Open Access (OA) is the free, immediate, online availability of learning materials, research, and creative work. When we talk about OA, we typically mean journal articles and monographs that are published under an open license and are available for anyone to access and reuse, without paywalls, logins, or other barriers to access (this is sometimes called libre OA). Sometimes you might find copyrighted content that is free to read online, but this content is not openly licensed and may not be disseminated or reused without permission (This is known as gratis OA). While you can read these articles, you can't do much more than that.
In traditional commercial publishing, the library pays for subscriptions (print or electronic) and authorized users have free access. Sometimes this process is so seamless that students and faculty don't even know they're accessing paywalled content. It can be a shock to students when they leave the university and no longer have access to the research they need for their career, continued study, health, or other aspect of life.
In a time when publishing content online is easier than ever, many scholars and librarians believe that paywalls and other restrictions to access are unnecessary barriers to the information that people need. They believe that access to necessary information should not be tied to a person's affiliation with a research university. Accordingly, researchers are increasingly choosing to make their work open and available, either directly through their publishers (Publisher facilitated / Gold OA) or by depositing copies of their accepted articles into a repository or personal web space (Author facilitated / Green OA).
By removing barriers to access, OA publishing makes your work more visible. This increased visibility leads to a demonstrated increase in downloads and citations of OA articles compared to those published by subscription journals. People all over the world are able to read your research, freely share it with others, build on what you have written, and create networks of academics doing similar work.
When evaluating the full impact of an OA publication, you may want to consider using altmetrics in addition to the traditional bibliometrics that are sometimes used to gauge an article's impact. Altmetrics capture how articles are viewed and shared on social media, blogs, the news, GitHub, etc. Traditional metrics such as h-index and impact factor fail to capture this type of information, and don't provide a full picture of an article's use.
Increasingly, private foundations, national agencies, and universities require that researchers make their grant-funded articles available open access. Different organizations have different requirements, but most allow for both Green and Gold open access models. Below are some of the agencies and organizations that have an OA requirement:
While most OA journals are comparable to traditionally published journals in terms of quality, there are predatory publishers that exploit the open access model for monetary gains. They know that faculty need to publish and will even play to your ego, using complimentary emails to entice you to submit to their journal. Their goal is to take your money in the form of an article processing charge (APC), doing very little in the way of editorial, peer-review, production, or distribution of your work. Just because a journal charges an APC, doesn't mean that the journal is predatory, however. Many open access journals, especially in the sciences, charge APCs; that alone does not mean a journal is predatory. Similarly, not all poor quality journals are predatory. Regardless of the publishing model, some journals are simply of higher quality than others. There are some indicators that a journal may be predatory, which include: