Open Access: What is it?

Open Access is a movement, born within the academic world, that promotes free access to results from scientific research and favours the sharing and growth of scientific knowledge.

The aim is to ensure maximum visibility and use of documents, via open access, starting with the basic idea that the results of publicly funded research must be available to everyone.

There are two paths for ensuring open access:

  • GREEN ROAD: self-archiving in archives open for public consultation that gather together the research work carried out by the authors, in accordance with publishing policies
  • GOLD ROAD: publication in open access magazines, that guarantee peer review, that are free for the user.

Declarations in favour of Open Access

Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002), promoted by the Open Society Institute

"The public good they make possible is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds. Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge".

Declaration of Berlin (2003), promoted by attendees at the Conference on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities

"Our mission to spread knowledge is incomplete if the information has not been made widely and readily available to society. It is necessary to support new possibilities of spreading knowledge, not just via traditional channels but increasingly through the paradigm of open access via the Internet. Let's define open access as an extended source of human knowledge and cultural heritage that has been validated by the scientific community."

Declaration of Messina (2004), promoted by CRUI in support of open access to academic literature. The declaration was signed by 74 Italian universities, including the Politecnico di Milano.

"... they declare to adhere to the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities in support of open access to scientific literature, with the hope that this gesture will constitute an initial, important contribution by Italian universities to a broader, more rapid diffusion of scientific knowledge."

Budapest Open Access Initiative, after 10 years (2012)

"Every institution of higher education should have a policy assuring that peer-reviewed versions of all future scholarly articles by faculty members are deposited in the institution's designated repository.

Every research funding agency, public or private, should have a policy assuring that peer-reviewed versions of all future scholarly articles reporting funded research are deposited in a suitable repository and made OA as soon as practicable.

Universities with institutional repositories should require deposit in the repository for all research articles to be considered for promotion, tenure, or other forms of internal assessment and review."

Position statement on open access in Public Research Bodies and the CRUI (March 2013)

"...CRUI and Italian Public Research Bodies, aware of the benefits of open access for national research, in terms of visibility, promotion and internationalisation, undertake to carry out coordinated activities for the success of open access". - signatory public bodies are: EPR - CNR, ENEA, INGV, INFN, ISS ( CRA body from 2 May 2013).

Why publish in Open Access

  • advantages for researchers:
    greater visibility for research work filed in institutional archives and published in Open Access journals, which translates into greater visibility, more citations (up to 600% depending on the subject), immediate diffusion of research results, greater impact for the author.
  • advantages for the institution:
    an international window for the production of its own professors/researchers and possible economies of scale on subscription costs.
  • advantages for the scientific community:
    research results have greater visibility (greater dissemination), are seen earlier (thanks to self-archiving, there is no need to wait for material to be printed); thanks to greater dissemination, there is a greater impact and higher circulation of ideas; knowledge benefits from an overall increased growth and diffusion, which is also much faster; the free circulation of research results and data sets contributes to reducing the cultural divide.

Why do researchers support Open Access?

Many supporters of OA promote free access as they are convinced that the results of publicly-funded research must be available to all; as citizens have paid for this research, they should be able to access it at no additional cost.
Other supporters of OA promote free access also because they believe that knowledge itself, or information, is a public asset.

OA has been approved of by several forces.
The web offers new publication methods: it makes circulating research easier, broader, faster and often less expensive.
The web offers new means and methods for sharing and using research and for supporting teaching, creating a demand for an access model that allows professors and universities to take full advantage of these new media and methods, or new openings for research using institutional or subject repositories.
By exploiting the potential offered by the internet, the articles are made accessible free of charge to users, without the restrictions and barriers foreseen by traditional licences. Diffusion of information guarantees a real impact: the easier it is to download an article, the more it is read and the more it is cited. This favours the sharing of knowledge and therefore a faster advance of knowledge, without barriers, worldwide.
Lastly many believe that open access will contribute to reducing the problems of high prices and restrictive conditions of use faced by universities who purchase licences and traditional journals in digital format.

How does the Open Access economic model work?

Open access literature does not mean without expense.
Open access to research results and scientific culture is not free of charge, there are costs to be met, to make research available.

The economic model changes: the cost is no longer a barrier to access in subscription form. but is covered at sources, by paying for publication costs.
For institutional repositories, the costs are part of the body's overheads, bearing in mind the clear advantages in terms of visibility and prestige.
Journals entail costs linked to the publishing work flow and the guarantee of a quality peer view. About half the journals require payment of a subscription for the publication process. These costs can be forecast in the initial research budget, and are often covered by the institutions they belong to: in this way the article becomes visible to everyone, always.

