Web site: Open Access Overview

Peter Suber’s Open Access Overview is a web page on the author’s personal web site which is intended to serve as an introduction to the OA movement.

Although there are books which also serve this purpose (including several by Suber, who is a very well-established OA expert), the web overview has several benefits, chief among which are:

  1. It is relatively short
  2. It breaks down concepts to an elementary level, and provides succinct definitions for terms, and
  3. It links out to other, more exhaustive resources at the point of information

The page consists of a number of lists, which address different functional/theoretical aspects of OA:

  • Basic information about OA
  • Legal basis for OA
  • OA focuses on “literature that authors give to the world without expectation of payment”
  • OA is often publicly funded
  • OA is “not free to produce or publish”
  • OA and peer review
  • Differences in OA journal publishing (Gold OA) and OA repositories (Green OA)
  • OA as a constructive project
  • OA is not the same as universal access
  • OA is not a business model
  • Usefulness of OA for different groups of people
  • “OA in historical perspective”

Additionally, Suber includes links for further reading (although some are no longer actively maintained).

If the overview page is still too detailed, Suber also maintains a “Very Brief Introduction to Open Access” which sets out nothing more than the basic definitions of OA, what it tries to do, and how it tries to do it.

Book chapter: Collection development, e-resources, and barrier-free access.

Citation: Schmetzke, A. (2015). Collection development, e-resources, and barrier-free access. in B. Wentz, P.T. Jaeger, & J.C. Bertot, (Eds.), Accessibility for persons with disabilities and the inclusive future of libraries. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group.

In this book chapter, Schmetzke examines e-resource accessibility with a specific eye to how librarians can keep accessibility issues in mind when acquiring (or when subscribing to) various e-resources like databases and online journals. The author includes a letter from a friend who was given the run-around by her local library and its consortium when she was unable to access a database with her screen reader to show that “clearly, librarians should consider accessibility when considering electronic information products” (p.113).

With this as his impetus, the author examined library schools, existing literature, and professional library organizations to get a sense of whether or not librarians were receiving guidance encouraging them to keep issues of accessibility in mind when doing so, or not.

The rest of the chapter is split into three parts, as summarized below:
Library Organizations

  • ALA – Schmetzke mentions that, despite a lack of communication between ALA’s various divisions and interest groups, ALA has at least discussed the accessibility of electronic resources a few times. The most important document to have come out of this, he says, is “Purchasing of Accessible Electronic Resources Resolution,” a 2009 resolution by the ALA council which argues strongly for the responsibility of libraries to ensure their electronic resources meet Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 to the best of their abilities. (p.115)

This section also mentions three web accessibility toolkits:

Library Schools

Schmetzke notes that, while data about how (or if) accessibility is taught in library schools is scarce, several surveys have shown a lack of focus on the topic in North American schools.

Literature Review

Schmetzke performed a content analysis on 55 books about collection development published between 2000 and 2014 to determine the coverage of accessibility in general and in relation to e-resources, concluding that very few books cover the topic.

Book chapter: Libraries and the future of equal access for people with disabilities

Citation: Jaeger, P.T., Wentz, B., & Bertot, J.C. (2015). Libraries and the future of equal access for people with disabilities: Legal frameworks, human rights, and social justice. in B. Wentz, P.T. Jaeger, & J.C. Bertot, (Eds.), Accessibility for persons with disabilities and the inclusive future of libraries. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group.

In this book chapter from a 2015 book focused on accessibility in libraries, the authors look at several legal structures intended to provide equal access to library services for those with disabilities. This chapter is in the “Digital Library Accessibility” section of the book, so deals largely with access to digital resources (an earlier section of the book contains chapters on physical accessibility issues).

The authors make the argument that “Information and the Internet can now be seen as being central to human rights,” (p.239), citing articles as early as 2000 which argue this, noting that the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly declares that people have the right to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media” without interference (p.240).

After discussing how library and information organizations like ALA, IFLA, and UNESCO act as proponents of libraries’ roles as agents of social justice in this sense, and providing a basic overview of laws in various countries intended to ensure equal Internet access for those with disabilities, the authors move into discussing how public libraries already provide access to many online resources for free, as well as providing education on digital and information literacy (p.246).

Although the authors note that these are “uniquely important to people with disabilities,” (p. 247), and briefly discuss several ways that libraries (in general and specifically) focus on those with disabilities (p. 248), little time is spent focusing on the details of how libraries can increase digital accessibility in any practical sense. To be fair, this is largely a “why” chapter, but the lack of specifics is still disappointing.

