Open Access is the way that new knowledge is made easier | Faculty guest post

By Willow Fuchs

During the month of Open Access Week (October 19-25) we will be highlighting a number of guest posts from University of Iowa Faculty and Staff who have personal experience making their work Open Access.  We appreciate their contributions.

Professor Williams
Professor Williams

The first guest post is by Associate Professor, Rachel Marie-Crane Williams, Ph.D. University of Iowa,  Departmental Executive Officer of the Department of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, Faculty member of the School of Art and Art History/Media, Social Practice, and Design.

Open Access is the way that new knowledge is made…easier

October 19-25 is International Open Access Week all across the world. As a scholar I have directly benefited from participating in the Iowa Research Online open access platform. One of my articles has been downloaded over 12,000 times. The ripple effects of this can be seen easily on Google Scholar. That particular article is cited numerous times by other people who are pursuing similar questions in countries like Albania and Spain. If not for open access and my participation in the Iowa Research Online program I doubt those scholars would have found my work.

As a public servant at a public university I feel that an open access system for all of the scholarship that we produce is important. Print journals are expensive to produce, subscriptions are costly for individuals and libraries, and people without access to the journal can’t use the information. Ultimately as researchers we want to engage in conversations with other people about our work and trends or ideas in our field. My own research often appeals to people who are not directly connected with a university. It gives me great pleasure to know that they can still find and read my scholarship even if they can’t afford a subscription to a journal, they live in a place where the journal is not available, or they are not aware of what journals to consult in order to find information about a particular topic.

We are always standing on the shoulders of giants. Climbing up to those places in order to survey the world stretched out before us should be easy, free, and independent of our connections in academia. It is important to find what came before us with regard to a history of ideas. I wrote my dissertation at a time when printed journals were still the way that scholarship was disseminated. Google was still five years away from launching Google Scholar. As a doctoral student I traveled to university libraries all over the country to browse stacks, read journals, and find information. It was a slow, expensive, and arduous process. Now, I can simply use the internet to find information from the comfort of my own couch. With open access I can still read that information even if my university does not subscribe to the journal or I don’t have funding to purchase the articles. Having easy and free access to the ideas of others can spark our creativity, help us formulate new ideas and approaches, keep us from being redundant, and make collaboration easier, thus creating new knowledge.

Open access also levels the playing field. As an educator I care deeply about equality. Students from schools with small budgets or in developing countries can access the work of others without barriers As a teacher, it broadens the possibilities of ideas and research that I can share with students. Nothing is more frustrating than finding an abstract that seems relevant to your lecture only to discover you can’t access it without paying for it. This has real relevance for my colleagues in medicine where people’s lives might depend on access to the latest research about procedures or pharmaceuticals.

If we are committed to making new knowledge and advancing the act of discovery we must all commit ourselves to open access and to the possibilities it offers to everyone who has the technological ability to surf the web.