Open Access: A Scholarly Revolution

By Diana L. Thompson
[Somatic Research]

Academic journals have two functions: to disseminate new knowledge and to uphold scholarly standards. The rub is, as you may have discovered in searching for research on massage, dissemination has been limited, even when the public’s tax dollars fund the research. This seems criminal—it is common knowledge that sharing research advances knowledge, and, in essence, we are paying for the data twice in order to get access to it.

Limitations to access are economic and geographic, and affect researchers and the public alike. Traditionally, research data has only been available to those who can afford the hugely expensive subscription fees for a vast array of specialized scholarly journals or to those who have access to a major research library with funding still intact.

Research journal fees range between hundreds and several thousands of dollars per year for a single subscription. Massage therapy research is published in any number of journals—from those specializing in psychology, nursing, or physical medicine to those specializing in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). There also are journals on cancer care, on sports injuries, on arthritis—all of interest to massage therapists. To obtain news from basic scientists on the mechanisms of massage, we also need access to journals on biology, chemistry, and neuroscience. Yet, there might be one article in 100 or even one in 1,000 that applies to massage and addresses the question that prompted the search in the first place. It is not cost-effective or time-efficient for us to subscribe to scholarly print journals, except the ones most directed to our professions. For now, the only peer-reviewed, indexed print journal for bodywork is the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.

Having access to research libraries doesn’t guarantee access either. State-funded institutions are experiencing budget cuts that affect libraries’ ability to subscribe to the selection of journals as before. A single institutional subscription can cost upwards of $20,000 per journal, per year. With an abundance of new CAM journals popping up, libraries are finding it difficult to add more subscriptions when budget cuts are imminent. Limited access to new information is no longer just our plight, but that of researchers, faculty, and students as well.1


Open Access Movement

A scholarly revolution is afoot. There is a progressive and widely held belief that the way we share research information should be as advanced as the Internet.2 To accelerate progress in that direction, organizations are popping up to provide free legal and systems support to researchers and institutions. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) is one such organization, working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system.3 The common goal for all participants in this movement is to assure authors retain copyrights and share information in a way that ensures open access (OA) for all.4

The definition of open access—free, unrestricted, online availability—specifically means that one is able to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to full text research articles, and crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the Internet itself.5 This level of access is to be freely available to all users of the World Wide Web.6

The OA movement is limited to research and other scholarly work for two reasons. Since the birth of scholarly journals in 1665, researchers have given away their work in exchange for intangible rewards such as visibility, impact, prestige, certification for career advancement, and a time-stamp to establish their work over other researchers working on the same problem.7 Reputations are built not only on the number of articles published, but the number of times an article is cited. The number of citations increases as the access increases.8

Peer-reviewers perform refereeing services for free as well. The peer-review process is the mechanism used to uphold scholarly standards, the other primary purpose of journals. Volunteerism as a peer-reviewer is an expectation in academic society, with a reward system even further removed.  Rather, the reviewer must be content knowing that their input contributes to the overall body of knowledge of a profession, ensuring that the rigors of science are applied, due diligence is practiced when advancing a theory or hypothesis forward, and the accomplishments of the past are acknowledged, verified, and built upon.

Second, most scientific journal articles are based on research funded by taxpayers.9 Research can have broader impact when shared openly, creating great potential for public benefit in fields such as medicine. This logic stimulated recent policy changes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in support of the OA initiative.10

History of the Movement

Separate initiatives emerged around the globe in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until the Open Society Institute convened a conference in Budapest in December 2001, that an organized, international effort ensued for OA. Conference participants represented many points of view, many academic disciplines, and many nations. They explored how the separate initiatives could work together to achieve broader, deeper, and faster success.11 The dialogue resulted in the Budapest Open Access Initiative: a statement of principle, strategy, and commitment.12

The opening paragraph of the Budapest Open Access Initiative is inspiring:

“An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the Internet. The public good they make possible is the worldwide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds. Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.”13

Two simple strategies were proposed: encourage authors to retain copyright and make their work available on websites, and in archives and repositories; and inspire a new generation of online, OA journals.

Several North American institutions made significant contributions early in the OA movement in an attempt to move these strategies forward. SPARC was launched in 1997 to educate stakeholders about the problems facing scholarly communication, to support new OA journals and drive down the costs of high-priced journals, and to disseminate legal guidelines to enable authors to negotiate with publishers for copyright retention. SPARC currently boasts 300 organizations from North America, Asia, Australia, and Europe.