Article: The Inclusion Principle

Article citation: Link-Rodrigue, M. (2009). The inclusion principle. A List Apart.

In her article “The Inclusion Principle,” from issue 288 of web design magazine A List Apart, Margit Link-Rodrigue explores the idea of “Affordance” as it applies to designing web sites for people of all ability levels and regardless of the technologies they may be using.

Affordance is a design theory which asserts that a thing should be designed in order that the user can “look at [it] and intuitively understand how to interact with it.” As Link-Rodrigue points out, this theory falls short where those with disabilities are concerned. What may be intuitive can all the same be unusable.

Enter universal design. This theory holds that design must be “inherently accessible,” so that absolutely anybody should be able to use the thing you’re designing for it to be successful. Link-Rodrigue notes that many designers—web designers especially—feel this stifles their creativity, and/or may simply be unaware of the challenges that those with disabilities face when browsing the web. More importantly, she argues that universal design doesn’t have to cause problems in either of these areas.

The main problem in web design comes from the fact that accessibility is often a secondary concern, something web designers or web site owners think about after a problem occurs. This is backwards, Link-Rodrigue argues. Instead, designers should operate under the titular inclusion principle: moving away from marginalizing those with disabilities by making ‘standard’ web sites accessible to them, and moving towards including these users by designing web sites with them in mind from the outset.

While this seems like splitting hairs, Link-Rodrigue is quick to point out that it isn’t. A shift to inclusive design means that sites are accessible by the way they’re designed. Instead of an “outcome-oriented” accessibility, which may not even properly make a whole site accessible to those with certain types of disability not covered by the specific outcome, sites created with inclusive design in mind are “distinctively process-oriented”—they’re universal, and do not need anything special done to them in order to be usable by anybody at all.

For fuller details on (specifically for web sites), and how to embrace the shift from accessible to inclusive design, read Margit Link-Rodrigue’s “The inclusion principle” at A List Apart.

Resource: Beall’s List of Predatory Open Access Publishers

Beall’s List of Predatory Open Access Publishers is a web site, maintained by Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at UC Denver. Beall’s list contains several different continually updated lists of OA publishers with questionable or harmful practices. The list was started in 2011 as an annual publication, and moved to a continual-update model in 2014 due to the increasing volume of publishers. Now, the list publishes an annual index with links to the lists and a basic overview of the number of journals in each.

Currently, Beall’s List contains information on predatory publishers split into the following categories:

Beall’s list is an excellent resource for anyone with questions about an OA publisher or journal. The 2016 index post to Beall’s List of Predatory OA Publishers, with links to each list, can be found here.

Article: The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009

Article citation: Laakso M, Welling P, Bukvova H, Nyman L, Björk B-C, Hedlund T (2011) The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009. PLoS ONE 6(6): e20961. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020961

In their 2012 article “The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009,” Laakso et al. measure the numbers of active journals and published articles in each year between 1993 and 2009. The article starts with a quick description of how the Internet has enabled OA publishing, and a definition of the two types of OA with which the authors are concerned: Green OA, where publishers allow authors to self-archive some form of their submitted articles; and Gold OA, where the journal itself is available free of access in some form.

Next, Laakso et al. lay out previous research, mentioning earlier surveys of OA publishing by Ware and Mabe (2009), Crawford (2002), Wells (1999), Morris (2006)—whose study the authors note as the most comprehensive prior to their own—, and Sotudeh and Horri (2007), among others.

For their own study, Laakso et al. gathered their data on the number of OA journals from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), a free online index. As the authors note, DOAJ was selected for this purpose because it is “an actively maintained and well-established index with clear inclusion criteria” (p.3). In 2009, DOAJ contained 4,767 OA journals (Laakso et al., p7). For the number of articles published in each year between 1993 and 2009, Laakso et al. manually collected data from that year’s active journals, since automated methods were deemed insufficient (p.3).

What makes the article (and others like it) most interesting, of course, is a comparison of the data Laakso et al. present with data for 2016. now indexes 8,948 journals—almost double the amount Laakso et al. report for 2009. Although the number of articles is harder to calculate, DOAJ currently indexes 2,024,744 articles—more than double the 893,574 OA articles Laakso et al. report having been published between 1993 and 2009 (p.7).

It is worth noting that, despite Laakso et al.’s use of DOAJ as the sole source for the number of OA journals in 2009, the index does not contain every single journal—at least, not in 2016. With the current rules for inclusion, journals must publish 5 articles per calendar year to stay in the index. Additionally, new journals must apply, a process which can sometimes take many months, as DOAJ is a volunteer-run index. (This blogger is a volunteer there, so is well acquainted with the process and its various delays.)

