Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment. Open Access ensures that anyone can access and use these results—to turn ideas into industries and breakthroughs into better lives.
SPARC is a global coalition committed to making Open the default for research and education. SPARC empowers people to solve big problems and make new discoveries through the adoption of policies and practices that advance Open Access, Open Data, and Open Education.
View the SPARC Open Access Fact Sheet.
Open access removes geographic and socioeconomic barriers to knowledge, and enables all researchers to read, cite, and build upon your work. By making your work open access, you are furthering the democratization of knowledge and contributing to a greater understanding of our world.
Because open access work is more widely available, readers are more likely to find and cite your work (as found in a number of studies).
Open access is about more than just access, it's about reuse. When you retain some or all of your author rights, you can upload your work to your own website or institutional repository, distribute your work to colleagues, and use your work in your own teaching.
Since open access materials are available freely on the web, the most common way to find them is by using Google or other search engines. To find open access journals that have been vetted for quality and openness, your best bet is the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). To find open access repositories by discipline, try the Directory of Open Access Repositories (DOAR) or the Open Access Directory's list of Disciplinary Repositories.To find open access books, we recommend the Directory of Open Access Books and the Open Research Library (note the latter is still in beta).
Additionally, there are a few browser tools you can use to help you search for open access versions of an article:
Unpaywall finds and presents open access articles that have been legally archived on other websites and repositories to users who may have found a paywalled version.
The Open Access Button is a free tool that allows you to find free, legal articles with just a click and that will email an author to get a copy if one isn't available. It's available as a Chrome and Firefox browser plugin, as well as a website.
Most scholarly open access journals follow a rigorous peer review process identical to those used by traditional subscription journals. One of the basic requirements for journals to be indexed in the Directory of Open Access Journal (DOAJ) is that all articles must go through a quality control system before publication, so checking for inclusion in DOAJ is one quick way to know if a journal is peer reviewed. Most open access journals also have their peer review process outlined on their website.
Open access is an indicator of the type of access, not the level of quality. Many open access journals are highly ranked in their fields, particularly in the sciences. For example, PLoS Biology's impact factor of 12.5 ranks it as #1 in 86 in the Journal Citation Report's biology category. Generally, you can use the same factors to evaluate an open access journal as you would a traditional journal (tip: try out the Journal Evaluation Rubric created by Loyola Marymount University). In addition, for open access journals, you can check for inclusion in the DOAJ and for how well use the journal meets the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) Principles of Transparency.
All works are automatically under copyright protection the moment they are created and fixed in a tangible form. When you enter into a publication agreement with a publisher, the publisher usually requires you to sign over all of your copyright (in which case, you can't even use your published work in your own class!). Authors actually retain more or all of their rights when they publish in open access. Open access journals use Creative Commons licenses, which allow for specific reuses of the work with credit given to the original author.
For more common misconceptions about Open Access, check out "Open access: six myths to put to rest" by Peter Suber, published in The Guardian in 2013.