It’s 11am and I’m already a few coffees deep. I’m on the hunt for what is clearly the most important paper I will ever read in my whole life (but maybe that’s the coffee talking, who knows).
Yesterday I stumbled across an obscure line of theoretical reasoning that is going to revolutionise my PhD and push my work into the stratosphere, and all the detail is going to be expertly laid out in the paper I am currently hunting. The paper is from the early 90’s, published in a journal I’ve never heard of, so… Library Search here I come…! Except it’s not there. The University of Kent does not subscribe to that journal, or that particular part of that particular database. A friendly flashing sign says I can pay a small fee of a trillion dollars to accesses the paper if I want to – I don’t. My PhD returns to its previous humdrum existence, as I persuade myself that the paper in question probably wouldn’t have led to a Nobel Prize anyhow (caffeine really seems to fire up my imagination, they don’t even have a Nobel Prize in Psychology…).
When I was approached about writing a blog post about the importance of Open Access to research students, I had to stop and think about it. I have definitely hit the Library Search brick wall on many occasions, it can be deeply frustrating – especially when you feel like you are on a research roll that may (but most likely won’t) lead to a research breakthrough. But my use of different Open Access sources is now so second nature that it no longer occurs to me that I am using it. I am aware that the University invests a huge amount of money every year in order for researchers to access a raft of fantastic journals and databases, but more and more I find myself moving away from Library Search into Open Access realms. The two main categories of Open Access articles, (Gold – the published paper from the publisher, Green – pre-publication manuscripts for published papers), have opened up the chances of accessing otherwise unavailable sources.
My research sometimes skirts the edges of clinical and medicinal approaches to the brain and has therefore lead me to medical journals, many of which the University does not subscribe to. I completely understand this, we do not (yet) have a medical school that would necessitate access to medical journals and funds for such subscriptions are far from limitless. These days I am just as likely to find articles through Google Scholar or Research Gate as on Library Search. As a researcher, open access it has allowed me to delve into new and interesting nooks of research that would have otherwise remained a mystery to me. As such, I think that open access is helping researchers from all disciplines break down disciplinary boundaries that have previously been reinforced by the information-selective power of resource budgets and executive decision making. I can only hope that this trend in open access information and publication continues and that more becomes available in Gold Standard, as otherwise much of our understanding will come from (technically) un-peer reviewed sources. In short, though it may not ever lead to a Nobel Prize, open access has made my research more interesting, more nuanced and more relevant.