The mission of the research library is to support learning and research through the provision of access to the world’s knowledge. In the print environment, this mission was pursued by ensuring that patrons had access to all of the print resources purchased by the library. With the internet a new possibility has emerged; that of free and unrestricted access to peer-reviewed journal literature for all.
Expressions of support for OA by library organisations
Open Access is about the notion that the public good is better served when everyone has access to the knowledge created through research. This is also a long held ideal of libraries, which frequently cite open and free access as one of their core values.
Many individual libraries and library organisations have publicly expressed support for Open Access. Numerous library organisations are signatories to the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), one of the first initiatives to define Open Access. The initiative says that “Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.” eIFL.net (The Electronic Information for Libraries) has been an active proponent of the OA movement since its inception and was one of the original signatories of the BOAI.
In 2003, IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) issued a “Statement on Open Access to Scholarly Literature and Research Documentation”. The statement expresses support for open access on behalf of its broad membership of over 1700 library associations, institutions and individuals from across the world and representing a wide range of library types. In the statement, “IFLA affirms that comprehensive Open Access to scholarly literature and research documentation is vital to the understanding of our world and to the identification of solutions to global challenges and particularly the reduction of information inequality. Open Access guarantees the integrity of the system of scholarly communication by ensuring that all research and scholarship will be available in perpetuity for unrestricted examination and, where relevant, elaboration or refutation.”
Costs in an open access system
There is growing evidence that a fully open access environment would significantly reduce the costs of the scholarly publishing system as a whole. A report commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, for example, concludes that “open access is not only a practical, efficient and sustainable model for disseminating high-quality peer-reviewed research, but that it is a system that could also bring savings of as much as 30 per cent” (Walport, 2004). A 2006 European Commission report on Europe’s scientific publication system estimates that, “(i)n comparison with the current reader/library-pay model, both the author-pay and the pay-per-download models would raise price sensitivity – this is especially true of the author-pay model, since substitution possibilities among journals are higher for authors than for readers – and could therefore be expected to lower prices and raise access to knowledge.” (pg. 10) A JISC funded economic analysis undertaken by Houghton et. al. concluded that “(s)haring research information via a more open access publishing model would bring millions of pounds worth of savings to the higher education sector as well as benefiting UK.”
On the other hand, a study commissioned by the UK-based Research Information Network predicts that academic institutions at a global level would need to fund an additional £10 million to support an entirely Open Access publishing system.
The assumptions and variables examined in each of these analyses differ and the reports need to be read in full to be thoroughly understood. It is clear, however, that there is still some debate surrounding the economic implications of OA. That being said, even if the transition to open access produces no overall monetary savings, simply making scholarly journals available to everyone worldwide would still be an invaluable achievement. This alone makes it a worthy goal for libraries.
European Commission. Study on the economic and technical evolution of the scientific publication markets in Europe. January 2006.
Houghton, John, Bruce Rasmussen, Peter Sheehan, Charles Oppenheim, Anne Morris, Claire Creaser, Helen Greenwood, Mark Summers and Adrian Gourlay. Economic Implications of Alternative Scholarly Publishing Models: Exploring the costs and benefits. JISC. January 27, 2009. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/publications/economicpublishingmodelsfinalreport.aspx
Houghton, J and Sheehan, P (2006). The economic impact of enhanced access to research findings. CSES Working Paper No. 23. http://www.cfses.com/documents/wp23.pdf
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. IFLA Statement on Open Access to Scholarly Literature and Research Documentation. 2004. http://www.ifla.org/V/cdoc/open-access04.html
Research Information Network. Activities, costs and income flows in the scholarly communications system in the UK . May 2008. http://www.rin.ac.uk/costs-funding-flows
Wellcome Trust. Costs and business models in scientific research publishing. April 2004. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/News/2004/News/WTD006106.htm