Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Scholarly Communication: Open Access


What is Open Access?

Open access (OA) to scholarly literature and research, as defined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative, means "its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited." The Budapest definition is not the only OA definition; other initiatives have a slightly more narrow view, permitting unpaid access to works, but not granting full permission to all downstream uses such as data mining or republishing. The SPARC web page has a helpful discussion of the distinction between these so-called 'libre' (all uses and all right) and 'gratis' (free access) approaches to open access. The PLoS HowOpenIsIt Open Access Spectrum guide also provides a very helpful, easy to use guide to understanding how open a resource is.


Reasons for Publishing Open Access

There are many reasons why scholars choose to publish open access. One of the most important and powerful of these reasons is that when a scholarly work is published openly, it has the potential to reach the widest possible audience, one not restricted to a pay-for-access model. Futhermore, some studies have shown (see: Swan) that open access scholarship not only reaches a wider audience than closed scholarship, but can also lead to greater research impact and higher citation rates. Furthermore, when content is openly available, it can more quickly and powerfully facilitate collaboration amongst peers and innovation within and across disciplines. Another reason scholars make their work available on an open access basis is because a funding agency has required research supported with public funds be deposited in a public archive. This trend is exemplified by the National Institutes of Health's public access mandate and the creation of the PubMed Central, a free full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the NIH's National Library of Medicine.


Examples of Open Access

One of the largest and most successful examples of open access publishing is PLoS, the Public Library of Science, a nonprofit publisher, membership, and advocacy organization with a mission to "accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication." Inspired by a 2001 online petition by scientists supporting open access to scientific research, Nobel Prize winner and former NIH director Harold Varmus helped launch PLoS in 2003. Since then, PLoS has become a high impact publisher in many disciplines in the sciences. An earlier and similar example of successful open access publishing, the online preprint respository, came out of the physics community in the early 90s, and was created by scientists unhappy with how slowly corporate publishers were releasing research, a largely for-profit process that they felt was stifling collaboration and innovation. Today, the repository holds over 730,00 preprints in the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance, and statistics. Preprints are an increasingly popular and accepted form of open access publishing across a wide variety of disciplines. The Social Science Research Network (SSRN) is another example of a disciplinary repository containing working drafts and pre- and post-prints in fields such as law, economics, and political science.


NIH Public Access Policy

Investigators with NIH grants are required to comply with the NIH Public Access Policy and deposit final versions of their electronic, peer-reviewed manuscripts no later than 12 months after publication. This policy is in effect for all grants awarded after 2008. See the Feinberg School of Medicine's Galter Health Sciences Library's guide to the NIH policy for more information and details about how to comply.

Faculty and research administrators on the Evanston campus can contact Steve Adams Life Science Librarian, or Cunera Buys E-Science Librarian, for additional help and guidance. Feinberg faculty and research administrators can contact Pam Shaw, Biosciences and Bioinformatics Librarian, at the Galter Health Sciences Library.


Open Access Author Fees

One of the models for supporting open access publishing is the use of author's fees, sometimes also called article processing charges. Under this model, for a fee, an author can publish their work openly, permitting unpaid access to research results and scholarly literature. The author's fee model allows publishers to cover the cost of scholarly publishing without charging its readers, while also making content available to a far broader, more diverse audience. There are several ways for scholars to cover author's fees, including research grant money and applying for funds through an institution's COPE (Coalition for OA Publishing Equity) fund, if it exists. Northwestern has not established a central fund for authors fees. The author's fee model is used by many, but not all, open access publications, but is also often an option at many subscription-based publishers as well. The open access options available from publishers can be found at the SHERPA/RoMEO database.


Northwestern Open Access Fund

The Northwestern Open Access Fund supports Northwestern scholars who wish to make their journal articles openly available immediately upon publication, and to support Gold open access publishers around the world. For more information and to apply to the fund, please go here.



Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)
An important selection of resources for those interested and involved in open access issues.


Right to Research Coalition
R2RC is an international graduate student coalition dedicated to open access to student research and scholarship.


An international database dedicated to providing publisher copyright and self-archiving policies.


Coalition for OA Publishing Equity (COPE)
An institution-based fund to support author's fees for open access publishing


Open Access Overview
Peter Suber's introduction to open access for those who are new to the concept. 


Directory of Open Access Journals
The comprehensive database of open access scientific and scholarly journals. 


Open Access Directory
A wiki run dedicated to open access issues in scholarly research and publishing.


Open Access Week
An annual global event organized to raise awareness and support open access publishing.

Digital Scholarship Services

Northwestern University Libraries


John Dorr
Head, Digital Scholarship Services

Cunera Buys
Data Management Librarian

Josh Honn
Digital Humanities Librarian

Liz Hamilton
Copyright Librarian