The Access Principle

April 4th, 2006 by Ross Scaife

Thanks to Peter Suber for pointing to Kate Corby’s review of Willinsky, John. (2006). The access principle: The case for open access to research and scholarship. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

It is unfortunate that many academics feel that assuring access to research is not central to their work. They are engaged in attracting funding, completing research and publishing the results. Finding their publications to build further research proposals is the problem of subsequent researchers…

The almost unbelievably high figures on readership for open access journals attest to the demand for scholarly information, presumably stifled only by accessibility. Willinsky openly admits the utopian quality of the open access movement, but also points out that the current publishing model is unsustainable, both in this print to electronic transition period, and in the wholly electronic period that is surely right around the corner. He makes solid points about alternative models readily available, as for example the fact that book publishers have rarely demanded that authors sign over their copyright. He also ventures into a utopian future by discussing cooperative opportunities for institutions and professional organizations to spend the money they currently spend individually for library subscriptions or journal production in ways that guarantee access to all while maintaining financial viability for scholarly publications.
Perhaps the strongest point this book makes is that openly accessible scholarly information is more valuable that information published in journals with limited access. If citation counts and numbers of readers are indicators of the value of an item, then open access materials freely available on the web are the most valuable information we have. This is not the conventional wisdom of the day, which holds that peer reviewed materials in high prestige journals is our most valuable information. Willinsky does a good job of showing how this model is changing. It is important to appreciate that the internet is democratizing information in ways that have already begun forcing changes in how scholarly information is utilized.

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