Open Access: redrawing the landscape of scholarly communication

G E Gorman (Asia-New Zealand Informatics Associates, Trentham, New Zealand)
Jennifer Rowley (Department of Information and Communications, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 14 September 2015



Gorman, G.E. and Rowley, J. (2015), "Open Access: redrawing the landscape of scholarly communication", Online Information Review, Vol. 39 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Open Access: redrawing the landscape of scholarly communication

Article Type: Editorial From: Online Information Review, Volume 39, Issue 5.

Setting the scene

Open Access (OA) scholarly communication has been promoted as a means of achieving wider access to research outcomes, and in particular making publically available the research that has been funded by the public purse. OA proponents also point to the contradictions in the traditional scholarly communication cycle in which universities create research outputs in the form of journal articles, and then pay publishers to have access to these outputs. Research funding bodies have been keen to promote OA, and working with publishers and other key stakeholders they have developed policies, which act as a mandate for the widespread transition to an OA model of scholarly communication.

However, as the implementation of this new model of scholarly communication has escalated, there has been increasing acknowledgement of its consequences for scholarly communication, particularly in the context of academic journals and their communities and publishers. Open Access Publishing has been described as a disruptive innovation that may both upset the business model of scholarly publication, and also have far-reaching effects on the processes associated with the production and use of scholarly communication (Jubb, 2013; Lewis, 2012). Indeed, as Pinfield in his article in this issue states, OA can be seen as one of the most important and controversial areas of scholarly communication. Going further, Ren, also in this issue, suggests that the boundaries between scholarly communication and broader “scholarship” are blurring such that openness is concerned not only with universal accessibility but also with widespread participation through the co-development and co-creation of knowledge.

In the belief that OA is in the process of generating a major paradigm change in scholarly publishing, and more generally in scholarly communication, this special issue of Online Information Review asks questions about the consequences for various stakeholder groups, including academic researchers, researchers in public and commercial organisations, publishers, libraries and the general public. Adopting a critical stance, the issue takes as its point of departure Osborne’s (2015) comment (p. 637) that:

Criticising Open Access Publishing (OAP) is a bit like criticising democracy. Just as it is a mark of intelligent liberalism to be a democratic […] so it is a mark of intelligent liberalism to think that everything should be open and access should be maximized […] However, just as democracy […] is no guarantee that intelligent liberal values will be maximised, so OAP offers no guarantee that the accessibility of scholarship will be maximised.

Accordingly, it is the aim of this special issue to contribute insights, analysis and commentary towards an enhanced understanding of how Open Access “can be made to work in practice” (Pinfield, 2015, p. 604).


The issue commences with an overview article from Stephen Pinfield, “Making Open Access work: the ‘state-of-the art’ in providing Open Access to scholarly literature”. Based on a structured literature review and using text analysis based on visualisation, Pinfield examines the discourse on OA to develop a perspective on the major issues regarding OA. His analysis incorporates peer-reviewed journal literature, professional and higher education press, grey literature, informal communications and OA data sources. He identifies the major issues to be: the relationship between Green (deposit in repositories) and Gold Open Access (OA journal publication), the evidence base associated with OA, researcher attitudes and behaviours, policy, repositories and their management, the development and future of journals, the role and actions of higher education institutions, and impact and its measurement. Many of these topics are explored in more depth and from different perspectives in other contributions in this issue.

The next paper, from Robin Osborne, sets the scene in a different way by exploring the tension between OA and the accessibility of scholarship. In “Open Access publishing, academic research and scholarly communication”, Osborne argues for accessibility, defining this as: “the ability of scholars to communicate most effectively with each other and with a wider readership” (Osborne, 2015, p. 637). In particular, whilst suggesting that there is no essential conflict between OA and accessibility, he points to the detrimental effect of badly argued or poorly written papers on accessibility. He argues that the essential contribution of journals and publishers is “selection” and that this selection process adds value for both authors and readers, and also that judicial selection speeds up research progress. Offering an insightful reflection on the role of editors and reviewers in making a research paper accessible by ensuring that it is “precisely framed, properly embedded in existing scholarship and written in a clearly structure and concise way” (Osborne, 2015, p. 637), this paper argues for the importance of pre-publication review. Osborne points to the importance of quality rather than quantity and asserts that any change in income experienced by publishers, arising from OA initiatives, is likely to lead to pressure to streamline production processes, with consequences for the thoroughness of the editorial and refereeing processes that underpin selection and quality.

Others also recognise the continuing importance of peer review (Curry, 2013; Nicholas et al., 2015). Andy Tattersall (2015), in “For what it’s worth – the open peer review landscape” (pp. 649-663), picks up the debate regarding peer review. His paper discusses the development of open peer review and identifies and evaluates the various platforms that support pre- or post-publication open peer review. One of the major differences between traditional and open peer review is that in the latter authors and reviewers are aware of one another’s identities. Tattersall suggests that blind review is far from perfect, and he reminds us that it has been criticised for being biased, slow, inconsistent and open to inappropriate behaviours. Nevertheless, Tattersall acknowledges that there is also a debate regarding the value of open peer review and discusses “fear of openness” and the evolving nature of open peer review models. Usefully, this article reviews the platforms that use open peer review and the different models that they adopt. The article concludes by discussing the future for open peer review, possibly within a mixed model landscape of peer review.

