History of open access

From Peter Suber
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Nobody has yet written a comprehensive history of open access (OA), and I don't plan to. But many of my writings and projects over the years will help those who want to study or write up parts of that history. Here are some of those pieces and projects.

Quick summary of the four major ones:


  • Around 2003 I started a Timeline of the Open Access Movement.
    • At first it was a hand-coded HTML page on the Earlham College server.
    • But as OA milestones accumulated, that didn't scale. In February 2009, I created a wiki version of the timeline at the Open Access Directory to crowd-source the job of updating and improving it.
    • Unfortunately very few people have contributed to the OAD (wiki) version. But the OAD is open to public edits and ready for contributions.
    • Right now, however, the timeline is fairly thorough up to and including 2007, and very meager after that.

Newsletter (2001-2013)

  • I wrote a regular newsletter on OA for 12 years. Originally it was called the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter (2001-2002). In 2003 I renamed it the SPARC Open Access Newsletter (2003-2013).
  • Here's a list of links to each issue on the Earlham College server. Each issue and each major article is also on deposit in DASH, Harvard's institutional repository.
  • I often wrote about contemporaneous OA developments. In that sense, the newsletter articles are relevant in the way that my blog posts are relevant, though the articles provide much more detail and analysis. Sometimes I wrote about the history of OA itself.

Open Access News (2002-2010)

  • I launched Open Access News in May 2002 and blogged heavily until April 2010. My goal was to track and share all that was going on with OA. I didn't succeed, of course. But I covered a lot: about 18,000 posts, with occasional co-bloggers.
  • OAN is still online at its original site on the Earlham College server.
    • But do not trust the search engine in the blog sidebar. When the blog was alive, this search engine was comprehensive. But now that the blog is dead, it's very sketchy.
  • All of OAN is preserved in the section of Harvard's H-Sities that captures and preserves my entire Earlham College web site. While comprehensive and well-preserved, this copy is hard to search.
  • Most of OAN is backed up and searchable in a Google Group of the same name.
    • I forget what trick I used to send each blog post to the Google Group. But whatever it was, I didn't think of it until after I'd been posting for a while. The Group captures about 14k of the 18k posts. You don't need to be a member to view or search the Group.
    • I was the only member of the Group, and now that I've stopped posting to OAN, I've also stopped posting to this Group. There's no reason to ask to join.
    • The Group-specific search search engine leaves a lot to be desired. If you search for "Elsevier", it will tell you there are 11 hits (and by default sort them by date). But if you scroll through the hit list to the end, you'll find 203. If you scroll back to the top, you'll see that Google updated its estimate to 203. And if you turn off date sorting, by deleting %7Csort:date from the end of the URL, then Google updates its estimate to "about 490". (Google: What gives?)
  • You can also search OAN with a Google "site" search the section of my Earlham site containing the blog.
  • You can also search OAN in Google without special syntax. Just precede each search string with "peter suber" and "open access news" (keeping the quotation marks).
    • This method will include some hits that quote my blog posts, but it won't omit any of my blog posts.
    • For what it's worth, this is the method I use when I want to search OAN these days.

Open Access Directory (2008-present)

  • In 2009, I co-founded the Open Access Directory with Robin Peek. It's an OA encyclopedia of OA. Unlike other encyclopedias, it limits itself to simple factual lists, in part to avoid edit wars and in part to lower barriers to participation.
  • I say "2008-present" because that's when OAD has existed. But many of its lists cover OA developments prior to 2008.
  • The OAD is a wiki and depends on the OA community to keep it accurate, current, and comprehensive. It's crowd-sourced and distributed under a CC-BY license. To limit spam, editing is limited to registered users, but registration is free and easy.
  • Many of the OAD lists cover parts or threads of OA history. In most cases (not "Early OA journals), I launched these lists and maintained them with the help of research assistants and interns.

Open Access Tracking Project (2009-present)

  • I launched the Open Access Tracking Project (OATP) in April 2009 to provide a crowd-sourced alternative to my blog, Open Access News, which didn't scale as a way to capture and share the rapidly growing number of new developments.
  • I say "2009-present" because that's when OATP has existed. But this needs two qualifications.
    • On the past: OATP supports and encourages retroactive tagging, and is gradually capturing more and more OA developments from before 2009. To follow the extend of our retroactive tagging search for items that lack the oa.new tag.
    • On the future: From the start, OATP benefited from grant-supported tagging, in addition to volunteer tagging But in the summer of 2018 it will wean itself off grant-funded tagging, and depend entirely on the growing cadre of volunteer taggers. After that, its quantity and quality will depend on the OA community at large. To become an OATP tagger or recruit new OATP taggers, see our handouts on how or why to tag for OATP.
  • Items in a given tag library are listed in the order in which they were tagged, not the order in which they occurred or were published.

Google+ blog (2011-present)

  • When I laid down Open Access News in 2010, I didn't want to stop blogging altogether. So in July 2011, I launched a new blog at Google+.
  • The purpose of OAN was to cover OA developments comprehensively, but that's precisely what did not scale for an individual blog, and that's why I shifted that job to the crowd-sourced Open Access Tracking Project. Hence, the new Google+ blog never intended to OA comprehensively. Nor did I even limit the topics to OA, as I did with OAN. So for the OA historian, this blog contains both omissions (no posts on some OA developments) and false positives (posts not about OA). Still, it covers many OA developments.
  • It's my only current, active blog, though I also tweet (@petersuber).
  • On my G+ blog page, there's a search box at the top of the page. But it's not limited to my posts. G+ offers me syntax to limit searches to my own posts, but as far as I can tell, it doesn't let you limit your searches to my posts. (Google: Why?) The best work-around is to search for "peter suber" (keeping the quotation marks" and your search term. That will cover more than just my posts, but at least it will cover all of my posts.

Writings on OA (1992-present)

How you can help

Two of these projects are crowd-sourced and you can help make them more accurate, comprehensive, and up to date.

  • If you're studying the history of OA (or any other aspect of OA), then use the OATP to to support your research, whether or not you tag for OATP.