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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2006

Book Reviews

The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access To Research and Scholarship

Marian Burright
Collection Management Librarian for Life Sciences
University of Maryland Libraries
College Park, Maryland

The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship. John Willinsky. MIT Press Cambridge: MA, 2006. List Price: $34.95. ISBN: 0-262-23242-1

John Willinsky makes a strong case for the open access publishing model of scholarly research. Willinksy roots his argument for open access in the politics of "evidence-based policymaking," an example of which is the U.S. Education Act, or, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. He is rightfully careful to identify open access not as free access, but, as wider access to publicly funded research to the public. Providing wider access to such research is an expectation within a democratic government. Willinsky establishes the case for open access based on two principles. First, advances in Internet technology and adequate economic models are available to sustain open access publishing. Second, open access benefits a global knowledge economy in which developing nations are able to participate in the research and development process at a more equitable rate than they have done under the constraints of traditional publishing.

Willinsky situates his case for open access within the economics of scholarship. The knowledge economy does not produce instant monetary returns for authors but depends on long-term establishment of scholarly reputation. The knowledge economy continues to grow with new journal publications and increased expectations for publishing. While faculty members expect to have access to the highest tier journals in their fields, library budgets have not kept pace with journal price increases. Thus, commercial publishers have been allowed to exploit this tension between faculty needs and limited resources to fund them. It is at the heart of this tension that the need for an alternative publishing model arises. Willinsky articulates the current problem of the knowledge economy and proceeds with thirteen well argued chapters to establish the case for open access.

Online publishing, Willinksy argues, has provided alternatives but not complete relief from the costs of print-based research. In Appendix A, he clearly explains the ten "flavors" of open access and their economic models, with examples of each. He sees copyright law as a "natural ally" of authors and public rights, and thus of open access. Online publishing has affected academic societies in so far as they can no longer depend on revenue stream from individual journal subscriptions. Instead, societies have two options to sustain their journals: either by using commercial publishers or by finding lower cost alternatives such as publishing opportunities supported by SPARC. By turning to alternatives other than commercial publishers to publish their journals, societies have opportunities to expand the open access model. Willinsky shows the broad range in costs of online journal publishing, concluding that such a venture generally poses great risks for publishers. In the chapter "Economics," he makes a case for how open source software can support online publishing of open access journals using the Open Journal Systems developed by Public Knowledge Project team, as an example. In Appendix C, he demonstrates potential savings for publishers using the Open Journal Systems. Willinsky also cogently discusses the feasibility of creating open access opportunities through publishing cooperatives, open access indexing systems, and text creation technologies.

The Access Principle demonstrates a thoughtful and thorough understanding of the goals and perils of open access publishing. Willinsky takes special care to include well organized and understandable appendices to support his arguments. The References section is excellent in terms of depth and scope of reading on open access. This book is highly recommended reading to every academic librarian, publisher, scholar, or citizen interested in the business of information. This book is highly recommended for academic and special libraries.

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