Accountability and Open Access

Hey, have you heard there’s a recession on? (Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.) It’s nearly impossible to avoid news from all sectors–including higher education–about the continued economic challenges facing the country. Stories about funding difficulties for both public and private institutions, rising tuition, and declining endowments fill news outlets daily. And of course academic libraries (like libraries of all types) are feeling the budget pinch, too.

Often we focus on the economics of our libraries (i.e., fallout from the serials crisis) when we discuss open access publishing with other faculty and administrators at our institutions. Last week in the class I’m teaching my students and I discussed scholarly communication. I’m a strong supporter of open access publishing, and it was great to have the opportunity to see these issues through the eyes of my students. They were genuinely surprised to find that the results of scholarly research are often so difficult to access for those outside of academe.

After my class discussion I was particularly struck by one aspect of the economics of open access: accountability. It’s likely that as the effects of the recession continue to be felt over the next few years, the calls for accountability in higher education budgets will grow more insistent. Open access advocates can use this situation to highlight the advantages of OA scholarly journals. Broad access to and wide dissemination of the research and scholarship happening at colleges and universities can provide visible proof of the relevance of higher education.

Increased access to research can also bring positive publicity to our institutions. The importance of research is growing even at institutions that have traditionally focused on teaching, and recruiting and retaining talented faculty is crucial. Widespread good publicity can also help attract students, and especially highlighting increasing opportunities for student research. Many institutions run ads in the local media promoting their scholars and programs. Wouldn’t it be great if prospective students could easily find and read about some of the research going on in those programs?

While it’s hard to say whether discussions of accountability will, in and of themselves, win the open access movement many new converts, I think accountability is a valuable addition to the growing list of arguments in favor of open access publishing.

Author: Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

4 thoughts on “Accountability and Open Access”

  1. Excellent point! But I just read a post yesterday by Richard Poynder ( indicating that lack of accountability and peer review by an ‘open access’ vanity journal had something to do with the Alabama shooting. This is the kind of publicity we DON’T want to attract.
    I hope that people realize this sort of thing (fraud) has been happening in the print journal world and will continue to happen in the online journal world. Most Open Access publishers follow peer review guidelines and are as rigorous as most print journals.
    It was interesting to read such different posts about Open Access and accountability in two days.

  2. There is some possibility that the “accountability” factor could be a card played in the effort to encourage institutions to support open access. But what about those situations when our faculty produce articles that suggest very questionable research projects and the use of tuition and tax dollars for them – especially those studies with “no-brainer” findings, e.g., “New faculty research finds that most people prefer to eat fatty foods rather than diet” – when the general public sees this sort of thing – it really calls accountability into question – is that what faculty are doing with our tuition dollars and taxpayer funded research? Now – it may be there are some valid and important findings there – but that’s not always the case – especially when faculty are under the gun to publish or perish. Otherwise the accountability issue tends to deal mostly with students – not faculty research – are higher education institutions graduating students who have achieved the learning outcomes that institution says they will have when they graduate. If we’re not turning out students who can succeed in the workplace – or can’t even graduate at all – they we will be held accountable for that failure.

  3. Very good point, Robin. I saw the Poynder post linked from Dorothea Salo’s place over at SciBlogs ( and I think she says it better than I could:

    “It should seem natural, then, that both open-access and toll-access journals contain bad seeds, suffer scandal. For every Bentham, there’s an Australasian Journal; for every SJI, there’s an El Naschie. (Well, actually, I would guess there are quite a few more Australasians than Benthams lurking out there, because the toll-access slice of the journal pie is still so much larger, but you take my point.)”

    I think it’s similar with “no-brainer” results — those articles can be published in both open access and subscription journals. I hope we can use these kinds of articles to argue for more rigorous review for both kinds of publications.

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