"Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free to readers, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the Internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder" (Peter Suber). There are two ways to make research open access:

  1. publishing in an open access journal or
  2. depositing a previously published article in an open access repository.

OA Journals ("Gold OA")

As with many scholarly print journals, many open access journals are peer-reviewed.  Peter Suber, a former philosophy professor at Earlham College and a long-time advocate of OA, compares open access to television or radio:  production costs are paid up front by those who want to disseminate the content, which is then made available free of charge to those who wish to access it.  To cover their expenses, OA journals sometimes receive a subsidy from a university or professional society, or they may charge a publication fee for accepted articles, to be paid by the author or author's sponsor.

OA Repositories ("Green OA")

Traditionally, when authors sign publication agreements, they have been required to transfer their copyright and future rights to the publisher.  This has resulted in a system whereby universities themselves are compelled to pay -- sometimes at exorbitant subscription prices -- to view and distribute published work by their own scholars.

OA repositories generally host articles that have been peer-reviewed and published elsewhere.  A repository may include preprints (an unpublished article) or postprints (after peer review and publication) of journal articles, dissertations, and data files.  The University of California's eScholarship program, hosted by CDL, is an example of an institutional repository.  Many disciplines have also created their own OA repositories, such as arXiv, PubMed Central, and the Social Science Research Network.

Because most publishers and journals now give blanket permission for self-archiving in repositories, the burden is on authors to take advantage of this opportunity.  This means that authors may publish in nearly any journal that will accept their work (OA or traditional) and still provide the author's manuscript (Microsoft Word usually) version of the peer-reviewed text to the public through an OA repository.  The UCSB OA Policies allow for self-archiving, or green OA, of UC-authored research immediately upon publication of an article in a subscription journal. The UC OA Policy prevails over signed copyright agreements between authors and publishers.

Surprisingly, the compatibility of green OA (self archiving) with publishing in traditional journals is still one of the best kept secrets of scholarly publishing.

How Open is it?

As the growth of open access across the disciplines and types of publications have grown, so has the technical and insitutional infrastructures to ensure quality, to support standards, and to provide easy and wide access.  As a result, a discourse and standards related to degrees of openness has developed.  This popular, HowOpenIsIt? guide was developed to evaluate the openness of journals.