Communication Open Access
Stewart Baker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0252


Put simply, “open access” is the sharing of scholarly research at no cost to end users. Although it was first popularized in the Budapest, Bethesda, and Berlin statements in 2002 and 2003, there is still no universally agreed-upon definition for the term. At a minimum, a work must be freely available at no cost. Most proponents agree, additionally, that work must be released under a license that allows for it to be freely copied, used, and modified to qualify as open access. Although open access typically refers to scholarly journal articles, it can also be applied to monographs, gray literature, and other types of scholarly and nonscholarly work. Research is made available as open access in a number of ways. The two main models are “green” open access, where published works are placed in a free-to-access repository, and “gold” open access, where journals publish articles under a license that allows readers free access to their contents. In the nearly twenty years since the first open access declarations, its proponents have been broadly successful in propagating the movement’s ideals, with the result that more and more research in many subject areas has been made available under a green, gold, or other open access model. Many studies have shown that publishing a work as open access increases the number of citations it receives and improves its scores on a variety of metrics, although not all studies show a positive relationship. The growing support for open access, and upcoming initiatives like Plan S, in which a consortium of funders will require open access publishing as a condition of receiving funding, as well as continuing interest in open access from scholars, libraries, publishers, funders, and societies alike, means that open access is set to become ever more relevant to those studying scholarly communications, and research on the topic continues to grow accordingly. Research about open access is often practical in nature, and typically comes from scholars and researchers of scholarly communication, the publishing industry, or library and information science; however, because the benefits of open access apply to those in nearly all fields of study, researchers should be prepared to find studies and proponents that are interdisciplinary in nature or are published in journals outside of the sphere of communications.

General Overviews

Many publications about open access begin with an extremely brief overview of the topic. Suber 2015 remains the best short introduction for newcomers to open access, despite its lack of recent updates. Willinsky 2010 provides a good, brief explanation of many aspects of open access as it affects traditional models of scholarly communication. For a book-length introduction that describes the open access movement in more detail, readers may choose from Suber 2012 and Willinsky 2006, both of which cover the topic admirably. Rowley, et al. 2017 provides a good overview of academic and researcher opinions on open access publishing. More resources can be found in the exhaustive bibliographies listed under Open Access Works, which break down published articles on open access into various categories.

  • Bailey, Charles W., Jr. n.d. Open Access Works. Digital Scholarship.

    Bailey has published several bibliographies and other works on open access–related topics, most of which are comprehensive in nature and date from 2005–2010. Although not all publications are current, they provide an excellent launching point for those interested in additional research about open access.

  • Rowley, Jennifer, Frances Johnson, Laura Sbaffi, Will Frass, and Elaine Devine. 2017. Academic’s behaviors and attitudes towards open access publishing in scholarly journals. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 68.5: 1201–1211.

    DOI: 10.1002/asi.23710

    This analysis of a 2014 survey of over 7,900 researchers describes how academic researchers’ attitudes toward the concepts of open access have changed over time.

  • Suber, Peter. 2012. Open access. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    This book, by longtime advocate and researcher Peter Suber, presents an accessible yet thorough overview of open access. The very short chapter on the future of open access is dated, but otherwise this is essential reading.

  • Suber, Peter. 2015. Open Access Overview.

    Very brief overview of open access and its central issues. Although it has not been updated since 2015, and may miss some of the most recent discussions around open source, it still serves as a good grounding for those who are completely new to the concept.

  • Willinsky, John. 2006. The access principle: The case for open access to research and scholarship. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Places open access into the context of access to scholarship in a broadly historical way, describing open access publication as the latest outcome of a long tradition of making scholarly work accessible. Chapters focus on a specific aspect of scholarly communication, describing how open access affects access, copyright, scholarly associations, and other things.

  • Willinsky, John. 2010. Open access and academic reputation. Annals of Library and Information Studies 57:296–302.

    Although it cites now dated studies on the advantages of open access, other parts of this article provide clarity on the different roles played by open access repositories like and traditional publication in peer-reviewed journals, and how such repositories affect scholarly communication.

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