Blog post

How do I benefit from Open Access and Open Research?

24 October 2022

By Holly Limbert and Caroline Ball

Open Access is the free and unrestricted access to research publications which means research articles are no longer hidden behind paywalls, so they are both more discoverable and accessible to fellow researchers, academics, and students. This results in a wider readership and, consequently, greater evidence of impact. That, in itself, is a key benefit.

In higher education, we are working in an era of inflation and squeezed library budgets. No institution, not even the top-ranked universities, can afford to subscribe to everything. Open Access levels the playing field. This is particularly important for global research, where individuals and groups in some geographical areas are frequently disadvantaged by not having access to the same large journal packages and databases as richer Western institutions.

Open Access also means research is available to the public. This is especially important at a time when fake news and disinformation is proving such a danger to civic discourse and public understanding. Free, unrestricted access to accurate and peer-reviewed information is vital to a healthy and functioning democracy, particularly when much of this research is publicly funded via tax.

In recognition of this, for example, in 2020 the World Health Organization and Wikimedia Foundation collaborated to expand public access to current and accurate information about COVID-19. This relied on Open Access and Creative Commons licensed material (WHO, 2022.). During this time, the sector also saw an explosion of preprint culture - scholars and scientists sharing early findings on COVID-19 online prior to official publication. The culture of sharing became more prevalent than ever and undoubtedly helped to speed up progress towards the first vaccine.

Social media has a role too…

Altmetrics are increasingly being used to complement the measurement of research impact. Altmetrics, or alternative metrics, is information about where research is being discussed and shared via social channels and media in the widest possible sense.

Open Access articles are likely to have higher attention scores (Digital Science, 2022) simply because more people have access to them. You cannot talk about or discuss research you have not seen! Measuring mentions of research on Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and other media can complement measures of the public impact of research, alongside more traditional scholarly metrics. For example, studies have shown that Open Access titles are up to 47% more likely to be cited on Wikipedia (Teplitskiy, M., Lu, G. & Duede, E. 2017). And, with Wikipedia serving as the main source of information for Google info boxes and Siri and Alexa information bases, this is an excellent way to disseminate research to a wider audience.

But who actually owns the content in an Open Access world?

We live in a more Open world than ever. However, ensuring the dissemination of research to a global audience cannot be fully achieved without researchers and scholars taking ownership of their creative output. This is where rights retention comes into play. This transfers the balance of power from an all too often-restrictive academic publishing industry back into the hands of those who conduct the research, write the papers, and carry out the peer review! Ultimately, this is Open Access in its truest form where the possibilities for sharing and communication are endless and controlled by the creators. This is hugely beneficial for increased visibility for researchers, and more importantly, to ensure that the culture of research becomes more Open, accessible and transparent.

A change in culture

An Open Research culture, which is concerned with making all aspects of the research process more collaborative, transparent and efficient, has so many benefits. Open Access is central to achieving this but is just one of the ways in which research can be more visible and accessible online. Other aspects include embracing Open Research practices such as the use of persistent identifiers (PIDs). These are strings of numbers and/or letters added to digital publications and or researchers, as with ORCiD (open researcher and contributor ID) and DOI (digital object identifier). These PIDs ensure:

PIDs are a fantastic way to elevate online visibility of researchers and their work. Plus, they open the channels for communication and the possibility for collaboration across disciplines too.

In a world where accountability and transparency are vital for the research record and to ensure that all those involved with the research process are attributed, many publishers and scholars are using Contributor Roles Taxonomy, or CRediT, more frequently. CRediT is used to ensure that those who may not have been credited for their work in the past are highlighted for their contributions to the final output, highlighting this within research publications (CRediT, 2022). The launch earlier this year of Octopus, a new free-to-use, Open Access publishing platform, also demonstrates how being Open in the widest possible sense and thinking outside of the norm when it comes to publishing research outputs can bring positive disruptions to publishing research outputs (Octopus, 2022).

So why has it taken so long to see the benefits of Open Access and Open Research?

Both CRediT and Octopus represent a shift in the scholarly communications landscape where traditionalism, closed access and who can contribute to the research conversation is being turned on its head. The benefits are clear: openness, transparency, and a willingness to share beyond academia means greater impact on a global scale. Embracing these Open Research practices will significantly elevate the online presence of scholars and dissemination will increase exponentially.

So why has it taken so long to get here and why is most of academia still closed off? Unfortunately, more people need to realise the value of being Open over prestige, the importance of wider readership over which venue to publish in. And scholars need to move away from choosing a publisher largely based on their name and reputation (Barnes, L. 2020). According to Curtain University Open Knowledge Initiative, in the United Kingdom, only 49% of publications are currently Open Access (COKI, 2022). A large percentage of content and the work that is being published in the UK and beyond is still inaccessible. This means subscription access is still dominant, and the large academic publishers are reluctant to move away from this practice.

An Open Access future?

The benefits of Open are clear and the future of research should be an Open one. For this to become a worldwide and complete reality, issues of inequality, inaccessibility and the hindering culture of prestigiousness need to be addressed. We all have a responsibility - libraries, higher education institutions, research organisations, publishers and researchers - to ensure that access to information remains a public good!

Holly stands on a cliff holding a dog, the ocean is in the background.

Holly Limbert
Repository and Open Access Librarian

I'm an information specialist and Open Access (OA) expert who sits within the Research Liaison Team in the library. My research interests encompass libraries, both academic and public as sites of power and as agencies of culture. 

Caroline Ball

Caroline Ball
Academic Librarian for the College of Business, Law and Social Sciences

I am the academic librarian for BLSS. I am a trustee of WikimediaUK and co-founder and campaigner of the #ebookSOS campaign. My research interests involve the pedagogic value of Wikipedia as a teaching and learning tool, copyright and licensing relating to libraries, fan studies and knowledge equity