The “open access” movement is defined by the belief that scholarly research, like journal articles and research studies, ought to be freely accessible to the greatest number of people in order to have maximum possible positive impact.
Every day, research is being done that could save or dramatically improve the lives of millions of people around the world, yet gaining access to this research continues to be the exclusive privilege of relatively wealthy people in wealthy countries. In order to read most published scholarly research, you need to either 1) be connected to a college, university, or other research institution that pays for access to databases where you can search for and read scholarly research, or 2) be willing and able to pay upwards of $30 for a single article.
There is a growing consensus that the economics governing how scholarly research is published are just wrongheaded: researchers, supported by colleges, universities, and sometimes government grants (NIH, NSF, etc.), conduct and publish research which is then sold back, in the form of journal subscriptions at exorbitant prices, to those very same colleges and universities, and the government. Who profits here? The publishers.
What can you do to support open access? If you’re a scholar or researcher, consider publishing your work in open access journals. Find out more about your publisher’s copyright policies before signing off on a publication agreement. Consider what rights you may be giving away to the publisher, and whether or not you want to include an addendum to the agreement. Finally, look for places like arxiv.org, the Social Science Research Network, or the University of Baltimore’s institutional repository, where you can upload your work to achieve a wider impact.