Open Access Support for University of Nottingham Authors

Introduction | RCUK & Open Access | Open Access FAQ | Using a Repository | Help

What is Open Access?

Open Access is . . .

If an article is "Open Access" it means that it can be freely accessed by anyone in the world using an internet connection. This means that the potential readership of Open Access articles is far, far greater than that for articles where the full-text is restricted to subscribers. Evidence shows that making research material Open Access increases the number of readers and significantly increases citations to the article - in some fields increasing citations by 300%.

What Open Access is not

It is important to point out that Open Access does not affect peer-review; articles are peer-reviewed and published in journals in the normal way. There is no suggestion that authors should use repositories instead of journals. Open Access repositories supplement and do not replace journals. Some authors have feared that wider availability will increase plagiarism: in fact, if anything, Open Access serves to reduce plagiarism. When material is freely available, the chance that plagiarism is recognised and exposed is that much higher.

Why is Open Access being chosen by funders?

The current methods of disseminating research results, typically through subscription based journals, have grown up over many years. Recently, the advent of the internet has made different and cheaper forms of communication possible and opened up a far wider readership. However, this potential has still not been realised. Although e-journals have been introduced in many disciplines, these have often been structured to reflect the older paper-and-print system along with its costs and its restricted readership. Funders have realised that making material Open Access vastly increases the readership of articles and other work; increases the use of research and increases the speed of dissemination.

Surely the current system works?

Journal price rises over the last decade mean that most universities can no longer afford subscriptions to all of the journals that their academics need. Even if a journal is available on-line, this does not mean it is freely available: university libraries pay large subscriptions to allow their academics to easily access journal materials on-line. Price rises that are many times the rate of inflation continue to be imposed each year, further restricting access to journal articles. The situation is even worse in the developing world, where journal subscription prices mean that many institutions simply cannot afford access to up-to-date research.

Open Access Solutions

Open Access addresses these problems by taking the results of research that have already been paid for and making them freely available on-line, through repositories and websites. This process can have significant advantages for individual authors, for researchers, for institutions and for the process of research generally by freeing up the process of dissemination. Many funders have recognised that the job of research is only half-done if the results of that research cannot reach the widest audience. Many funding bodies, including the UK Funding Councils AHRC, BBSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, STFC have formulated policies to require Open Access to their funded research.

Public Access

Another aspect is that on a national level, most research is publicly funded and yet the general public cannot get access to the results that have been paid for by their taxes. For example, the majority of research paid for and carried out by the National Health Service is not freely available - even to NHS staff. Restricting access to research has many disadvantages. For instance, it means that there is often no readily accessible material available to science journalists or the public to counter the regular scare-stories or reputed miracle cures widely reported in the mass media.

Open Access Repositories

Open Access repositories can hold digital duplicates of published articles and make them freely available. Subject to copyright (see Using a Repository) authors can deposit copies of their finished articles in repositories alongside their publication in normal journals. This is a tried and trusted method: the Physics community has been using a large repository in the USA for fourteen years to store and quickly disseminate their work: it now holds over 400,000 items.

The system works by duplicate electronic versions of articles, or eprints, being deposited into a database, or repository. These repositories are mainly administered by research institutions, which confers the advantage of allowing local support of users. Here in Nottingham, the University has a repository called Nottingham ePrints for the use of its staff and postgraduate students. Items placed here can be viewed for free by anyone with an internet connection world-wide, without passwords or subscriptions. It is far more than a simple website: it is integrated with the hundreds of other academic repositories worldwide to allow cross-searching and cross-repository services like citation analysis or text-mining.

Such institutional repositories share records about their content with service providers, who then offer search services to users across every record that they hold. This means that a researcher using a search service is searching across all repositories, not just individual ones. Once the researcher finds a record, then they can view the full-text direct from the institutional repository. As well as working with academic services which search only repositories, the full-text is also searched by Google, Yahoo and others.

The available evidence shows that repository use does not affect journal subscriptions. This is a supplementary process which works alongside journal publication to gain greater readership and use of research articles.

Repository content

What items go into a repository? The answer depends on the subject-discipline of the author. Some fields like Biomedicine only circulate refereed material and articles as so-called post-prints. This is the type of material that is required to be deposited by funders' mandates.

If the subject-discipline circulates unrefereed pre-prints or working papers in advance of publication (like Physics, or Economics), then these can be deposited. If an accepted method of communication is through conference papers (like Computer Science), then these can be deposited: similarly for fields that use book chapters or reports. The important point is that repositories reflect and support the existing research culture of the discipline.

Repositories tag peer-reviewed material to make their status clear, so there is no doubt as to what has been peer-reviewed and what is unpublished. Records are submitted and held individually in their authors' names so the only thing that will be submitted in your name is what you want to be there.

Open Access Journals

An alternate way of providing Open Access is to publish in an Open Access Journal. These journals make their articles available for free through charging for the publication services before publication, rather than after publication through subscriptions. Open Access publication charges can be often included within the costs of research funding, so the money for access comes through the research funder, rather than through the library budget. Of course, the initial source of the money is often the same (from government funding), but the economics of this model means that the overall cost should be lower. Peer-review is unaffected and is carried out in the same way. There are a growing number of Open Access Journals, with a journal available in most disciplines. A list of the ones currently available is provided by the Directory of Open Access Journals.

Some publishers like OUP, Blackwell, Springer and the Royal Society are now experimenting with hybrid journals, where the subscription version is still sold, but for a supplement - typically around $3000 each - an article can then be made freely available. The Wellcome Trust will provide money to cover these supplementary costs for the research articles it has funded. The UK Funding Councils see this supplementary cost as being included within full economic costs.

Journals' Copyright Rules

There may be copyright restrictions in making an eprint freely available. Although the majority of publisher and journals allow authors to archive their work under certain conditions, other publishers are more restrictive.

Typically, when an article is published, the author assigns copyright, or gives a copyright license to the publisher. Depending on the particular agreement that is signed, the author retains more or less rights to use the article. Some agreements forbid the author from photocopying the article, using it in teaching, or mounting it on-line. Other agreements are more liberal and allow the author to retain rights to use the article as they wish.

SHERPA runs the RoMEO service, which lists publishers and their associated copyright agreements. Use the RoMEO service to search for a publisher, or a particular journal, to see what rights are assigned to publishers and which are retained by the author.

More about Funders' Requirements

Six out of seven UK Funding Councils now have policies requiring Open Access for their funded research output.

To check the policies of individual councils, use the JULIET service which gives a summary and use the links there to visit the individual Councils' websites where their policies are online.