Open access (OA) refers to online research outputs that are free of all restrictions on access (e.g. access tolls) and free of many restrictions on use (e.g. certain copyright and license restrictions). Open access can be applied to all forms of published research output, including peer-reviewed and non peer-reviewed academic journal articles, conference papers, theses, book chapters, and monographs.
Over the years, journal subscription prices have risen as library budgets have fallen. This means libraries can't subscribe to all the resources their users need to access.
Recent years have seen a major global movement develop to minimise these access barriers, encouraged by the opportunities that internet technologies bring.
It is felt by many that publically funded research should be easily available, not only to other researchers but also to members of the public. This belief is being reflected in grant conditions specified by various funding bodies, notably the Wellcome Trust and most of the Research Councils in the UK. These bodies are stipulating that individuals in receipt of research grants must deposit their research results in freely available research repositories, either discipline based or institutional.
Research repositories, also known as open archives, may include theses, research papers, conference papers and books. Research articles can be deposited as pre-prints, post-prints or both. These repositories should comply with the OAI-PMH (Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting) protocol so that documents can be located from any internet access point.
Directories exist to facilitate access to all repositories wherever they are based and whatever the subject.
Individual publishers have policies regarding whether they will allow researchers to deposit papers in open archives in addition to being published in their own traditional journals. Please follow this link to find a list of publishers and their policies towards open access publishing.
There are two categories of archive: subject based and institutional.
Subject repositories are organised around a discipline so will contain research material from a number of different institutions.
A major example of a repository of full-text life science articles (nearly 1,800,000) is hosted by Highwire Press, a division of Stanford University Libraries in the USA.
Other examples include:
Cogprints Cognitive sciences
Institutional archives contain research material which will normally have been self-archived by the individual researchers involved. Universities across the world are setting up their own repositories so that the output of their researchers can be made available to anyone. University of Bedfordshire's repository is here.
Directories exist so that research papers can be identified wherever they are housed. The major ones are:
Tools exist in order to search these Open Access repositories. The major examples are:
There are a number of plug-ins (alternatively known as web browser extensions) which you can drag and drop onto your toolbar. These will identify search results where there is an OA full-text available. They are easy to use and work very well with Google Scholar and other large search engines and databases. Click on the below links to find out more, and to install the browser extensions.
The other main vehicle for reducing the barriers to research results has been the introduction of online open access journals. Unlike the traditional system of financing journals, the costs are not paid by the reader (or the library) thus maximising access.
An important point is that peer review is maintained.
For a brief but comprehensive introduction to the subject of open access please read Peter Suber's A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access
For Peter Suber's more detailed description, see Open Access Review
If you want information on Peter Suber, please follow this link
Many universities make theses and dissertations freely available and OATD provides a searchable index.