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By Dr. Patrick Gamsby

The rising costs of subscription-based scholarly journals reminds me of Chapter 4 from late critical theorist Herbert Marcuse’s book One-Dimensional Man: The Closing of the Universe of Discourse.

Marcuse did not explicitly discuss the scholarly publishing landscape in his book, but his questioning of whether or not the “system delivers the goods” is entirely applicable to the system of scholarly communications, especially regarding the closing off of scholarly discourse behind paywalls.

Escalating prices

Such paywalls almost always get higher and higher every year. Indeed, the escalating prices for journal subscriptions outpace library budgets and inflation, which inevitably leads to buying fewer scholarly journals for more money.

“Advancing knowledge is predicated upon the dissemination of research, not on restricting access via paywalls.”

Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial budget situation has underlined how such a thing happens in many avenues of life, but should such a thing happen with scholarship?

From a scholarly communications perspective, the answer is a definitive no. After all, advancing knowledge is predicated upon the dissemination of research, not on restricting access via paywalls.

Ongoing conversation

What if the default for scholarship was switched to open access? Such a question, I believe, is not only relevant this week — celebrated globally as Open Access Week — but should be part of an ongoing conversation here at Memorial regarding scholarly publishing.

This is a question that is exacerbated by the intricacies of the various forms of scholarly research (journals, books, theses, etc.), yet it is currently being raised and discussed in and out of academic institutions around the globe.

This is easy enough to know, because the information stating as much is openly available. That is to say, anyone with access to the Internet can find this information. Of course, Internet access alone does not encapsulate the complexities of a topic like open access, but it is a baseline requirement.

So what exactly is open access?

“Open access typically refers to scholarship in digital form available online.”

I would argue that open access is a familiar term, though largely unknown. The term could theoretically be applied to numerous types of literature, but open access typically refers to scholarship in digital form available online.

There are many variations of open access on offer, all with varying degrees of allowance for author rights, reader rights, search engine readability and immediacy of availability.

Some more open than others

These are all things that ought to be considered throughout any publishing process, but are especially relevant for understanding the extent of openness for the various kinds of open access there are out there. Put simply: some forms of open access are more open than others.

Open access is part of the fabric of Memorial, albeit with a lot of room to expand. Many Memorial scholars publish their work in open access journals with funding from Memorial’s Open Access Authors’ Fund (for example: journals published by BioMed Central; Frontiers; Public Library of Science), as well as through the open access journals that are hosted at Memorial University Libraries (such as Analecta Hermeneutica; Intersectionalities: A Global Journal of Social Work Analysis, Research, Polity, and Practice; Mapping Politics).

“Open access as a default for scholarship is not a widespread consideration here at Memorial, though this can always change.”

Furthermore, students make their theses and dissertations openly available via the Research Repository — Memorial’s online open access space for archiving its scholarly output.

Despite all of this, open access as a default for scholarship is not a widespread consideration here at Memorial, though this can always change.

A topic like open access is one that stretches across all disciplinary boundaries, and, in an effort to keep the universe of discourse open, we should continue to add to the global conversation here at Memorial.


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