The Future Of Open Access: Why Has Academia Not Embraced The Internet Revolution?

Kalev Leetaru | Forbes | April 29, 2016

More than any other technology, the web has revolutionized access to the world’s information, putting everything from recipes to encyclopedias to books to news at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection anywhere on the planet. The web’s role in democratizing access to global information has made it a poster child for the power of technology to advance society. Yet, given the modern web’s roots as a platform for sharing academic research, it might be surprising to learn that the vast majority of the knowledge and advances generated by the world’s universities has been left out of this information revolution.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the story of the web’s evolution is that the collective output of the world’s universities has remained largely absent from the open online world, even as most other forms of information have shifted to some form of open online access. In the case of encyclopedias, entirely new forms of collaborative knowledge documentation like Wikipedia have emerged, while journalism has shifted to free advertising-supported distribution and even music and videos are increasingly legally available through ad-supported streaming services or affordable licensed download services.

Academic papers, the lifeblood of the scholarly world of academia, have resisted this transition. To those outside academia it might be surprising that most universities don’t publish all of their books, papers, presentations and course materials on their websites for the world to access. Even at public universities, where the salaries of faculty and staff and the operating costs of the institution are often heavily subsidized by taxpayer money, either directly by their states or indirectly through grants from NSF, NIH and other federal agencies, the majority of the research output of the institution is not publicly accessible...