What’s the deal with “Open Access Week”?

This is just a copy of the Open Access movement's unofficial logo. It kind of looks like an open combination lock [unlocking content], while also stylistically incorporating both an "a" and an "o".

Last week was Open Access Week (or OAweek as the hashtag goes), both at UofT and around the world. The UofT Libraries and the Scholarly Communications and Copyright Office were pretty big on pushing OAweek, but when I mentioned to the other bloggers that I was planning to write on it this week they asked: "What is OAweek and what does 'open access' mean?". Good questions. Important questions. Let me start answering by asking another question:

How much would it cost you to write your last essay without library access?

That means, if you had none of the free access to journal articles, papers, ebooks, and other resources provided through the libraries here, how much money would you have to pay to access those resources you needed to write that last paper? Andrea Kosavic did the math on one of her papers about open access (yup: ironic); her answer? $488.96 USD. And that's only because half of her sources were open access (we'll get to defining that in the next paragraph). I took her example and did the math on one of my own papers. Thankfully, most of my works cited were open access too, but the three papers I cited which were not would have cost me $38.97.

Can you imagine paying almost $500 to submit a class paper?

The fact is, we have great access to resources through our library system, but a lot of the world does not. The Open Access movement is about creating unrestricted online access to peer-reviewed scholarly research. That means that anybody, anywhere, should be able to have access to scholarly research and knowledge, for free, online, from anywhere, regardless of who they are. There are a few reasons to do this. First, it makes it cheaper for students to access scholarly research needed to do the work we're assigned. Did you know that the University spends $14,000,000 on journal subscriptions per year?! That's more than the tuition of 2,317 domestic students. That's a huge amount of money to be spending to make resources available, when they could be free.

And it's not just students, but researchers everywhere. It's hard to do original research when you need to pay money to do it, and especially hard for those who do not have access to the resources we are privileged with. How many researchers do you think there are at institutions who can't afford journal subscriptions, or who aren't even affiliated with academic institutions? How can public libraries afford to keep up with costs like this? This is what OAweek is about: raising awareness for open access issues. The video below (by the guy behind PHD comics) gives a really good survey of what we talk about when we talk about open access, as well as addressing the money matters: the costs of publication and the roles they play in the open access movement.

What roles can we play? Well, as potential future academics, we can make a commitment to ensuring our own future publications are published in an open access paradigm. More open access journals are popping up all the time, so it shouldn't be a difficult task in the end. But there's also a need for an attitude check. It's not just about making articles free and available, but recognizing that everyone ought to have access to knowledge and knowledge media. Keep that in mind when you're pricing out your next paper.

Have any questions or thoughts on the Open Access movement? Leave them in the comments below!

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