Definition: The Association of Research Libraries describes Scholarly Communication as “the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use. The system includes both formal means of communication, such as publication in peer-reviewed journals, and informal channels, such as electronic listservs.”
The most common form of scholarly communication is the research article published in a scholarly journal. Scholarly journals have been the predominant form for generations owing to their use of a peer-review system to vet the quality of article submissions. However there are many other sources of information researchers depend on to further their research. These include conference presentations and proceedings, white papers, scholarly monographs, and informal relationships with peers. The open access (OA) movement grew out of the desire by scientists to use the internet to remove barriers to sharing their research. This movement led to the creation of online institutional repositories (IRs) for faculty research. At many universities and research institutions, particularly in the STEM disciplines, IRs have been embraced for archiving research articles, pre-prints, post-prints, white papers, data sets, in-progress research, and other scholarly output.
As you might imagine, the OA movement has begun to disrupt the highly-profitable academic publishing business and many publishers have lobbied hard to stanch the movement.
The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), under the aegis of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), is an alliance of academic and research libraries dedicated to fostering a culture of OA in scholarly communication. Their efforts include advocacy, education, and incubating publishing models that leverage open access for the benefit of research and scholarship. The SPARC website is rich with information on OA, open education, and open data. It also includes links to national advocacy efforts and other initiatives related to OA. A few particularly useful webpages are included in the left-hand column of "useful links".
Words of Warning - on Copyright Transfer Agreements and Article Processing Charges
Title 17, chapter 2 of the U.S. Copyright law covers ownership and transfer of copyright. It's important that authors understand their ownership status of their copyrights when they submit work for publication.
A Copyright Transfer Agreement (CTA) is an agreement that conveys full or partial copyright from an author to a publisher of subscription-based content. There isn't a standard contract that publishers use so an author should review each publisher's policies carefully, with attention to the amount and terms of his/her rights that are to be conveyed BEFORE signing a publisher's agreement. In many cases a CTA may prevent an author from re-using text, tables, or data from his/her own work without permission from the publisher.
A point of contention for publishers regards the widespread movement among universities to create online IRs where faculty are encouraged (sometimes mandated) to deposit their published research, especially if it was funded by federal grants or other funding sources that have their own open-access requirements. Most publishers have reacted to this evolution in the scholarly communication environment in some way. Some offer authors the choice to pay an article processing charge (APC) to make their work OA on the publishers website; some have liberalized their rules about self-archiving; some have begun publishing OA journals; and some have chosen to fight the movement. Many publishers continue to prohibit self-archiving altogether except for pre-prints - which haven't been peer-reviewed or edited. Some even go so far as to allow self-archiving but only if the author's institution doesn't have an OA mandate.
Definition: SPARC defines OA as "the free, immediate, online availability of research articles, coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment."
American University does not have a policy on open access for faculty publications and research though the library maintains the online American University Digital Research Archive (AUDRA) for that purpose. If faculty members are interested in making their research more broadly accessible AUDRA is a stable online repository that uses the Open Archive Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesing (OAI-PMH). This enables easy discovery on web search engines and harvesting by large indexes of open access content such as OAISTER.
The OA movement globally has been driven by researchers and funders in the sciences, especially medicine. This is in large part related to the level of funding at stake - federal and private grants, the cost of research, and the cost of journals. The same economics don't apply to the humanities and the social sciences.
Sherpa/Romeo is a searchable database of publisher copyright and self-archiving policies and should be checked before adding an article or preprint to an IR. Publisher policies are color-coded by the degree of self-archiving they permit. The four options are: Green - the author can archive pre-print and post-print or publisher's version/PDF; Blue - author can archive post-print (ie final draft post-refereeing) or publisher's version/PDF ; Yellow - author can archive pre-print (ie pre-refereeing); and White - archiving is not formally supported. Note: though the database includes 22,000 peer-reviewed journals, it doesn't cover non-peer-reviewed publications or books, monographs, theses, or conference papers. If a publisher is not listed in the database, the author should do a web search for the publisher to inquire about their self-archiving policies.
OA Gold is a fifth code and that is for fully-OA journals such as those published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS). These typically require that the author pay an APC. The latest variation is what's referred to as OA Diamond, a status reserved for those who publish OA journals and don't charge the authors anything.
Worth a look
The Open Access Button (www.openaccessbutton.org) was developed by students in the U.K. and is an interactive tool to report when one's research is hindered by being unable to access an article due to a paywall. In their words: It's a "a safe, easy to use browser bookmarklet that you can use to show the global effects of research paywalls - and to help get access to the research you need. Every time you hit a paywall blocking your research, click the button. Fill out a short form, add your experience to the map along with thousands of others. Then use our tools to search for access to papers, and spread the word with social media. Every person who uses the Open Access Button brings us closer to changing the system."
Words of Warning - on Predatory Publishers
Authors need to be aware of two unfortunate trends that relate to open access publishing. Both concern forms of predatory publishing.
The first is the presence of OA publishers whose ethics have come under question because of phony peer-review, deceptive marketing, and misleading communication with prospective contributors . These publishers charge high fees to authors to publish in journals that are little known or regarded in their fields though may have titles similar to legitimate journals. Charging a fee to publish is a common practice in OA publishing so that alone is not enough to cast suspicion on an OA publisher. Authors should research the reputation and integrity of any journal they are considering for publication before submitting anything.
The second issue is the marketing of OA content for sale by for-profit publishers without an authors consent. There are a few predatory publishers around the world who harvest files and metadata from OA databases (especially theses and dissertations) and advertise them for sale on sites such as Amazon.com. This doesn't pre-empt the availability of the OA files though it does undermine an author's intention if his/her goal was free access for all.
The Guerrilla Open Access (GOA) movement
It would be a disservice to discuss Open Access without making reference to the GOA movement. Guerilla Open Access was a term coined by Aaron Swartz in his Guerilla Open Access Manifesto (2009) , and embraced by the community of activists who believed that research should be freely available for the good of science and society at large. They also believe that the proprietary scholarly publishing cartel harms science with their business models and in Swartz's words consider it "private theft of public culture". Their response has been to create online shadow databases of scholarly publications, mirroring content taken from subscription databases and journals. Prominent among these are Sci-Hub and LibGen. Sci-Hub is of particular note because it was created by Alexandra Elbakyan, a graduate student in Kazakhstan who was truly an access have-not. When Elsevier brought a lawsuit against the site and her personally, she chose to take a stand on behalf of the millions of scientists and researchers who are deprived of access to research because they aren't affiliated with better-funded educational institutions. Though the lawsuit has yet to make it to court, as of Feb 2017, both the site and Elbakyan are out of reach of the court's jurisdiction and the site has continued to survive.