Open access movement.

We are part of a broader political movement. Read on to find out more about the visionary scholar-activists that made this political movement possible.

Our work at the OLH builds on decades of internet activism. Since the availability of public internet in the 1990s, scientists have been self-archiving their work to provide access to scholarly research. The dream of unrestricted online access to scholarly journal articles, which became known as the open-access movement, took shape in the early 2000s as scholars, librarians, and funders began to build co-operative networks and platforms.

“Serials crisis”

The open-access movement emerged against the backdrop of what is referred to as “the serials crisis” in scholarly publishing. Since the 1970s, the number of published academic journals has rapidly increased — beyond the capacity of small-scale university presses. As universities outsourced the publishing of their work to commercial publishing companies, who became more wealthy and powerful in the process, journal subscription packages (known as serials) began to cripple university library budgets.

Libraries could no longer afford to subscribe to the journals their own scholars had set up, despite much of the labour of writing, peer reviewing, and editing these articles being done on a voluntary basis by the academics themselves. Meanwhile, the profit margins of publishing giants grew beyond those of oil companies and in line with the world's most profitable pharmaceutical company, Pfizer. This has been made possible by appropriating public funds from universities. Elsevier, for example, recorded profits of more than 40% in 2012 and 2013, which is higher than Apple, Google, and Amazon.

Open access (OA) has the potential to disrupt this commercial model. If scholarly journals are freely available on the public internet for anyone to read, publishers lose their subscription income. In reaction, and to meet public demand for open access, commercial publishers have shifted the cost of publishing back onto academic authors. In effect, what has emerged is an open-access pay-to-publish model.

This has profoundly anti-democratic consequences, which disadvantages scholars in the Global South, precarious scholars, and scholars working in disciplines that are under-funded (which affects the humanities, in particular).

What is diamond open access?

The costs of open-access publication need to be paid for somehow. The best-known routes to achieving this are “gold” and “green” OA. Both models can be problematic.

“Gold” open access makes articles available immediately on publication, without paywalls. However, publishing companies derive profits by shifting costs to authors or institutions through article processing charges (APCs). The problem: this is still a corporate model of publication and, with government pushing for this model of open access, it easily aligns with wider fears about the neoliberalisation of universities. This can end up shaping the debate about open access, and the community-driven history of the movement risks being defined out of existence.

On the other hand, “green” open access refers to authors publishing in traditional, paywall journals but then self-archiving their work to make it publicly available. The problem: access is often delayed because of an embargo set at the request of the publisher, which means they continue to profit because paid subscriptions continue to be necessary.

Unlike “green” or “gold” models, “diamond” open access has the potential to meaningfully disrupt the profit margins of commercial publishers. With diamond open access, non-commercial, not-for-profit organisations and community networks make material available free of charge to both authors and readers. In our diamond model, fair support from a large pool of scholarly institutions means that we can publish articles that are free to readers to access and free for authors to publish.

With government mandates, many humanities academics feel that they are having “openness violently thrust upon them”; diamond open access, OLH co-founder Martin Paul Eve reasons, is a means for academics to “re-seize some limited agency” and shape the direction of scholarly publishing. Rather than “have things solely done to us,” it allows us to be “active participants” in our own destinies and those of our scholarly communities.

The story of open access.

What follows is a timeline of the history of open access. It is a story of rampant commercialisation of higher education in the UK, US, Europe, and across the globe.

It is also a story of the passionate individuals who stood up for their academic communities and refused to allow global corporate publishing giants to cripple academic scholarship. From high-profile academic boycotts of notorious publishers to the creation of collaborative open-source digital platforms and tools, this is the story of the individuals who chose to stand up to big business in the political struggle for open access to scholarly knowledge.


American physicist Paul Ginsparg founds an online repository of electronic preprints, known as e-prints (renamed to in 1999). is the first platform to make scientific preprints immediately available globally and is credited with laying “the foundations for a revolution in scientific publishing as preprint servers are now commonly used in many scientific fields.” Today, arXiv holds almost 2 million scientific articles from the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance, statistics, electrical engineering, systems science, and economics.


The Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO) launches in Brazil to provide a bibliographic database, digital library, and electronic publishing model of open-access journals. There are currently 14 countries in the SciELO network and its journal collections: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

The Association of Research Libraries establishes the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), an alliance of academic and research libraries and other organizations, to address the “serials crisis” in academic publishing and develop and promote open access.

An informal survey of the libraries in the American Society for Engineering Education’s Engineering Library Division found that 83% of respondents reported cancelling subscriptions because of the skyrocketing costs of journal subscriptions. The so-called “serials crisis,” which describes the dramatic increase in the cost and number of academic journals published by commercial publishers at a time when university library budgets are declining, becomes increasingly cited in studies of scholarly communications as a barrier to research. As scholars note, subscription costs for academic journals have risen by 300% above inflation since 1986 (with reference to Consumer Price Inflation or CPI).


