Open access (OA) is a longstanding and important discussion within librarianship. As Peter Suber explains, the “basic idea of OA is simple: Make research literature available online without price barriers and without most permission barriers.” For a good grounding in the basics of open access, I refer the interested reader to Suber’s book Open Access; for a quick overview of open access, see this blog post by Jill Cirasella.
Open access has many benefits, both to academics and to the wider public. The benefits to academics are obvious: authors get wider distribution of their work, researchers at institutions with small budgets have better access to scholarly materials, and, for librarians, it represents a partial solution to the serials crisis.
In this article, however, I will focus on the benefit of open access to the public. When scholarship is freely available on the Web, it is available not only to scholars, but to anyone with an internet connection, the research skills to locate these materials, and the proficiency to read them. Open access has the potential to support lifelong learning by making scholarship available to people without any current academic affiliation, whether they are professionals in a field that requires continuing education, or hobbyists fascinated by a particular subject, or just people who are interested in many things and want to keep learning.