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What Drives the Guerilla Open Access Movement? - One CSULB Librarian Is on the Case

Snapshot of Gabriel Gardner

Scholars around the world have historically relied on libraries to collect secondary and primary sources for their research and for librarians to facilitate access to these sources. As many collections have moved online, ease of access to these materials has been greatly increased. However, the costs associated with online access to scholarly journals has increased consistently over the years. For many libraries, such increases place a significant cumulative financial pressure on their budgets. Coexisting with annual price increases for many journals are the continually evolving models of open access publishing, which offer their articles free of charge to readers.

Competing with these methods of access to published materials is a growing guerilla open access movement. The guerilla open access movement is a network of individuals and groups which provide articles and books to scholars for free, information which would otherwise have to be paid for, typically by a library or the scholars themselves. Every day, from around the world, thousands of scholarly articles are downloaded and read without the use of an academic library. These articles are copyrighted materials that are normally purchased via a subscription paid for by a library or firm.

Research into the guerilla open access movement is not without controversy. The “guerilla” aspect of making content available to interested scholars violates copyright law and also violates some publisher’s terms of service agreements. Many for-profit publishers are loath to comment on the movement and any effects it may be having on their profitability.

I have been studying the guerilla open access movement for years. In a series of co-authored papers, I have explored how copies of articles and books are made available via crowdsourcing on websites such as Twitter and Reddit as well as what motivates the participants in these exchanges. In March 2017 I will have another co-authored paper presented at the Association of College & Research Libraries conference examining the effects that the guerilla open access website Sci-Hub has had on the use of interlibrary loan at large research universities.

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