Open Access

Christine Jewell, University of Waterloo Library

Do you follow developments in the Open Access (OA) movement? If so, you’ll have heard the exciting news on the Canadian front.  This past October, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) together launched a consultation on a harmonized open access policy.

The agencies are aiming for a policy that is in tune with global trends toward open access of scholarly literature, specifically, peer-reviewed journal publications arising from publicly funded research. The consultation document, entitled the Draft Tri-Agency Open Access Policy, is modeled after the CIHR Open Access Policy that has been in place since 2008.  The CIHR policy states that peer-reviewed journal articles must be freely accessible within 12 months of publication. The CIHR policy remains in effect throughout the consultation process. The proposed policy would apply to CIHR grants as well as SSHRC and NSERC grants awarded after September 1, 2014. More information and answers to frequently asked questions are posted on the NSERC website.

The consultation stage of the proposal will end on December 13th.  NSERCC and SSHRC are calling for individual as well as collective responses to be sent to


The benefits of open access to scholarly research have been promised for more than a decade, but we are still waiting for the movement’s full potential to be realized.  Academic publishers have long orchestrated dissemination of the literature, and commercial presses continue to maintain a close grip. Yet the historical path traversed by Open Access policy has had some interesting twists and turns that suggest that the structure so familiar to us today is not inherent in a scholarly communication process. Jean-Claude Guédon’s work describes developments that give us a context for future directions.

Initially presented to a library audience in 2001, Guédon’s seminal piece, “In Oldenburg’s Long Shadow”, is an intriguing look at the development of scholarly communication, from its emergence in the seventeenth century to the profound changes we are on the verge of today.  The broad perspective gives us reason to consider alternatives to the current problematic structure.

The Open Access movement is driven by the digital revolution and trends in scholarly publishing such as the soaring cost of journal subscriptions. The Internet supports instantaneous communication and facilitates the sharing of ideas. Ubiquitous dissemination of a polished expression of an idea is technically possible. But this is where traditional channels and innovation collide. The scholarly journal typically claims the right to disseminate in exchange for a stamp of authenticity. Publication in a reputable academic journal is a mark of genuine contribution to the literature.

Scholarly journals coordinate the peer-review process.  As a result of the peer-review process, a researcher, student or scholar can rely, to an extent at any rate, on the merit of work presented by a scholarly publisher. This is a vital and pivotal role in the scholarly communication process.

“…scholars create, discuss and review the literature, and yet are limited in their ability to carry out what might be considered their primary purpose: sharing their research results.”

However, in this context, a number of concerns occur. Consider two huge benefits of the internet – the unprecedented breadth of the dissemination of information, and the speed of the dissemination. In the traditional structure of scholarly communication, these benefits are not optimally realized. The scholarly community – indeed humanity – has an increasing need for swift communication of knowledge. The Internet can help enable this. Reform is imperative in a communication structure that impedes the realization of such benefits.

A second concern is the conflict between the motives of scholars and those of commercial publishers. Driven by the profit incentive, commercial publishers need not hold optimal dissemination as a high priority. Without monetary compensation, scholars create, discuss and review the literature, and yet are limited in their ability to carry out what might be considered their primary purpose: sharing their research results.


Recent years have seen reassuring developments. I’ll mention three here.

  1. Publishers are growing increasingly accommodating. Of the 1350 publishers in the RoMEO database, 71% have policies that permit the author to archive their pre-prints, post-prints, or both (coded yellow – preprints only; blue – post-prints only; green — pre-prints and post-prints).When an author archives a pre-print or post-print article to a subject or institutional repository, it is called Green OA.  With Green OA, the peer-review process happens elsewhere and the author takes the action to make the deposit. The Tri-Agencies recognize deposit in a repository as satisfying the free accessibility requirement.
  2. Gold OA is the type that happens via journals, either open access journals or journals that offer an open access option. More publishers are offering an open access option to their authors, with a fee paid by the author.  The Tri-Agencies recognize the fee as eligible for grant funding.
  3. Researchers have started taking advantage of leverage available to them. An author is not obliged to sign away all rights to his/her work. Simply scratching out parts of an agreement deemed unnecessarily restrictive is an option, as is insertion of desired rights.  Key rights include such things as the right to share a published article with colleagues (even colleagues not affiliated with an institution that subscribes to the journal); the right to post a version of an article on a personal web site or a subject or institutional repository; and the right to reuse portions in a subsequent work.To assist the author with customizing a publisher’s agreement, SPARC provides an author’s addendum that can be completed and submitted along with the publisher’s agreement.  The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) provides a SPARC Canadian Author Addendum.

It may be pertinent here to make note of yet another distinction within OA. While open access is always free access in the sense of free of price barriers, the Budapest, Bethesda and Berlin statements call for the removal of permission (i.e., copyright and licensing restriction) barriers as well. To distinguish these types of open access, Peter Suber borrowed from open source software terminology to coin “libre” and “gratis” for the scholarly communication context. In practice, open access articles are typically only gratis, or free of charge to the reader. Libre OA, less common, goes a step further and removes at least some permission barriers (thus permitting e.g. unrestricted reproduction, distribution, public display, and creation and distribution of derivative works). Funding agencies typically require only gratis OA.

Options for UW Faculty

If not already in the habit of making articles freely accessible, researchers funded by one of the Tri-Agencies might begin to consider their options.

Gold OA is one avenue. An author might opt to publish with an open access journal. The DOAJ is a comprehensive directory of open access journals. Or an author might pay the open access fee to the publisher when the option is available.

Green OA is another avenue. After consulting the RoMEO database, an author might choose to submit to a journal that is listed there as allowing archiving the post-print to a repository.

Green OA can also be accomplished by signing a publisher’s agreement after attaching an addendum that establishes the rights to archive to a repository.

UWSpace is Waterloo’s institutional repository. At present, UWSpace contains only ETDs (electronic theses and dissertations). An option available since 1998, electronic submission of theses and open access to them has been the default at Waterloo since 2006.

Having completed an upgrade in the repository software application, the Library is about to embark on an expansion of UWSpace to contain additional document types, including faculty research. Posting to UWSpace would meet the Tri-agencies’ proposed requirements.  So stay tuned! We’ll have updates on the UWSpace development in the near future.

One thought on “Open Access

  1. Giving anyone access to publicly funded research publications is a nice ideal to shoot for. However, the article in Science magazine (see raises big concerns about publishing in Open Access journals. Whatever policy the Tri-Agencies ultimately adopt, it should not function to encourage and ultimately reward Canadian researchers for publishing in substandard Open Access journals (I am not saying they are all poor quality but the evidence in the above link suggests many of them are).


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