Why researchers can’t afford to ignore Open Access any more

Paul Rigg, Senior Assistant Librarian for Repositories and Digital Media explains the forthcoming changes to Open Access.

An increasing number of academic authors will recognise the term Open Access, or OA, but given the busy life of the modern academic, many have not had the time to actively pursue a deeper understanding of just what it means, and the benefits it can deliver.  This situation needs to change; researchers who fail to keep up with impending upheavals to the academic landscape risk being left behind.  Allow this blog post to function as your cheat-sheet.

A (brief) history of OA

Although the roots of Open Access stretch further back, the Budapest Open Access Initiative of February 2002 has traditionally been regarded as a watershed, defining OA for the first time as:

“Immediate, permanent, free online access to the full text of all refereed research journal articles.” 

The principle being that if public funds pay for research, the public should be able to read the research output without paying again through journal subscriptions or pay-walls. 

The status quo

Open Access currently exists in two distinct but occasionally intertwining forms.

Green OA:  Authors archive their newly accepted work in a repository (usually institutional or subject-based, like our own BIROn or the Physics repository Arxiv).  Which version of the work is allowed depends on the publisher’s OA policy.

Gold OA:  Authors, institutions or funders pay the publisher an Article Processing Charge to make the final version openly available on their web site.  Pure Gold journals subsist on APCs alone, whilst Hybrid journals are a mix of APCs and traditional subscription models.

The future

Open Access in the UK is about to undergo rapid change.  In July, Dame Janet Finch submitted her working group’s report on expanding access to public research findings.  The Government accepted most of the recommendations with minor ammendments.  Shortly afterwards, RCUK and its affiliated bodies announced that from 1st April 2013, it would closely align its own policies with Finch’s recommendations.

Changes in a nutshell

RCUK will no longer provide funding on a per-project basis for Gold OA.  Instead, institutions will be allocated a block-budget from which Article Processing Charges must be paid.  RCUK will closely monitor compliance with their requirements by both authors and publishers.  To publish RCUK-funded research, journals must either provide a Gold Open Access option, or allow authors to archive their own drafts in repositories, with minimal embargoes.  Where journals allow both options, the author and their institution should decide whether Gold or Green is more suitable.

Non-RCUK funding

RCUK accounts for around 45% of the College’s externally-funded research.  If your funding comes from RCUK, it’s important to keep up to speed with how these changes will affect you.  If your research isn’t funded by RCUK, their policies won’t apply, though whether other funders will follow suit in aligning with Finch is not yet clear.

Where BIROn fits in

The basic framework upon which the college’s Open Access policy is laid remains the mandate to deposit, a Green OA initiative which encourages staff to deposit publications in BIROn immediately, but enables delayed access to the full-text in order to comply with publisher’s copyright requirements.  BIROn will continue to host records and full-text (where copyright allows) of staff publications.  From April 1st 2013, Gold articles paid for by RCUK will be reusable under a Creative Commons licence.  This means that for the first time, BIROn will be able to host final drafts of newly published work by Birkbeck authors.

Learn more

To mark Open Access week, Birkbeck, together with LSE, SOAS, LSHTM and City University, will host a free event aimed at dispelling the confusion around the past, present and future of Open Access. 

Entitled Opening Research and Data, it will feature talks on the state of the movement, issues for researchers, open data, and funder policies.

The event will take place on October 22nd, 1.00-5.00pm, in room B01 of Birkbeck’s Bloomsbury campus Clore Building.  The original ticket allocation has been extended due to popular demand.

Enquiries about Open Access at Birkbeck can be directed to Paul Rigg, Senior Assistant Librarian for Repositories and Digital Media.

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