Athabasca University bills itself as “Canada’s open university,” a philosophy it has maintained since it began to offer distance-education courses to Canadian students in 1970.
Last spring, the university took this philosophy further, launching Athabasca University Press, an open access (OA) scholarly press offering books, journals and websites to the public – free of charge.
“It fits with the university’s overall policy and approach to lowering barriers to knowledge,” says AU Press director Walter Hildebrandt, former head of the University of Calgary Press.
AU Press is Canada’s first entirely open access press. Many other university publishing houses make portions of journals and books available to the public, usually after a period of time (called “green” OA). AU Press, however, will offer its works online for free from the start (“gold” OA), in addition to selling its works in print.
Mr. Hildebrandt says the philosophy of the press is to distribute scholarship, not make money, adding that the commodification of scholarship has allowed big publishers like Elsevier to drive up the costs of journals and books at the expense of library budgets.
For the most part, authors are on board, saying they would rather have their work read than make money, says Mr. Hildebrandt. And most know that university publishing isn’t going to make them rich.
At the same time, “you have to try to recoup enough to break even,” he says, noting that AU Press does market and distribute its products across Europe, the U.S. and Canada.
Stevan Harnad, an OA proponent and cognitive scientist at Université du Québec à Montréal, says OA remains a hot topic in academic circles.
“There’s lots of contention because of misunderstandings – for instance, mixing up gold and green OA – but by and large, researchers want OA for their articles, they just don’t know how to provide it.”