In any case, given that the number of articles index in DOAJ alone is so high, it is clear that OA publishing has continued to expand in the seven years since Laakso et al.’s study.

Guidelines: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0)

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is a guidelines document published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) which intends to provide web developers with a series of “testable statements” they can use in order to improve access to and usability of their website for users with disabilities. (source)

The criteria presented by the guidelines are split into four “principles,” each of which describes a specific aspect of a website’s user experience. The criteria in these principles are technology-independent, meaning the guidelines do not present specific ways of creating an accessible website in (e.g.) HTML or PHP. This theoretically means that the guidelines do not deprecate as quickly as one tied to a specific technology or markup language.

Principle one is that a website must be Perceivable:
Criteria in this principle deal with content—specifically, with ways in which a website should present its content so that users can perceive it. This includes providing text alternatives for images, audio, video, and other non-text content; making a distinction between layout and content so that users who are not on a standard computer screen can still perceive it in a coherent way; and several other things.

Principle two is that a website must be Operable:
Criteria in this principle deal with navigation. Websites must be keyboard-accessible, must provide users with enough time to process and interact with content, must not be designed in a way that causes seizures, and must help users navigate.

Principle three is that a website must be Understandable:
These criteria present ways in which end users must be able to understand a website’s content and how to use it. This includes things like specifying a language for the website, making sure pages on it operate predictably, and helping users correct mistakes.

Principle four is that a website must be Robust:
Principle four is essentially a catch-all principle which states that a website and its content must be usable on a variety of devices and with a variety of tools (“user agents”) such as assistive technologies.

Beyond these four principles, WCAG 2.0 also presents three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA, with A being the minimum level required for conformance to the guidelines.

The full WCAG 2.0 guidelines are free to read on the WAI website, and include more specific details about meeting the criteria, a glossary, and access to older versions of the guidelines.

Foundational text: Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities

The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities” (Berlin Declaration) is a foundational document of the Open Access (OA) movement.

The Berlin Declaration was created in 2003 by a number of OA groups and academic institutions, and was intended to build on the Bethesda Statement on OA Publishing and the Budapest Open Access Initiative by presenting practical ways interested parties could “promote the Internet as a functional instrument” for OA. (Source)

The Berlin Declaration presents a goals statement and a definition of OA which are similar to those in the documents it builds upon. It also lays out a number of ways interested parties can contribute to the OA movement, which are vague enough not to be limited by future technological developments and which mostly involve acting as an OA advocate.

You can read the full text of the Berlin Declaration online at the Max Planck Society, as well as sign the declaration yourself. An updated mission statement authored in 2013 is also available on the site.

Foundational Text: Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing

The Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing is one of the three core declarations which defined and popularized the term Open Access (OA). It was created in a 2003 meeting at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland, and was intended to push the biomedical community in particular to engage more with the idea of OA for scientific literature.

The statement sets out a definition of an OA publication as meeting two conditions:

First, it must be made available (with proper attribution) free of charge for users to “copy, use, distribute, transmit and display” as they will. (source)

Second, it must be deposited in a relevant online repository.

Although the second condition is not necessarily a condition outside the biomedical research community, much of the first condition is strongly in line with current broad definitions of OA.

Beyond this basic definition, the Bethesda Statement provides supplementary statements on the benefits of OA from three different groups of stakeholders: Institutions and Agencies; Libraries and Publishers; and Scientists and Societies.

The definition the Bethesda Statement provides, and its stakeholder statements, still point out issues the OA community faces today, such as the use of fees and processing charges. You can read the full Bethesda Statement here.

Foundational Text: Budapest Open Access Initiative

The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) was one of the first declarations to popularize the notion of Open Access (OA) for peer reviewed research.

Launched in February of 2002 after a meeting of the Open Society Foundation in Budapest in December of 2001, the declaration aimed to “accelerate progress in the international effort to make research articles in all academic fields freely available on the Internet” (source).

The document not only lays out several philosophical reasons for OA but presents two strategies for achieving it: Self-archiving, whereby scholars are free to deposit copies of articles they’ve written in freely accessible archives, and OA journals, where access to journal content is free without the need for archiving.

Not all of the BOAI declaration’s recommendations are followed today. For example, many OA journals still exist which charge subscription or access fees.

You can read the full BOAI declaration, as well as supplementary material related to the background of the declaration and what’s been happening since, at the Budapest Open Access Initiative home page.