August 2007
The Coming Revolution in Scholarly Communications & Cyberinfrastructure
Peter Suber, Earlham College


This article began with a simple attempt to identify trends that were changing scholarly communication. I expected to find trends that were supporting the progress of OA and trends that were opposing it or slowing it down. The resulting welter of conflicting trends might not give comfort to friends or foes of OA, or to anyone trying to forecast the future, but at least it would describe this period of dynamic flux. It might even explain why OA wasn't moving faster or slower than it was.

But with few exceptions I only found trends that favored OA. Maybe I have a large blind spot; I'll leave that for you to decide. I'm certainly conscious of many obstacles and objections to OA, and I address them every day in my work. The question is which of them represent trends that are gaining ground.

While it's clear that OA is here to stay, it's just as clear that long-term success is a long-term project. The campaign consists of innumerable individual proposals, policies, projects, and people. If you're reading this, you're probably caught up in it, just as I am. If you're caught up in it, you're probably anxious about how individual initiatives or institutional deliberations will turn out. That's good; anxiety fuels effort. But for a moment, stop making and answering arguments and look at the trends that will help or hurt us, and would continue to help or hurt us even if everyone stopped arguing. For a moment, step back from the foreground skirmishes and look at the larger background trends that are likely to continue and likely to change the landscape of scholarly communication.

I've found so many that I've had to be brief in describing them and limit the list to those that most affect OA.

  1. First there are the many trends created by OA proponents themselves: the growing number of OA repositories, OA journals, OA policies at universities, OA policies at public and private funding agencies, and public endorsements of OA from notable researchers and university presidents and provosts. Each new OA repository, journal, policy, and endorsement contributes to a growing worldwide momentum and inspires kindred projects elsewhere. Funding agencies are now considering OA policies in part because of their intrinsic advantages (for increasing return on investment by increasing the visibility, utility, and impact of research) and in part because other funding agencies have already adopted them. The laggards are being asked why the research they fund is less worth disseminating than the research funded elsewhere. The growing mass of OA literature is becoming critical in the sense that the growth is now a cause, and not just an effect, of progress. OA literature is the best advertisement for OA literature; the more we have, the more it educates new scholars about OA, demonstrates the benefits of OA, and stimulates others to provide or demand it.
  2. Although knowledge of OA among working researchers is still dismally low, every new survey shows it increasing, and every new survey shows increasing rates of deposits in OA repositories and submissions to OA journals. The absolute numbers may still be low, but the trajectories are clearly up.

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Reference this article
Suber, P. "Trends Favoring Open Access," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 3, August 2007. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2007/08/trends-favoring-open-access/

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