A Brief History of Open Access

At the end of the 20th century, university librarians around the world found themselves in the middle of a big problem now known as the “serials crisis.” Simply put, the serials crisis was the result of subscription costs for publications rising much faster than inflation for years–libraries (yes, even Harvard!) simply no longer had money for all of the publications they wanted and were forced to make difficult choices between journals.

Around this time, the internet was really coming into its own. Suddenly, through the world wide web, anyone with an internet connection could publish information and get it out to the masses for peanuts. The full potential of sharing knowledge freely on the web was exemplified by the Free Software Movement, and various groups began putting 2 and 2 together.

First came the archives like arXiv.org, which encouraged scientists to self-archive their pre-publication articles into an online depository. Then, free online-distribution journals like the Journal of Medical Internet Research began popping up. In 2000, NIH released PubMed Central, an open access depository that has grown to almost 6 million articles today, and BioMed Central, an open access publisher. The support from the government gave the movement a new In 2002 and 2003, the academic community got together and drafted the Budapest Open Access Initiative and the Berlin Declaration on Open Access, which fleshed out the formal definition of open access and acted as calls to action, gathering a combined total of almost 500 institutional signatures. 2003 also saw the launch of the Public Library of Science, which produces some of the most competitive open access journals today.

Support has poured in from all fronts: academics, institutions, funding agencies, companies, and even governments. In 2005, the Wellcome Trust began demanding that the recipients of its grants deposit a copy of their articles with PubMed Central. Today the fight towards open access has two complementary paths: the gold road, which involves getting publishers adopting open access policies, and the green road, which calls on researchers to self-archive their works in institutional depositories.

For further information, visit:

* Peter Suber’s Open Access Timeline¬†

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