Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder.
In most fields, scholarly journals do not pay authors, who can therefore consent to OA without losing revenue. In this respect scholars and scientists are very differently situated from most musicians and movie-makers, and controversies about OA to music and movies do not carry over to research literature.
OA is entirely compatible with peer review, and all the major OA initiatives for scientific and scholarly literature insist on its importance. Just as authors of journal articles donate their labor, so do most journal editors and referees participating in peer review.
OA literature is not free to produce, even if it is less expensive to produce than conventionally published literature. The question is not whether scholarly literature can be made costless, but whether there are better ways to pay the bills than by charging readers and creating access barriers. Business models for paying the bills depend on how OA is delivered.
There are two primary vehicles for delivering OA to research articles: OA journals and OA archives or repositories.
For a longer introduction, with live links for further reading, see my Open Access Overview, http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm.
Interested in searching for open access materials, but not sure where to find them?
Here are three tools recommended by SMCM library staff to get you started….
Unpaywall harvests content from many different types of open access repositories and using the browser extension, users can find full-text for about 50-85% of OA articles available online. Free and easy to download to Chrome or Firefox.
oaDOI.org, is an API (“Application Programming Interface”) which powers the Unpaywall browser extension, and indexes the millions of full-text OA articles available in repositories all over the web. You can even build your own API on the oaDOI.org data!
Zenodo is an open data repository, with over 8,000 open data sets covering many disciplines. Created within the OpenAire Project in Europe, Zenodo is an open data tool which is designed to share research outputs, freely, with flexible licensing and permissions. Once a search is performed there are additional filters such as limiting by dataset (versus an article, which is also available) and specific file type (such as Excel).
The freely available database also has articles, software, posters, presentations and more.