Funding and related economic issues permeate the OA debate. The processes associated with production and processing, marketing, editing and refereeing require revenue. In academic journal funding the funding debate centres on Article Processing Charges (APCs), including their level and who pays (Bjork and Solomon, 2014; Solomon and Bjork, 2012). For OA repositories, including the digital data repositories discussed by Rob Kitchin, Sandra Collins and Dermot Frost in “Funding models for Open Access digital repositories”, funding presents considerable challenges and risks, unless they are fortunate enough to have significant, ongoing core funding. Kitchin et al. (2015) in their paper (pp. 664-681) illustrate this by reporting on their ongoing experience of seeking funding for the Digital Repository of Ireland and analysing the funding approaches adopted by other OA repositories. They identify 14 potential funding streams for OA digital data repositories and group these into six classes (institutional, philanthropy, research, audience, service and volunteer). They propose that a blended approach drawing on income from several different sources is the most robust.

Geographical and disciplinary diversity

There is widespread recognition that the impacts of and challenges posed by OA may vary with geography and discipline. The issue elaborates on this through the inclusion of papers that demonstrate this diversity. In particular, the next two papers show a sharp contrast between China and Africa, whilst the final two articles examine aspects of OA of particular relevance to researchers in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

Xiang Ren (2015), in “The quandary between communication and certification: individual academics’ views on Open Access and open scholarship” (pp. 682-697), makes a unique contribution on academics’ perceptions of, attitude towards and participation in OA publishing and open scholarship in the Peoples’ Republic of China. Ren argues that the inefficiency and corruption of China’s established academic publishing system is creating a demand for reform and innovation, including the adoption of OA and open scholarship. Furthermore, the major Chinese research funding bodies have issued OA mandates that require research outputs from funded research to be published as Open Access. Given this context, it is not surprising that Ren’s research finds that Chinese academics have positive perceptions of OA publishing. However, in common with academics elsewhere, Chinese academics value open initiatives for their “interactivity” (communication) but still depend on traditional academic publishing for the legitimisation of their research. In addition, and consistent with Osborne’s view, the gatekeeping provided by traditional publishers is valued because it saves the time of readers.

In stark contrast to the aspirations of Chinese academics, Moya Fox and Susannah Hanlon show that the penetration of OA in Africa, either in the form of institutional repositories or OA journals, is very low. Their article, “Barriers to Open Access uptake for researchers in Africa” (Fox and Hanlon, 2015, pp. 698-716), uses a mixed methods approach. First, their quantitative analysis of datasets regarding repositories and OA journals, such as the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR), the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and African Journals Online (AJOL), reveals a remarkably low level of visibility for African research in major directories and little evidence of a clear way forward. Next, their qualitative content analysis of the literature on OA and scholarly communication in Africa points to major technological, social and cultural barriers to the implementation of OA. Recommendations extend beyond OA to research and technology infrastructures, and include enhanced technology infrastructures, the development of librarians and other professionals, development of other support initiatives and, more generally, the development of funding and research assessment mechanisms that are economically and technically viable.

Martin Paul Eve (2015) considers “Open Access publishing and scholarly communication in non-scientific disciplines” (pp. 717-732). Several authors have reported that OA uptake varies between disciplines and that there is perceived to be a slower uptake in the humanities and social sciences than in science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) (Coonin and Younce, 2009, 2010; Rodriguez, 2014). Various reasons have been put forward for this situation, including the lower levels of research funding in non-STEM disciplines, a lower level of reliance on academic journals and their rankings, coupled with the significance of monographs.

Eve offers what he describes as a “potted summary” of some of the additional challenges associated with OA in non-scientific disciplines. The first section of his paper focusses on the economics of OA in non-scientific disciplines in relation to both serials and monographs. The second section examines cultural, social and technological challenges. Culturally, Eve suggests that non-scientific disciplines suffer from an “anxiety of irrelevance”, which can make them resistant to change. Social and technological challenges include technologies of reading, author rights and licensing and the role of peer review. Eve concludes that OA in the humanities and social sciences is both possible and desirable but that it will not follow the same trajectory as in the sciences.

In the final article, “Open Access to collections: the making and using of open digitised cultural content” (Terras, 2015, pp. 733-752), Melissa Terras provides a perspective on the open licensing of digital cultural heritage content to create opportunities for researchers in the arts and humanities. She argues that researchers in these fields depend significantly on access to primary historical sources, which often belong to and are located in galleries, libraries, archives and museums (“the GLAM Sector”) or in private collections. However, providing access to digitized cultural heritage content is constrained by both financial and licensing/copyright considerations. Terras presents a case study that convincingly illustrates some of digital licensing complexities in providing access to digital cultural heritage content.

