Open access essentials for librarians
19 July 2023
By Library Connect
Help researchers navigate the open access landscape with confidence
In recent years there has been a steady increase of research published in open access (OA) journals and platforms globally. This has been led by institutions keen to drive open access forward. These initiatives continue to gain momentum with the introduction of open access policies by major funding bodies, governments and public institutions requiring research they fund be published open access. Open access — the publishing of scholarly literature that is free for anyone to read and share — offers benefits for research and society, so supporting it is an important element of how Elsevier is empowering open science.
Open access has evolved over the past two decades to offer multiple paths for researchers to publish their work, but they may not be aware of the options or how open access helps them meet funders requirements. This is where academic librarians are well-positioned to lend expertise and guidance in navigating the open access landscape to support their researchers and institutions.
This article presents some essentials for understanding the benefits that open access publishing offers as well as the current publishing models.
The benefits of open access publishing
Authors, institutions, and the general public can benefit from open access publishing.
Accessible for anyone. Research published open access can be read by anyone without needing to pay a subscription, reaching the greatest number of readers, both within and outside academic circles. This exposure supports a more timely uptake of important results in both practice and policy making, and more researchers can build on the findings. Open access research outside of one’s field is easier to discover, so it also enables collaboration across disciplines and geographic regions.
Generates higher visibility. Research articles published open access usually have more engagement from public sites and media sources. This brings attention to an institution’s programs and can help researchers advance their careers.
Complies with funding requirements. Recognizing the benefits of open access and open science, many government and institutional funders now mandate open access(opens in new tab/window) publishing of the research they fund.
Defining open access models
Open access models represent a combination of three aspects necessary to publishing quality research:
How publishing services can be adequately funded
How and when readers can access articles and for how long
How published articles can be further distributed or used
Elsevier provides both the gold open access model and green open access route, derived from the subscription model, to enable authors to make their manuscripts available open access.
Gold open access: Articles published gold OA are immediately, permanently, and freely accessible for anyone to read and share. Libraries and other journal readers do not pay a subscription fee to access these articles. Publishing costs are covered by authors (or research funders on their behalf) with an article publishing charge (an APC — see more about this below). This is also described as “pay-to-publish.”
With gold OA, authors retain the copyright on their article, and they are able to apply a choice of creative commons end user licenses, which offer flexible options for sharing and reuse. Nearly all of Elsevier’s 2,700 journals offer a gold OA choice for authors.
Green open access: Also known as self-archiving, green OA is an option where authors can upload a copy of their research article published under the subscription model to an institutional or other repository, which makes it available for anyone to read for free.
These research articles are subject to an embargo period — this means authors may have to wait a specified number of months before uploading the manuscript to a repository. The length of the embargo period depends on the journal.
When publishing under the subscription model and using the green OA route, copyright for the article is usually held by the publisher. However, authors have rights that support certain kinds of sharing to help the research reach as broad an audience as possible. This can include free access to the journal article for the first 50 days following publication, an option for authors publishing in Elsevier journals, plus free access to the article via a range of initiatives. All of Elsevier’s journals support self-archiving/green OA, so authors publishing in subscription journals can meet open access funding requirements.
Diamond open access: Journals and platforms using the diamond OA model are often led by institutions or academic communities, sometimes at a national or regional level, using funding and subsidies from various sources to cover publishing costs. There are several diamond OA publishers hosted on Elsevier’s Digital Commons platform.
Other models: While the above models represent the majority today, you may come across others such as subscribe to open, membership models, and more. Finding and developing good options is an ongoing process for everyone working to improve open science.
Other terms for understanding the open access landscape
Article Publishing Charge (APC): Publishing is more than just posting online. To support the services(opens in new tab/window) that go into publishing academic research, publishers cover these costs with APC fees, which vary per journal. These fees replace the need for subscriptions but maintain the same journal quality. APCs cover many activities that ensure the integrity of research, provide for discovery and readability, and maintain the continuity of the scientific record.
APCs are often covered by a sponsoring institution or research funder on the author’s behalf. They are also reduced for authors working in institutions or countries that have signed open access agreements (see more on these below).
