Access to full-text, peer-reviewed research has traditionally been reserved for those who could afford it, but an effort is under way supporting open and freely accessible information.
At the University of Arizona, a number of divisions have initiated projects and initiatives promoting and sharing scholarly work more freely.
Called the "open-access" movement, it is built upon the belief that scholarly information should be available to individuals who would, otherwise, not be able to afford journal subscriptions or trips to research conferences.
Also important to the movement is the belief that knowledge is not merely shaped by those within academic or research communities, but that individuals at the ground level often have and attempt to disseminate critically important information.
"We're seeing a growth in the citizen scientist," said Dan Lee, who directs the UA's Office of Copyright Management and Scholarly Communications. Lee, whose office is housed in the UA Libraries, serves to educate the University's community about copyright law.
"If they are able to have access to what is available, they can build upon that knowledge and contribute," he added.
Lee will discuss open-access models and how they help to propel creativity and innovation in scholarly work during a Nov. 2 event to be held at 11 a.m. at the Main Library, 1510 E. University Blvd. His lecture, “Open Access and Creativity,” is free and open to the public.
Open-access information is generally presented in the form of free or low-cost access to electronic journals and e-books, information databases, virtual research groups and peer-reviewed encyclopedias.
At the UA in 2002, the School of Information Resources and Library Science introduced the Digital Library of Information Science and Technology, or dList.
After a hiatus, dList was recently relaunched through a collaboration between the UA school, known as SIRLS, and UA Libraries.
The archive enables UA students and faculty and other scholars to upload and share their research related to library and information sciences and also contains rare and hard-to-find publications, said Bruce Fulton, the digital projects librarian for SIRLS.
Additionally, the school offers coursework to help students understand the implications of open access.
"Students need to be aware of open access because many of them will end up working for or creating and managing these repositories," Fulton said. "They need not only know about the technologies, but also the business models that help them to work."
Fulton said the open access movement is partially driven by what is known as the "serials crisis," or an elevation of costs in academic journals.
"We like to think of information as free and open, but it costs money to do this," Fulton said.
"And with open access, we typically think about it in terms of the academic community, but scholarly work can be any kind of work – photographs, PowerPoint presentations, videos, audio and other different types of collections," Fulton said.
Elsewhere on campus, UAiR contains articles, audio and video files manuscripts and other collections on Southwestern archeology and history, photographic collections and other resources. Also, the Journal of Political Ecology is an open journal.
Additionally, Special Collections and the Center for Creative Photography, which are part of the UA Libraries, also maintain a digital database with images including those captured by Ansel Adams, Lola Alvarez Bravo, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Margrethe Mather, Edward Weston and others.
The remaining challenge is how to finance open access.
Certain grant-funding agencies require that researchers make their work publically available at no cost. Published scholars have begun offering payment to allow their research to be available at no cost in some form. Also, institutions, such as the UA, are introducing programs and initiatives to fund open-access initiatives.
"There is no one model that will work for everyone," Lee said, "but with more sharing of knowledge, more knowledge can then be generated as a result of that sharing."