Throughout history, libraries have been built with the goal of providing spaces for gathering and making the world’s knowledge available to all. Such places have historically allowed anyone to access and learn anything contained within the library so that the knowledge of a few could quickly become the knowledge of many.
The largest barrier to the realization of this dream of universal knowledge was the necessity that individuals travel long distances to get to these libraries. But with the existence of the internet, this dream is becoming a reality. Websites like Wikipedia provide comprehensive archives of information.
The internet presents the same promise for academic publishing – the area from which most new knowledge is generated. Not only does it present a way for academics to share their work more easily, it provides a means for fellow scholars to discuss and contribute to each other’s work more quickly. It has also allowed the work of academics in non-Western countries to gain more prominence in the global community.
It just makes sense. After all, most of this research is publicly funded and should be provided as a public good.
Unfortunately, the academic publishing industry is largely controlled by a handful of massive, monopolistic, profit-driven publishers. Academics pay publishers billions of dollars each year to, ironically, make their work harder to access and build upon.
In a detailed history of Open Access publishing, Ars Technica provides a fascinating look at the struggle to free academic publishing from restrictive copyright and the barriers erected by these large, multinational publishers.