Origins of the Open Access Movement

The foundation stone for open access (OA) was laid by Paul Ginsparg in 1991 when he established the arXiv repository at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LAN-L) in order to make preprints in physics freely accessible. Other leading protagonists and co-founders of the OA Movement were, or are, Peter Suber, director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication and a faculty fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and Stevan Harnad, a cognitive scientist, who operates the blog Open Access Archivangelism, among other things. 

Since the beginning, OA has been seen as a way of improving the supply of scholarly literature. Closed-access to scholarly literature, and the information it contains, is available for use only to scholars and scientists whose institutions can afford to pay for it. However, rising acquisition costs have led to a burden on the acquisition budgets of scholarly libraries and, as a result, to a deterioration of the literature supply. Journal literature has been particularly - although not exclusively - affected by these developments, which is why they are known as the "serials crisis". Dewatripont et al. (2006, p. 5) estimate that between 1975 and 1995 the prices of scholarly journals in the science, technology, and medicine (STM) sector grew by between 200 and 300 % beyond inflation. Bosch and Henderson (2013) report price increase rates of 6% for 2013, compared to an increase in the consumer price index (CPI) of just 1.5 %. German scholarly libraries' expenditure on scholarly journals rose by approximately 19% between 2007 and 2013, while their budgets increased by less than 3%, and the cumulative inflation rate was just over 8% (Herb, 2014). By contrast, analysts estimate that commercial scholarly publishers normally achieve profit margins of between 20 and 30 % (Van Noorden, 2013).

Prerequisites for archiving

The establishment of OA repositories and journals was facilitated by the development of the necessary open source software - for example EPrints and DSpace for building and operating OA repositories; Open Journal Systems (OJS) for managing and publishing OA journals; and Open Monograph Press (OMS) for managing and publishing OA monographs.

Public position statements and declarations

The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) arose from a meeting convened in Budapest by the Open Society Institute (OSI) in December 2001. The BOAI is a joint initiative on the part of numerous national and international scholars and scientists from the sciences and humanities. Drafted in 2002, the BOAI declaration seeks free and unrestricted online access to scholarly journal literature in all academic fields: "The literature that should be freely accessible online is that which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment."

The Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing, which was released in June 2003, focuses mainly on the biomedical sciences, and stresses the importance of disseminating scientific research results as quickly and efficiently as possible. It emphasises the opportunity (and the obligation) to share research results, ideas, and discoveries freely with the scientific community and the public. The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities arose within the framework of a conference hosted by the Max Planck Society at the end of October 2003. Inaugural signatories included leading European and American research funders and universities. The signatories of the declaration undertake to support the OA idea, for example by encouraging their researchers to provide OA to their research results. The possibilities for use called for in the Berlin Declaration go well beyond use that is purely free of charge. They also go much further than the pronouncements made in the BOAI declaration and the Bethesda Statement. According to the Berlin Declaration, OA is not just about using scientific and scholarly works free of charge. It also means that users are permitted "to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship ...." Moreover, the declaration extends the range of digital objects for which OA is sought, and it does not limit the definition of OA materials to scholarly texts: "Open access contributions include original scientific research results, raw data and metadata, source materials, digital representations of pictorial and graphical materials and scholarly multimedia material."
By now, the Berlin Declaration has been signed by almost all the leading scientific organisations in the world.

The BOAI declaration was updated in 2012. Its commitment to OA to scholarly literature was reaffirmed, and new recommendations for the implementation of OA were formulated, especially with regard to policy, licensing, OA infrastructure and services and their sustainability.

The Report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research (the Finch Group report), which was published in 2012, caused quite a stir. The report includes recommendations for British research funders with regard to the implementation of OA, and it strongly recommends that, in their OA policies, funders should promote, and give preference to, gold OA. The recommendations of the Finch Group report have already been taken up by funders such as Research Councils UK (RCUK); other funders are expected to follow suit. The report, and the fact that RCUK has followed the recommendations, has come in for criticism. Because OA journals are sometimes funded by article processing charges (APCs), fears have been expressed that the costs of providing OA could increase sharply in the future if journals and publishing houses align their business models to the Finch Group recommendations. Moreover, RCUK's policy on OA has been criticised because it mandates that when APCs are paid for from the RCUK block grant , the articles in question must be made available under a Creative Commons attribution (CC-BY) licence. Critics argue that this stipulation forces scientists to use this particular licence. They also fear that when articles are published in closed-access journals that offer authors the option of providing OA to individual articles by paying APCs, the publishers will not reduce their institutional licence fees despite increased revenue from APCs.

Up-to-date information on OA can be found in the blogs and social media profiles of the aforementioned OA pioneers Peter Suber and Steven Harnad. Other useful sources of information are the Information Platform Open Access (IPOA) and the works of the journalist Richard Poynder. Poynder posts regular reports about OA to his personal website and he also moderates a mailing list called GOAL - Global Open Access List.


Bosch, S. & Henderson, K.S. (2013). The Winds of Change: Periodicals Price Survey 2013. Library Journal, (25.04.2013).

Dewatripont, M., Ginsburgh, V., Legros, P., Walckiers, A., Devroey, J.-P., Dujardin, M., et al. (2006). Study on the economic and technical evolution of the scientific publication markets in Europe.

Herb, U. (2014). Deutsche wissenschaftliche Universal- und Hochschulbibliotheken: Gesamte Mittel und Ausgaben für Bücher, Zeitungen und Zeitschriften, Inflationsraten (2007-2012). Zenodo. doi:10.5281/zenodo.8346.

Van Noorden, R. (2013). Open access: The true cost of science publishing. Nature, 495 (7442), pp. 426-429. doi:10.1038/495426a.