On Open Access, by Peter Suber

On Open Access, by Peter Suber

In Open Access, Peter Suber offers a general overview of what open access (OA) to research is. He is rather upfront about his mission: Suber wrote a book that is “… a succinct introduction to the basics, long enough to cover the major topics in reasonable detail and short enough for busy people to read” (ix). He does not go into the significant history of scholarly communication, like John Willinsky might, or the legal precedents for digital rights management, like Yochai Benkler would. Rather, Open Access is a book of definitions, a survey of the field, and a quick, palatable argument for OA. It is a short, attractive volume with terminology boxes and with key phrases emphasized by white type on a black background.  Suber acknowledges that he’s writing for “busy people” — we can only assume those busy people include university administrators, funders, and policy folks who would benefit from such a birds-eye view of the OA movement.

Suber reviews issues with OA uptake, variations, policies, and possibilities. In chapter 1, he sets the tone for the rest of the book by offering a straightforward definition of OA: “Open access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions” (4). He is especially adept at describing the difference between gold OA (journals) and green OA (repositories) as well as gratis OA (access, but no change in usage permissions) and libre OA (access, and more usage permissions). On the difference between the green / gold and gratis / libre distinctions, Suber explains: “Gratis / libre answers the question, how open is it? Green / gold answers the question, how is it delivered?” (67).

In sum, Open Access is an incredibly useful book in its easily-digestible format. It is not radical in its premise or approach, although Suber does call for a rethinking of scholarly production to benefit authors and readers rather than intermediaries (read: corporate publishers). Open Access is an excellent OA primer, replete with quotable maxims and soundbytes–including this guiding premise that Suber recommends to researchers: “Make your work as usable and useful as it can possibly be” (75). Rather adroit, in my mind.

Work Cited

Suber, Peter. 2012. Open Access. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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