23 September 2008

Open Access

Earlier in the year, Health and Human Rights: An International Journal was re-launched as an "open access" publication, in the interest of enhancing "access to human rights knowledge in the health field." (An article included in the first issue elaborates further on the problem of access to biomedical research literature.)

What exactly is "open access," and what is its relevance to refugee and forced migration studies? Open access literature is defined as "digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions" (Suber 2004). One particular target of the open access movement has been peer-reviewed research that is usually reported in scholarly journals. Subscription costs and copyright restrictions have meant that those with the most to gain are effectively excluded from accessing the knowledge disseminated in these publications. To overcome these restrictions, two types of delivery mechanisms have been developed to facilitate greater access to research literature: open access journals and open access archives or repositories.

How open are forced migration journals, under the above definition? I listed 17 periodicals in my forced migration guide that focus specifically on issues relating to forced migration and/or humanitarianism (excluding two that report on statistics). Of these, four make all of their issues available online free-of-charge (Forced Migration Review, Humanitarian Exchange, International Review of the Red Cross, and Journal of Humanitarian Assistance). Three of these titles are not peer-reviewed and are practice- rather than academic-oriented. (The exception is the International Review of the Red Cross, which is peer-reviewed. While its publication was recently outsourced to Cambridge University Press, current issues are still being posted online.)

Several journals adhere to a "delayed open access" policy. For example, issues of Refuge are made available online 12 months after first being published in print. The full-texts of back issues of Disasters, International Journal of Refugee Law, and Journal of Refugee Studies are provided through Forced Migration Online (FMO), typically with a three- to five-year lag time.

So roughly half of these (randomly selected, unrepresentative sample of!) journals and other periodicals are open access to one degree or another. Of course, there are many other journals that publish forced migration articles and that may be open access, such as Conflict and Health and Migration Letters. To locate more open access journal titles and articles, try searching the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).

Open access archives or repositories normally house preprints, conference papers, theses, and other research publications that are not peer-reviewed. Forced Migration Online recently received funding to develop an Open Access Repository System (OARS) and migrate its information resources to an open source platform. This would make its journals (described above) and grey literature digital library more interoperable with other open systems, including the Oxford University Research Archive. Other examples of open access repositories are listed in the Open Access Directory (OAD).

For more information about open access generally, read Peter Suber's short "A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access" (available in multiple languages) or his longer "Open Access Overview."

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