The international trend is increasingly to include the Open Access publication costs in the initial research budget. There is an increasing number of funding bodies that require research funded with their money to be made available to the public in Open Access, also undertaking to pay the publishing process costs.
The choice in Open Access is to have the (minimum) costs fall to those producing the research rather than the readers, to ensure maximum diffusion.
Alternative economic sustainability models are currently being studied (from the PLEIADI website:

One of the existing models provides for a payment when the authors files an article. This cost of publishing in open access is usually included in the research grant funds. In 2004, and Elsevier study revealed that the payment by the author model only concerned 17% of Open Access journals. In a later study from 2007, Bill Hooker carried out a survey among all known open access journals and found that only 18% apply tariffs.
The open access publisher BioMed Central offers a comparative table of costs to the authors (table comparing such author side payments).

Other economic models have also been experimented: for example, some new Open Access publishers, such as BioMed Central, require payment by the author, but this is cancelled for those institutes that have bought a subscription. In other cases, like the no profit organisation PLoS, the subscriptions from institution libraries reduce the publication costs for researchers considerably.

Many OA titles are subsidised by institutions or foundations.

An Elsevier study from 2004 has verified that governments or universities subsidise 55% of all open access journals, the largest portion. The other open access titles (28%) that are not supported by payments from authors were subsidised by subscription payments.

Some journals are entirely open access: each article is available, without any restriction. Other journals are hybrid, in the sense that they are magazines with traditional subscriptions, but offer authors the possibility of paying an amount to make their article freely accessible to anyone in the world. The other articles in the journal are only accessible via subscription.
Some publishers offer all their titles under a kind of open access policy, others have different policies for different titles.
Other research funding organisations have Open Access policies.
To monitor these policies, see:
    SHERPA's Juliet database of funder policies;
    BioMed Central's table for funding policies;
    the ROARMAP list of the largest funders and university policies.

Where can more information be found on this topic?

An excellent overview of Open Access has been written by Peter Suber from Harvard University


Websites of interest:

Updated list of OA Journals:
DOAJ: Directory of Open Access Journals

List of journals with Impact Factor:
Open Access Journals with IF

List of institutional and subject repositories:
OpenDOAR: Directory of Open Access Repositories

Database that indexes the creation, location and growth of open access institutional archives and their content:
ROAR (Registry of Open Access Repositories)

Website for Italian Electronic Scientific Literature in Open Archives and Institutional Repositories:
This is the national platform for centralised access to the scientific literature deposited in Italian open archives, established and managed by universities and research bodies.

Website on Open Access that registers news and information about the national and international movement:
Wiki on Open Access in Italy

Guidelines issued by CRUI (Conference of Italian University Rectors) and developed by the national work group on Open Access:
CRUI guidelines

University Policy

The Politecnico di Milano promotes open access to scientific literature in compliance with what is established by its own statute and as a signatory of the Messina Declaration. To do this, it has an Open Access policy that applies the EU Commission Recommendations and national law 7 October 2013, n. 112.

The university policy, that has been active since 1st October 2014, states that professors, researchers, and collaborators of the Politecnico di Milano feed the university's institutional open access archive by self-archiving their scientific products in it.
An institutional archive is a platform where members of the academic community file electronic documents, the result of university teaching and research activity. The institutional archive can be queried via search engines on the web, and spread and enhances the value of the university's scientific productions.  Re-Public@polimi  is the name of the Politecnico di Milano's institutional repository, that collects electronic documents coming from professors', researchers' and collaborators' work at the university.

A University scientific literature open access work group has been established with archiving and intellectual property management technical tasks.
The group can be contacted at the email address openaccess(at)

Publishing policies

The rapid diffusion of University policies in favour of open access and diffusion of institutional archives has brought most publishers to allow the publication of articles published in institutional repositories (Green OA).

To know more about foreign publishers' policies on auto-self-archiving in institutional repositories or on personal websites, please refer to the website Sherpa/RoMEO

  • Green - allows the self-archiving of pre-print and post-prints
  • Blue - allows the self-archiving of post-prints
  • Yellow - allows the self-archiving of pre-prints
  • White - does not allow any self-archiving

It is in the author's interest to know his own rights.
The recommendation is to always read the entire publishing contract carefully to see what the terms are about auto-self-archiving and add a clause (addendum) that asks to maintain some exclusive rights for oneself (including, for example, the one regarding self-archiving in open institutional archives).

Materials and useful references for publication and/or auto-self-archiving in open access:

Materials and useful references for publication and/or auto-self-archiving in open access

Material from conferences and seminars

This section contains the stored materials that were presented during seminars organised by the Politecnico di Milano about open access and the materials produced during national conferences on OA.

22/09/2014 - University Policy and Publishing Strategies at the Politecnico di Milano