. Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge."

See also Important links.

Implementing open access

There are two main roads to open access, gold and green. The gold road is the primary publication of scholarly articles in an open-access journal. The green road entails self-archiving in an open-access repository, possibly in parallel with or after publication in a conventional journal.

Both roads have a common goal: the exploitation of the already well-documented benefits of open access. These include

  1. the removal of access barriers to scholarly literature;
  2. the free, unrestricted and speedy availability of publicly-funded research findings;
  3. the acceleration of research;
  4. growing visibility and, thus, increased citation frequency for authors and their scholarly institutions.

At the same time, however, reservations persist with regard to the transformation of the traditional model and the imponderabilities of the new model. For more on this topic, see the relevant section in open-access.net documenting arguments in favour of and reservations about open access .

Irrespective of the stance currently taken by individuals and institutions on this controversial issue, the new ways of producing, consuming and distributing scholarly knowledge which have been brought about by the Internet have upset the old, and for many years relatively, stable balance in the relationship between authors, publishers, libraries etc. This relationship is now in a state of flux and new role definitions are called for, as are innovative and flexible negotiations on the structuring of the relationship between the respective actors.

SSOAR is one of these actors. As an open-access repository for the social sciences, we aspire to work together with all interested parties to develop models which seek to productively combine the best of the old and the new.