Columns > Published on October 2nd, 2018

Library Love: The Future is Open

Everyone who has attended a college or university has had a moment where they discovered the cornucopia of digital resources available from their library. Or they could have had it if they were library-inclined. Not everyone is in love with libraries as much as yours truly, but there does come a time when Google isn't going to cut it for that final paper. It turns out there are many extremely helpful article databases one can only access when connected with an institution of higher education. The fancier your institution, the more access you typically get. (Harvard has everything, which will surprise no one.) This is all to illustrate a financial model in which information, which is produced by researchers (funded by universities or federal grants), is published for free (no payment to the author), reviewed by peers (no payment to reviewers), and then locked behind a paywall (which institutions must pay to access). The very large corporations that control the journals these articles are published in have raised their subscription costs so exorbitantly that many libraries can no longer afford them. So it is possible for some researchers to publish new findings in a journal that they and their colleagues cannot access because their institution can't afford it. Something seems wrong here.

The OA movement makes me hopeful for a more equitable future where everyone has free access to information and educational tools...

Enter Open Access (OA). This movement started in the early days of the Internet alongside the Open Source coding movement. It has gained significant traction in recent years as journal pricing models have become more and more of an issue. In order for one's research to have impact, people have to read it. Also, under the Obama Administration, a mandate in 2013 required that federally-funded research be made publically available, and could no longer sit behind subscription paywalls. A game-changer! These things combined with other initiatives around affordable textbooks and educational opportunities bring us to where we are now. There are national and international conferences on Open Access and professionals who are focused on creating more OA opportunities and content at their institutions. Open Access Week is coming up October 22-28. The movement is established enough that there are resources in basically every field; some still feel fringe and some are completely normalized. Let's look at a few.


Journals are the driving force behind Open Access. In order for the momentum to carry in your field, you have to contribute to Open Access titles or start one of your own. Does that sound crazy? It's not! Back in 2008, a small group of librarians identified a gap area in publishing and decided to create an OA journal to fill it. The result, In the Library With the Lead Pipe, is a highly-consulted journal in my field—and it has the best name ever! Browse the Directory of Open Access Journals to see current offerings in your area.

Open Educational Resources

Back when I was in college, a semester's worth of books cost upwards of $600. Do some of you remember those days? Rental options have made things easier, but have not solved the problem of the burden of textbook expenses. This is where Open Access publishing has a role to play. Basically no one writes a textbook for the money—educational writers want quality educational materials in the hands of educators. Why not make the textbook freely available so even the poorest student can afford the material? Platforms like OER Commons and College Open Textbooks do just that. These two examples just scratch the surface of what's available. There are regional repositories of open textbooks like TheOrangeGrove in Florida and BC Campus OpenED in British Columbia. Many platforms, like Open Author, have publishing tools built into the platform, so you can publish your own educational content and improve the available materials in your discipline.

Institutional Repositories

It used to be that if you wrote a thesis or dissertation to complete a degree, your document entered the university archives and was basically never seen again. Then Proquest started providing digital access to them, which required subscription. Now, many colleges and universities maintain their own repositories, where theses and dissertations can be discovered on the Open Web and accessed by anyone. Faculty and students can also deposit pre-print copies of their research articles in repositories, thus circumventing the subscription paywall for traditional journals. Winning!!! Here's the repository at my institution: CU Scholar.


And finally, books. Self-publishing fiction and non-fiction has been a thing for a while now, and Amazon deals steady trade in self-published ebooks. There are other options too, like Lulu and iBooks Author. These options put the author in the driver's seat instead of Big Publishing, but that doesn't make your content Open Access. Using an OA book publisher does. Consider my colleague Marcos Steuernagel's tri-lingual book, What is Performance?, which he published through Duke University Press. I don't see one definitive place to browse all OA book publishers, but a good place to start is the Directory of Open Access Books and the Publishers of OA Books wiki. 

Is your brain swimming with possibility? I hope so! The OA movement makes me hopeful for a more equitable future where everyone has free access to information and educational tools, and the authors of creative content get the lion's share of royalties for their work. The future is open. Let's make it happen.

About the author

Stephanie Bonjack is an academic librarian based in Boulder, Colorado. She teaches the relentless pursuit of information, and illuminates the path to discovery. She has presented at national and international library conferences, and is especially interested in how libraries evolve to serve the needs of 21st century patrons. When she’s not sleuthing in the stacks, she enjoys chasing her toddler across wide open spaces.

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