There has been a fairly torrid debate over open access over the last six months (even longer for aficionados). For people who look in only occasionally it must seem like a storm that swirls around the same arguments time and again. This jargon can be problematic — open access is variously green, gold, gratis or libre — and is wrapped around a complex tangle of issues of freedoms, responsibilities, costs and opportunities that are debated passionately by advocates on both sides*.
Cutting through this noisy argument is Peter Suber’s short book on the topic, which has just been published by MIT Press. In the ten brief chapters of Open Access he works his way through the definitions, the history, the economics and the implications of changes to the landscape of research publishing. The text is thorough, clear and measured.
Suber has deliberately kept things brief. He is a man with a mission:
“I want busy people to read this book. OA benefits literally everyone, for the same reasons that research itself benefits literally everyone. OA performs this service by facilitating research and making the results more widely available and useful. It benefits researchers as readers by helping them find and retrieve the information they need, and it benefits researchers as authors by helping them reach readers who can apply, cite, and build on their work. OA benefits nonresearchers by accelerating research and all the goods that depend on research, such as new medicines, useful technologies, solved problems, informed decisions, improved policies, and beautiful understanding.
But OA only does this good work insofar as we actually implement it, and the people in a position to implement it tend to be busy. I’m thinking about researchers themselves and policymakers at stakeholder institutions such as universities, libraries, publishers, scholarly societies, funding agencies, and governments.”
I downloaded the Kindle version and worked through it in a couple of days’ commuting. I’d like to recommend that you do the same. Suber does a wholly admirable job of unpicking the complexities of open access and we’ll get there sooner if more of us are able to engage properly with the matter.
Update (18-6-13): And now, true to his principles, Suber has made the book open access you you can download it for free.