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Understanding Open Access

The purpose of this guide is to give VDOT employees a basic overview of "Open Access" journals (and other OA resources). This guide does not discuss "Open Data."

Evaluating Quality

Some Open Access journals can be predatory in nature. For more information see Understanding Predatory Publishers. In other cases, an Open Access journal (like any publication) may not be predatory but may simply exhibit low quality or questionable peer-review practices.

When evaluating a journal, it makes sense to separate the "Open Access" element from the element that deals with a journal's quality. In short, Open Access is about access, not quality. Like other types of journals, Open Access journals run the gamut from high quality/high-prestige to low-quality/low-prestige, with everything inbetween.

The example below is from the Open Transportation Journal. Their Editorial Policies seem clearly laid out (a good sign) including copyright (13. Copyrights Authors who publish in Bentham OPEN journals retain copyright to their work. Submission of a manuscript to the respective journals implies that all authors have read and agreed to the content of the Covering Letter or the Terms and Conditions." and Article Processing Fees (18. Publication Charges Policy... ranging from $600-$900). 

Example: What's Wrong Here?

This is an actual, unsolicited e-mail received by Ken Winter at the VDOT Research Library, from the Open Transportation Journal (ironically, while creating this guide).  While it is flattering to be approached to be part of an journal's editorial review board, several red flags are quickly evident: 

Email soliciting open access editors or writers.

1. The recipient's name, address and title are not quite accurate. "K" is substituted for his first name, and he is now a Dr.! This reads like a computer-generated or form letter. Question: Is a librarian qualified to sit on an editorial review board of a journal like this? This librarian's self assessment, based on the technical content of the articles it publishes indicates not!

2. The e-mail asserts that the journal is indexed by well-known sources. A quick check of those sources calls this claim into question. Two of the three databases listed (including the DOAJ!) do not list the journal at all. The third, TRID indexes only 45 articles from the years 2009-2013. That does not inspire confidence in the quality of the journal and calls into question other claims they might make.

3. How good is the peer review process of a journal that invites you to be both an editorial board member AND to submit an article? How about the fact that the invitation to sit on the board is contingent on the requirement to either "submit or solicit from your colleagues" an article a year? Sounds coercive not prestigious.

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