The free distribution of research and knowledge 

By Karen Herland

If knowledge is power, there are those who would control it and those who would share it freely. Open access is the free distribution of research and knowledge.

“The results of publicly funded research should be available to the public,” said Annie Murray, Librarian for Digital and Special Collections, speaking at a workshop on open access she and her colleague Tomasz Neugebauer, responsible for digital projects and systems development, gave on March 19 as part of the libraries’ series of workshops for researchers.

The session provided an overview of open access concepts and resources available for researchers, all linked on the library website at

Murray started with open access advocate Peter Suber’s definition: “Open access literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.”

Open access works can be read, cited, included in your course packs or linked to from your own website. The advantage is a wider audience for research and more potential for citations or acknowledgment.

Neugebauer pointed out that researchers used to communicate their findings by personal letter. Scientists could benefit by building on each others’ work and by establishing a paper trail of who discovered what and when.

At a certain point, academic journals took on this role. Peer-reviewed journals validate the veracity of research and coordinate its dissemination to researchers interested in the same concepts.

However, what began as an attempt to broaden the access to knowledge has, in some cases, limited it with spiraling journal subscription rates. The average institution is struggling to meet the specialized needs of the broad range of researchers it serves.

Open access provides peer-reviewed material in a coordinated manner – all it requires is the permission of the rights holder.

Neugebauer cited ArXiv, a digital repository established for physics researchers in 1991 as “a success story for open access.” After nearly two decades, ArXiv has expanded to include a half million items in mathematics, computer science, biology, finance and statistics.

Some journal publishers are using programs such as Open Journal Systems to establish online, open access journals that can be accessed through search engines like OAIster or Google Scholar.

Neugebauer points out that despite many researchers’ fears their institutions, funders or potential publishers expect exclusive rights to any work they have commissioned or accepted for publication, the reality is quite different.

SHERPARomeo, a web site providing the copyright policy of numerous publishers demonstrates that over 60% formally allow authors some form of self-archiving of their work, either before or after it has been edited by the review committee.

Similarly, SHERPAJuliet, lists the policies of funding bodies as regards open access. Several funders encourage the dissemination of research results through some sort of public archiving program.

Finally, an increasing number of institutions are offering the opportunity or researchers to deposit their work within an institutional open access repository. Concordia’s repository is set to open in the fall with retrospective Concordia theses as the bulk of its initial content.

A working group is currently preparing a position paper and will be initiating a dialogue on the topic soon.

Meanwhile, Congress 2010 convener Ronald Rudin has identified open access as a key theme of next year’s conference. “We are currently planning several key speakers and panels on the subject. It’s going to be a major focus of congress.”


Concordia University