What is open access?

Open access means cost-free and unrestricted access to research literature and information on the internet.

Why open access?

It seems obvious that the results of publicly funded research should be freely accessible. Under the existing system, however, the public pays more than once: publicly funded libraries have to buy the results of publicly funded research from private publishers so that their users can read them.

Open access leads to equality of opportunity for everyone interested, within or outside the research community, including parts of the world that do not have well-funded libraries.

How do I find open access publications?

  • Content in this category is labelled “open access” in the ZB’s online catalogue.
  • Browser extensions can also point you automatically to open access versions of research literature: examples include Unpaywall (for Chrome and Firefox) and Open Access Helper (for Safari).
  • Many historical sources from the ZB’s collections have been digitised and are available as open access via the e-manuscripta and e-rara platforms. 

The Swiss open access strategy

In Switzerland, all publications from publicly funded research are supposed to be available via open access by 2024. That is the goal of the national open access strategy. To achieve it, work is currently under way in a number of action areas defined in an action plan. They include:

  • national monitoring of the costs to universities of open access publications
  • negotiating new open access contracts with publishers
  • international networking and collaboration
  • developing and reinforcing alternative publication models.

The open access action plan is also the first pillar of the new Swiss open science strategy.

Open access is an international trend that is both promoted and necessitated by research policy. One example of an international initiative is Plan S, which was initiated by the European Commission and is supported by numerous research promoters. Its aim is to make all government-funded research results available via open access by 2021.

Publishing open access

There are various ways to publish open access. The most important are:

  • Researchers publish their work in an open access journal so that it is freely accessible to everyone immediately, paying a publication fee to do so. This is the “gold” model.
  • Researchers publish their work in conventional journals that can only be read on payment of a fee. They also make their work freely accessible on the internet, for example on their university’s publication server. The publisher does not normally permit this until after an embargo period. This is the “green” model.
  • Alternative forms of publication: these include open access journals that do not charge publication fees but cover their costs in another way (e.g. journals of scientific societies), as well as new forms of research article publication, such as micropublications.

Open access is about more than free availability. Open access publications should also be open to further use, which is indicated by licences (e.g. Creative Commons). The copyrights should also remain with the researchers. Under the conventional system, they often pass entirely to the publisher.

The same quality standards apply to open access as to conventional publications. Scientific correctness is assessed via peer review or comparable methods.

Where can I find assistance with questions about open access?

If you are a researcher with questions about publishing open access, the University of Zurich’s Data Services & Open Access (DSOA) team will be happy to advise you. The Data Services & Open Access (DSOA) department is a joint initiative of the UZH and ZB. The DSOA maintains the ZORA repository for the University and answers questions about publishing open access. The ZB assists the DSOA with enquiries relating to the humanities and social sciences.

If you are a private individual wanting to learn more about open access and have questions or suggestions, you are welcome to contact us via e-mail.

More information about open access can be found here: