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Open Access

This LibGuide introduces the basics of Open Access, including different pathways to making your work open, the benefits of OA, OA policies, OA at the University of Melbourne, and more...

Introduction

This section of the LibGuide addresses the question of why you should make your work Open Access and the potential benefits of doing so. These benefits may apply to you as an individual researcher via increasing your reach and influence outside academia; increasing download, Altmetric and citation counts; and providing an alternative source of usage metrics. There are also benefits which support the research community and society more broadly such as promoting the free circulation and generation of new knowledge, and helping to combat the rising costs associated with academic publishing.

 

Benefits for you as a researcher

Influencing an audience outside academia

The key motivation for many researchers when it comes to making their work OA is the possibility to reach and influence an audience outside academia. A number of recent analyses show that decision-makers in business, government and non-government sectors rely on accessing freely available research on the Internet. Research undertaken in Australia with senior leaders and officers from employer groups, including the Australian Industry Group and Minerals Council of Australia found that commencing a search for information using Google or Google Scholar was ubiquitous and also that the material being freely and immediately available - and not behind any paywall or other barrier - was key to an item being used and influencing decision-making.

 

The OA Advantage (Citations, Altmetrics, Downloads)

Numerous studies have examined whether making a publication OA results in that publication receiving greater citations than would otherwise be the case. On the whole, most findings suggest there is an OA citation advantage—the average figure across studies and disciplines has been estimated at 10-20%.

This citation advantage is thought to differ across disciplines. For example, where a discipline has high entry barriers and high research costs, it is possible that only a small advantage exists, because researchers are likely to be concentrated in a small number of wealthy universities that have access to subscription journals anyway. This smaller, exclusive audience is less likely to need 'free' access. Conversely, the advantage may be of greater significance in less well-funded research areas and countries because those researchers have diminished access to subscription journals, and must rely more on open access material.

There also appears to be an OA advantage associated with higher Altmetric counts. Altmetrics detail the number of times your work has been referenced or cited on a variety of online platforms including Twitter, blogs, policy papers and news websites.

Putting aside both traditional and Altmetric citation counts, there is a clear download advantage for OA, with a number of studies showing both a larger volume, and more sustained download activity over time, for OA journal articles when compared with their non-OA counterparts.

 
Alternative usage metrics

Almost all OA platforms will offer a form of usage metrics. Typically, these metrics will detail the number of times your work has been downloaded by end-users, and also the number of times the record has been viewed.

The University of Melbourne's Open Access repository, Minerva Access, provides details of your downloads and views of your publication, as well as a breakdown by country, so you can see where readers and viewers of your work are located. You can also filter the statistics by time period to examine when interest in your work peaks and troughs.

Below you will see the Minerva Access record for a PhD Thesis by Dr Michael Sturmfels which has been made OA in Minerva Access (you can access this record directly here).

 

The statistics available for this publication provide the author with details of the number of record views and downloads by country:

Benefits for the research community, and society

Contributing to open scholarship

Back in 2012, the Director of Harvard Libraries, Professor Robert Darnton, issued a memo to staff indicating that Harvard was no longer able to continue to pay journal subscription charges due to titles costing up to US$40,000 per annum and the overall subscription bill more than doubling in the previous six years. Harvard is known as one of the wealthiest universities in the United States and yet was still unable to absorb the fee increases imposed by publishers. Whilst libraries in wealthy countries struggle to pay subscription fees, in less well-off countries paying subscription fees is extremely difficult and can result in critical knowledge gaps and in researchers and students unable to continue their research or further study.

 
Reaching an audience outside academia

Beyond academia, policy-makers, health-professionals, corporate employees, and interested members of the public, are often simply unable to pay for access to quality, peer-reviewed research findings. A study conducted in Australia in 2014 found almost half of 1000 respondents working in the public policy space in Australia experienced cost and discovery-related barriers to accessing the research they need to do their work and relied heavily on 'grey' literature: reports, theses, working papers, and conference papers that they can find online free of charge. 32% of those surveyed said they would use journal articles more to inform their work if they were easier to find and access.

 
Contributing to transparency and progress in research

Open Access can be considered as a component of a broader push towards making research more open, transparent and accountable. Improving access, transparency and openness to research data, analytic methods, research design, and findings to enable a more thorough understanding as to how results are determined is seen as a crucial step towards combating the current reproducibility crisis in research. Applying a suitable Creative Commons Licence to your work and enabling your findings, data and publications to be re-used or text data mined can also enable others to build upon your work or use your research in novel ways to uncover new findings. 

In addition to ensuring the final version of your work is freely available to as many interested parties as possible, you may wish to consider placing an earlier version of your work in a pre-print repository. Services such as arXiv, bioRxiv, SSRN, RePEc and OSF Preprints which host pre-print materials help to overcome the issues associated with often lengthy publication timelines between having your work accepted and published by a journal publisher which may serve to slow the pace of knowledge advancement.