This paper also outlines the work of OpenGlam that offers support to help cultural institutions open up their collections, offers a description of a number of “collections made open” and discusses initiatives that are underway to assess the use and reuse of digital cultural heritage content. The article concludes with an agenda for further work in this area.

Taken together, the eight papers constituting this special issue of Online Information Review on Open Access and scholarly communication highlight some of the major issues being debated in 2015, and probably also well into the future:

OA and access to scholarship

OA and open peer review

Funding for OA initiatives

OA participation in developing countries (Africa, China)

OA and non-scientific disciplines

Open licensing of digital cultural heritage content

Whilst certainly not a comprehensive list, we view these topics as some of the more significant requiring further debate by everyone involved in OA. We trust that these eight papers will contribute positively to the on-going OA discussion, with objectivity and cool heads prevailing in all quarters.

Finally, we should point out that the Reviews Section in this issue discusses two works relevant to OA: Cope and Phillips’ The Future of the Academic Journal (2nd ed.) and Martin Eve’s Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future – the latter forming the basis for Martin Eve’s paper in this issue.

G.E. Gorman, Asia-New Zealand Informatics Associates, Trentham, and

Jennifer Rowley, Department of Information and Communications, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester


Bjork, B.-C. and Solomon, D. (2014), “How research funders can finance APCs in full OA and hybrid journals”, Learning Publishing, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 93-103, available at: (accessed 2 July 2015)

Coonin, B. and Younce, L.M. (2009), “Publishing in open access journals in the social sciences and humanities: who’s doing it and why?”, ACRL Fourteenth National Conference, Seattle, Washington, 12-15 March, available at: (accessed 1 July 2015)

Coonin, B. and Younce, L.M. (2010), “Publishing in open access educational journals: the authors’ perspectives”, Behavioral and Social Sciences Librarian, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 118-132, available at: (accessed 1 July 2015)

Curry, S. (2013), “Political, cultural and technological dimensions of open access: an exploration”, in Vincent, N. and Wickham, C.C. (Eds), Debating Open Access, British Academy, London, pp. 55-67, available at: (accessed 30 June 2015)

Eve, M.P. (2015), “Open Access publishing and scholarly communications in non-scientific disciplines”, Online Information Review, Vol. 39 No. 5, pp. 717-732

Fox, M. and Hanlon, S.M. (2015), “Barriers to Open Access uptake for researchers in Africa”, Online Information Review, Vol. 39 No. 5, pp. 698-716

Jubb, M. (2013), “Introduction”, in Shorley, D. and Jubb, M. (Eds), The Future of Scholarly Communication, Facet Publishing, London

Kitchin, R., Collins, S. and Frost, D. (2015), “Funding models for Open Access digital data repositories”, Online Information Review, Vol. 39 No. 5, pp. 664-681

Lewis, D.W. (2012), “The inevitability of Open Access”, College & Research Libraries, Vol. 73 No. 5, pp. 493-506, available at: (accessed 30 June 2015)

Nicholas, D., Watkinson, A., Jamali, H.R., Herman, E., Tenopir, C., Volentine, R., Allard, S. and Levine, K. (2015), “Peer review: still king in the digital age”, Learned Publishing, Vol. 28 No. 1, pp. 15-21, available at: (accessed 1 July 2015)

Osborne, R. (2015), “Open Access publishing, academic research and scholarly communication”, Online Information Review, Vol. 39 No. 5, pp. 637-648

Pinfield, S. (2015), “Making Open Access work: the ‘state-of-the-art’ in providing Open Access to scholarly literature”, Online Information Review, Vol. 39 No. 5, pp. 604-636

Ren, X. (2015), “The quandary between communication and certification: individual academics’ views on Open Access and open scholarship”, Online Information Review, Vol. 39 No. 5, pp. 682-697

Rodriguez, J.E. (2014), “Awareness and attitudes about Open Access Publishing: a glance at generational differences”, Journal of Academic Librarianship, Vol. 40 No. 6, pp. 604-610, available at: (accessed 1 July 2015)

Solomon, D.J. and Bjork, B.-C. (2012), “A study of Open Access journals using article processing charges”, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Vol. 63 No. 8, pp. 1485-1495, available at: (accessed 1 July 2015)

Tattersall, A. (2015), “For what it’s worth – the open peer review landscape”, Online Information Review, Vol. 39 No. 5, pp. 649-663

Terras, M. (2015), “Opening Access to collections: the making and using of open digitised cultural content”, Online Information Review, Vol. 39 No. 5, pp. 733-752

In memoriam

While this special issue was in production, we were deeply saddened to hear that Gary Gorman passed away on the 19 August 2015. The entire editorial team offer our condolences to Gary’s family, friends and colleagues.

Gary served as Professor of Information Management at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and later Professor of Information Science at the University of Malaya, Malaysia. He was the editor of Online Information Review for over 15 years and was involved in IFLA activities including different positions with the Asia and Oceania Regional Standing Committee. He had many contacts across the international library and information science community, and was an invaluable adviser to Emerald Group Publishing.

This issue of Online Information Review, of which Gary was co guest editor, is dedicated to his memory.

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