Elsevier also waives or reduces APCs for authors or institutions from low- or middle-income countries.
Copyright and sharing: Articles published open access are freely available for anyone to read, download, copy and distribute, however re-use may have certain protections. Creative Commons,(opens in new tab/window) an international non-profit, has defined several licensing frameworks that authors and publishers can apply to manage certain rights. Two licenses common to open access are “CC BY-NC-ND” and “CC BY,” with the following permissions:
CC BY 4.0
CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Read, print and download
Redistribute or republish the article (e.g. display in a repository)
Sell or re-use for commercial purposes
Translate the article
For private use only and not for distribution
Download for text and data mining purposes
Reuse portions or extracts from the article in other works
Embargo period: The period of time after an article is published in a subscription journal before it can be accessed for free on an institutional or funder’s repository.
Hybrid journal: A journal that enables authors to publish under either the subscription or the gold OA models. At Elsevier, the option is open for anyone to publish gold OA in almost all of our hybrid journals.
The pricing of subscription journals is based only on the readership of articles not published open access. Elsevier has a strict system in place to differentiate how each article’s publishing costs are paid in order to avoid the possibility of “double-dipping”.
Preprints have received a lot of attention since the pandemic as a way to gain early access to research results, especially important where public health is concerned.
A preprint is an author’s write-up and analysis of research results before it has been peer-reviewed or accepted for scholarly publication. These can be uploaded to “preprint servers” prior to being submitted for publication.
Repositories are usually institutional (hosted by the author’s university or funding body, for example) or may focus on specific disciplines (such as arXiv, PubMed Central, or CERN). Although accessible to anyone, they tend to be read by the community of fellow researchers in the author’s discipline or related fields. In some cases, early feedback on the findings shown in a preprint has helped to add value to its subsequent publication.
SSRN(opens in new tab/window) (Social Science Research Network) is a preprint server offered by Elsevier that provides early access to research across 70 disciplines in both the sciences and humanities.
Open access agreements: Publishers work together with universities, consortia or government agencies to structure contracts to support both authors’ freedom to choose how they want to publish and institutions aiming to support open access. This further enables them to comply with open access funding policies. There are varied ways to support open access under these agreements, and varied terms (read and publish, publish and read, transformative, transformational, transitional, etc.) can be used to describe them. Though there is no universally accepted definition of these terms, most of these agreement types would typically include both a reading and a publishing element and aim to either support or boost open access uptake, depending on each institution’s goals.
Elsevier has signed such agreements with many institutions, countries and consortia, supporting researchers at over 2,000 institutions to publish open access worldwide. Each agreement is tailored to the unique needs of the institution, and are understood as “test-and-learn” pilots that can evolve as we learn more about how well they support our customers' needs.
To discover more about how Elsevier supports open access visit the Open Access hub.
Global community resources for librarians to support researchers with open access
In addition to Elsevier’s own resources for accessing and publishing open access research, below are some resources for further exploring open access opportunities.
ROARMAP(opens in new tab/window) — searchable international registry of open access mandates adopted by universities, research institutions and research funders
DOAJ(opens in new tab/window) — Directory of Open Access Journals, indexing #
DOAB(opens in new tab/window) — Directory of Open Access Books, a community-driven discovery service that indexes and provides access to scholarly, peer-reviewed open access books and helps users to find trusted open access book publishers
How can I share it(opens in new tab/window) provides an easy way to support responsibly sharing published research with a quick DOI lookup.
Elsevier’s resources for librarians and researchers
SSRN(opens in new tab/window) preprint repository with over 70 disciplines in the humanities and sciences
Digital Commons platform for institutional repositories and diamond OA journals
Scopus(opens in new tab/window) — discover over 11 million articles from global publishers by filtering your search on the open access tag
ScienceDirect(opens in new tab/window) — access over 1.4 million full-text open access research articles published in Elsevier journals.
Elsevier has 140 journals that also offer an open archive, which provides readers free access to published articles after 12 months.
Elsevier’s Open Access hub provides resources for understanding agreements, publishing options and policies, as well as links to our other free access initiatives.