Used primarily by early technology adopters and ‘freedom of information’ activists in the 1990s, Open Access (OA) has now become a widely established mechanism to make available research in digital format free of charge – and increasingly often also free of licensing restrictions. In the last few months alone, Science, Nature, and a range of other journals and publications dedicated news items, editorials, and special issues to the topic. In tandem with an increasing number of research funders, national administrations, and universities publishing OA policies, the idea that publicly funded research should be available for public use with as few barriers as possible is becoming widely accepted.
There are, however, a number of obstacles to OA being utilised more widely and more creatively in the research community. These obstacles mostly derive from a lack of awareness on the part of various relevant actors. Among researchers, some old myths retain a certain currency– for example, that OA invariably costs money, and that peer review is necessarily less rigorous in OA than in ‘traditional’ academic publishing. At the same time, research institutions and policy makers often lack awareness of the diversity of needs of particular groups of researchers, and of how OA publishing relates to other trends within the growing field of digital scholarship.
To improve our understanding of the needs of researchers in different academic disciplines regarding OA, COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) – an intergovernmental framework supporting cooperation among scientists and researchers across Europe – recently supported an independent Strategic Initiative to better understand issues pertaining to OA publishing across a range of disciplinary clusters. This Initiative, which I had the honour of chairing, organised events with actors and stakeholders in the field, as well as a policy briefing meeting in Brussels, earlier this year. The Reports from these meetings, and an article that the core group of the Initiative wrote together with the policy officer on OA in the European Commission, Daniel Spichtinger, are available online. We would love to receive comments and suggestions!