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. —Peter Suber.

Quick summary of four major projects:

Analogy. Suppose a small town began to grow in a former wilderness. Early in its history it had a newspaper. In time it had a phone book, tax roll, town hall, post office, telegraph office, public library, school, church, cemetery, train station, doctor, surveyor, bartender, and private eye, each accumulating records in its own idiosyncratic, incomplete way. None of these caches of information is a history of the town. All are materials useful for studying the history of the town. Someone who knew where a good fraction of them were located would do a service by pointing them out. In this sense, I haven't written a history of OA. But I've created materials, alone or with others, useful for studying the history of OA. And here I'm pointing them out, with some notes on their scope, preservation, and searchability. Needless to say, the history of OA is still unfolding. The small town didn't disappear except in the sense that it grew into a large city.


  • In February 2002 I started a Timeline of the Open Access Movement.
    • At first it was a hand-coded HTML page.
    • But as progress accelerated, and the OA movement passed more OA milestones more quickly, that method 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 the timeline is fairly thorough up to and including 2007, and very meager after that.
  • Although I started it in 2002, I deliberately went back to add entries on all the earlier landmark events that I could find.
  • In my summary at the top of the page I say that the timeline runs "to 2007". That's because I stopped updating the timeline myself in 2007 and few people have enlarged it since then. I don't want to overstate its present scope. However, the OAD version is crowd-sourced, and if the crowd takes an interest, the timeline could become comprehensive right up to the present.

Newsletter (2001-2013)

  • I wrote a regular newsletter on OA for 12 years. For its first two years it was called the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter (2001-2002). Then I renamed it the SPARC Open Access Newsletter (2003-2013). At first it was weekly, with a few exceptions. In July 2003 it became monthly, and in September 2011 it became quarterly.
  • 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.
  • You can search the newsletter with a Google "site" search of the section of my Earlham site containing the Earlham versions of each issue.
    • This method will search my blog and newsletter together, which is usually an advantage.
  • You can also search the newsletter in Google without special syntax. Just precede each search string with "peter suber" (keeping the quotation marks) and newsletter. This method will include some hits that quote the newsletter, but it won't omit any hits from the newsletter itself.
  • You can also search the newsletter together with my other writings on OA, but not including my blog, by searching DASH, Harvard's institutional repository. However, the DASH search engine is not as flexible as Google with boolean or phrase searching

Open Access News (2002-2010)

  • I launched a blog called 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.
    • 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.
  • OAN is also 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 (by default sorted 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 of the section of my Earlham site containing the blog.
    • This method will search my blog and newsletter together, which is usually an advantage.
  • 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.

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 volume of OA-related news and comment.
  • 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 extent 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 and why to tag for OATP.
  • Because every OATP tag publishes a tag library and real-time feed, the list above is just a small sample of what OATP has to offer. For more, see the full list of OATP tags in use (more than 10,000) and the full list of project-approved tags (more than 250).
  • Items in a given tag library are listed in the (reverse) order in which they were tagged, not the (reverse) 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 the job that didn't scale for an individual blog, and the job that I shifted to the crowd-sourced Open Access Tracking Project. Hence, the new Google+ blog never intended to cover OA comprehensively. Nor do 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+ lets me limit my 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

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

  • In September 2007 Caroline Sutton and I launched the Societies and Open Access Research (SOAR) project to catalog OA journals published by scholarly societies. In September 2013 we added Amanda Page as a third co-author/co-editor. I don't list SOAR above because the catalog doesn't yet help much on the history of these journals, for example, indicating when they launched or converted to OA. But like OAD and OATP, SOAR is crowd-sourced. Anyone who wants to unearth these dates and add them to the catalog would make it much more useful.