The Public Knowledge Project (PKP), founded by John Willinsky, professor at University of British Columbia, was launched in 1998. Together with faculty at Simon Fraser University and Stanford University, PKP created and launched software systems offering publishing support to large and small community-based and commercial organizations alike to publish open access journals. The launch of Open Journal Systems (OJS) by PKP in 2002 was a landmark event for the OA movement.14

Standing on the shoulders of the early activists, other US institutions have propelled the movement forward. In May 2005, the NIH passed a Public Access Policy to ensure that the public has access to the published results of NIH-funded research—research costing the taxpayers $28 billion annually. With the intent to advance science and improve human health, the policy requires that peer-reviewed versions of the research it funds be deposited at its archive, PubMed Central, within 12 months of publication, beginning in 2008.15

Soon after, Harvard University faculty voted to grant the university a worldwide, non-exclusive, irrevocable license to distribute its scholarly articles, and specifically to make the article available to the public in an OA repository. Harvard was not the first to require OA regardless of the demands of publishing companies (except in cases of patents and limited proprietary data), but this action set a significant precedent for other universities, forcing the need for advanced archival systems with access to search engines.16


Copyright retention is a major shift in the publishing world. Typically, authors surrender the rights to their work to the publishing house, and under exception, can retain the ability to share the final work and various adaptations of it in limited settings. Copyright retention is the most critical aspect of the OA movement, permitting authors or their institutions to self-archive by posting their work on websites and repositories, making it available to all.

Digital or institutional repositories are systems for disseminating and preserving scholarly work. Articles are deposited onto the institution’s online archive, where they are organized, preserved, and made available. The goal of the various software systems created to support institutions in archiving knowledge is to enable separate archives to be treated as one.

Knowing that much of the research conducted at universities is now being archived, I wondered if anyone could actually access files on a university repository. According to the University of Washington (UW), “the UW Libraries Digital Repository is a platform for freely distributing research. The default is open access to all deposited items for all users of the World Wide Web.”17

To access these repositories, a global registry of open access repositories (ROAR)18 can help. Several search options exist, but the most familiar is to click on “search content,” type in your keywords, and the search engine will comb all repositories and collect matching data.

Google Scholar is probably the most used resource for scholars, students, and the curious.19 Type in search terms and the PageRank algorithm not only searches archives and repositories, but also scours websites, databases, and journals.20 Google Scholar is extremely helpful, especially when databases only yield abstracts and few full text articles. Many of those citations can be plugged into Google Scholar with positive results.

Open Access Journals

The second strategy put forth in the Budapest Open Access Initiative is to publish online OA journals. While OA journals are free, it is difficult to know what is available. The directory at provides a complete listing of all OA journals, more than 6,000 to date.

Even though OA journals are on the rise and are free to readers, they are not free to publish. Other funding sources must be made available for this effort to truly succeed. The International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (, for example, is funded through donations to the Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF). Contributions make it possible to provide free access to all seeking scholarly information on massage and bodywork.

Glenn Hymel, PhD, executive editor of IJTMB, was instrumental in selecting an OA system for the journal. “In the case of the MTF’s commitment to research, education, and service to colleagues and the public at large, the decision to develop and launch an OA, peer-reviewed journal was rather compelling.” MTF President Ruth Werner recently signed MTF’s Agreement for Full Participation in NIH PubMed Central Archive. She says this agreement between MTF and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) relates to the indexing of IJTMB into the NLM’s international database of academically rigorous peer-reviewed medical journals, PubMed Central.



The OA movement is making life a bit easier for us massage therapists to get our hands on information that can feed our minds and improve our practices. Another opportunity for getting involved is to attend an OA conference. This year the PKP conference will be in Berlin in September. Keynote speakers include PKP founder John Willinsky and Google Scholar creator, Anurag Acharya. It should be quite exciting!

 A licensed massage practitioner since 1984, Diana Thompson has created a varied and interesting career out of massage: from specializing in pre- and postsurgical lymph drainage to teaching, writing, consulting, and volunteering. Her consulting includes assisting insurance carriers on integrating massage into insurance plans and educating researchers on massage therapy theory and practice to ensure research projects and protocols are designed to match how we practice. Contact her at


1. Daniel Akst, “Information Liberation,” Wall Street Journal Digital Network, March 7, 2008, accessed March 2011,

2., accessed March 2011.

3. “About SPARK,” accessed March 2011,

4. Budapest Open Access Initiative, accessed March 2011,

5. Ibid.

6. “Scholarly Publishing and Open Access Issues at UW,” accessed March 2011,

7. “Open Access to Research,” accessed March 2011,

8.   Steve Lawrence, “Free Online Availability Substantially Increases a Paper’s Impact,” accessed March 2011,

9. “Open Access to Research,” accessed March 2011,

10. National Institutes of Health Public Access, accessed March 2011,

11. “Budapest Open Access Initiative,” accessed March 2011,

12. “Budapest Open Access Initiative,” accessed March 2011,

13. Ibid.

14. R. Lucas and J. Willinsky, “Open Access and the Ongoing Transformation of Scholarly Publishing: A Guide for Doctoral Students,” Routledge Doctoral Companion. (London, UK: Routledge, at press).

15. National Institutes of Health Public Access, accessed March 2011,

16. Melanie Dulong de Rosnay, “Harvard Goes Open Access,” accessed March 2011,

17. Research Works Archive, accessed March 2011,

18. Registry of Open Access Repositories, accessed March 2011,

19. Google Scholar, accessed March 2011,

20. R. Lucas and J. Willinsky, “Open Access and the Ongoing Transformation of Scholarly Publishing,” in Routledge Doctoral Companion, ed. Melanie Walker and Pat Thomson (Andover: Routledge, 2010).