LIBRARY INSIDER: Be more open: The benefits of freely available scholarly materials


When you hear the word “open,” what do you think of? In the academic world, many may think of the idea of open access. Open access can be defined as the free and immediate online access to scholarly information. Free access to journal articles is commonly associated with the open access movement.

However, we should think of open access more holistically to include all types of scholarly outputs. This can include educational resources such as textbooks and lesson plans, as well as research protocols, datasets, code and software programs that form the research lifecycle and open science. Research and other scholarly materials that are open can benefit readers, authors and others.

There are several ways that openness is beneficial for readers. Increased openness of content allows for equitable access to learning. This means that readers, particularly those who do not have access to a library to assist in mitigating access costs, are not constrained by financial limitations.

Beyond this, increased open access content allows readers to be presented with a wider range of information. They then have the opportunity to view materials that present various perspectives and assess these for quality. Content that is openly available sooner also can be beneficial in situations where timeliness matters, such as treatment or policy changes. Those who are researching topics may be inspired and able to build on the ideas they have viewed. This promotes scientific advancement and encourages collaboration. 

Openness also can be beneficial for researchers. If authors make their works open and freely available, it may increase the visibility of their research since paywalls are not an issue. This increased visibility could make it more likely that an article published as open will receive more citations, which can increase the impact and influence of the work. Authors also may find that research can be completed more quickly by having immediate access to an article, rather than waiting and submitting a request if it’s unavailable through the library.

In terms of the research lifecycle, if openness is embedded into the entire project's workflow with open research protocols, analysis and software code, and raw and processed datasets, the research will be more transparent and reproducible. This allows for easier reuse and critical appraisal of research results, which are both crucial as highlighted during the current global pandemic. Open science can allow provenance of research outputs to be established and allow credit to be given to all contributors of a research project, such as to a developer who wrote invaluable software code. 

With October coming soon, Open Access Week is right around the corner — Oct. 19 to 25. Open Access Week is an annual event that gives researchers from around the world an opportunity to engage in discussions and activities to learn more about open access.

There are many ways to learn more about these topics through the Health Sciences Library System (HSLS), including classes, librarian consultations and our website. Upcoming HSLS classes for October that may be of interest include Open Access Fundamentals and Share Data with the Pitt Data Catalog. For those who are not affiliated with the health sciences, University Library System (ULS) offers support through the Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing.

Francesca Yates and Stephen Gabrielson are research and instruction librarians in the Health Sciences Library System. Melissa Ratajeski is the coordinator of data services for HSLS.