"Open Access," is it a Proper Noun?

Recently I've noticed a tendency in my prose to capitalize the words "Open Access." Somehow my mind turned a concept into a brand. I had some help, of course. For a shorthand, many that write about open access use the initialism "OA." It's easy to see how that might introduce capitalization when it comes time to spell out both words--so, "open access" becomes "OA" which is reborn as "Open Access." And, then, many fine OA advocates have worked to make Open Access a brand. With manifestos, conferences, books, and the ever present icon, Open Access is a brand--and that's a good thing too. Without all of this attention (scholarly articles, library flyers, t-shirts, and Internet marketing) many would fail to consider the benefits of open access practices; many more would assume that OA is merely something offered by big name publishers at the steep price tag of $3,000 per article. (Yes, even the subscription publishers are cashing in on the Open Access brand.)    

I admire the efforts of OA advocates--in fact, I claim to be one. But the branding of "Open Access" creates an environment in which the mission is (sometimes) a victim of its own success. Brands build loyal "customers," but they also give people a chance to define themselves. With the blossoming of the brand, we can now name ourselves for or against "Open Access." Too many of us are too quick to put ourselves in the "pro" or "con" camp without really thinking about where we sit in the complex scholarly communications ecosystem. I've noticed this when talking to authors about self-archiving in institutional repositories. (Here at IUPUI it's called ScholarWorks.) If I say "the open access repository, IUPUIScholarWorks," some people stop listening. Others jump to false conclusions, such as: "I can't do that, I need peer review." (Yes, you need peer review, but most journals will let you self-archive a version of your article after peer review.) But they're all ears, if I say: "Did you know that you can share your article in IUPUIScholarWorks and people will download it because it's free?"

Authors write for readers and institutional repositories are a very effective tool for increasing readership. If you're an academic author and you care about your scholarly reputation, self-archiving is simply a best-practice of dissemination. It just so happens that this practice is a route to open access. In fact, even if you think open access is a terrible idea, it's in your best interest as an author to reduce barriers to your scholarship. Don't hide your hard work behind a paywall; post it online in your institution's repository.

Yes, IUPUIScholarWorks is open access, but I can keep a secret, if you can.

-- Jere Odell

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Updated Dec 17, 2015 by Webmaster