The Public Knowledge Project (PKP) is founded by John Willinsky in the Faculty of Education at University of British Columbia, with Pacific Press Professorship endowment, dedicated to improving the scholarly and public quality of research. PKP has created the Open Conference Systems (2000), Open Journal Systems (2001), Open Harvester Systems (2002) and the Open Monograph Press (2013).


BioMed Central, the self-described first and largest OA science publisher and PubMed Central, a free digital repository for biomedical and life sciences journal, is founded. In 2008, Springer announces the acquisition of BioMed Central, making it, in effect, the world’s largest open-access publisher.

The Public Library of Science (PLOS) launches as a not-for-profit publisher of open-access journals in science, technology, and medicine. The movement starts with an online petition co-authored by Harold Varmus, Nobel Prize winner and Director of the Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center, Patrick O. Brown, a biochemist at Stanford University, and Michael Eisen, a computational biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. In a groundswell of political solidarity, academics and librarians work together, using a petition to call for scientists to pledge that they would only submit their research articles to open-access journals, effectively boycotting established journals in their academic fields.


The Open Society Institute hosts its annual conference in Budapest in December 2001. The conference leads to the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) — a collectively-authored statement signed by researchers, universities, laboratories, libraries, foundations, journals, publishers, learned societies, and kindred open-access initiatives.

The BOAI defines open access as the “free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, 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.”


The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) launches at Lund University, Sweden, with 300 open-access journals. DOAJ is a community-curated list of open-access journals and aims to be the starting point for all information searches for quality, peer-reviewed open-access material. Today, DOAJ contains ca. 9,000 open-access journals covering all areas of science, technology, medicine, social science, and humanities.


Research Councils UK (RCUK) release their “Position Statement on Open Access to Research Outputs,” which states that: “Ensuring that the results of research supported by public funds are made accessible and available for consultation by the research community and others is an integral part of the research process.”

The Wellcome Trust launches its Open Access Policy in a “Position statement in support of open and unrestricted access to published research.” This mandates that research articles funded by the Trust must be published open access under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license, either with a publisher that offers an open-access option or as a self-archived author manuscript (sometimes referred to as “green” open access) in Europe PMC.


The Public Library of Science (PLOS) launches its flagship megajournal PLOS One with funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (a $9 million grant in 2002 followed by a $1 million grant in 2006). PLOS One launches with commenting and note-making functionality and adds the ability to rate articles in July 2007. By 2008, articles are published on a rolling format as soon as they become ready and in 2009 PLOS One publishes its full online usage data, including HTML page views and PDF or XML download statistics, making this information publicly available for every published article as part of its article-level metrics programme.

An international community of humanities scholars, editors, and readers launch the Open Humanities Press (OHP), a publisher of humanities monographs specialising in critical and cultural theory. OHP assembles an advisory committee of world-famous humanities scholars, including Alain Badiou, Donna Haraway, Douglas Kellner, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Bruno Latour, Antonio Negri, N. Katherine Hayles, Jean-Claude Guédon, Claire Colebrook, Steven Connor, Gary Hall, and Joanna Zylinska. The OHP partners with a number of groups and institutions to explore grass-roots solutions to the crisis in Humanities publishing.


Open Access Infrastructure for Research in Europe (OpenAIRE) is launched. Developed out of the DRIVER I and II projects (2006–2009) funded by the European Commission, OpenAIRE builds a European research information system that aggregates metadata from repositories, archives, scientific journals, and other infrastructures.


George Monbiot writes in The Guardian that "[o]f all corporate scams, the racket [that academic publishers] run is most urgently in need of referral to the competition authorities.” Citing astronomical profits – such as Elsevier’s 2010-11 operating profit margin of 36% (£724m on revenues of £2bn) – Monbiot decries what he calls “pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it.”


The UK Government commissions The Finch Report, which recommends that open access should be mandatory for projects funded by the UK Research Councils, including the AHRC. The Finch Report recommends publishers adopt article processing charges (APCs) to fund the transition to open access. Scholarly and learned societies protest that their members cannot afford average APCs of £1,500 to £2,000 (about $2,000 to $3,000).

British mathematician Timothy Gowers (University of Cambridge) calls for a boycott of Elsevier with a post on his personal blog. Gowers’ statement kickstarts “The Cost of Knowledge,” an academic-led movement that quickly gains widespread academic and media coverage. As the mission statement explains: “Elsevier, Springer, and a number of other commercial publishers (many of them large companies but less significant for their mathematics publishing, e.g., Wiley) all exploit our volunteer labor to extract very large profits from the academic community. They supply some value in the process, but nothing like enough to justify their prices.”

Harvard University Library, one of the world’s wealthiest libraries, sends a memo to the university’s 2,100 teaching and research staff warning that it can no longer afford the price hikes imposed by many large journal publishers, which bill the library around $3.5m a year. Exasperated by rising subscription costs, Harvard University encourages its faculty to publish their research in open-access journals and to resign from publications that keep articles behind paywalls.


President Obama signs the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) declaring that “open data has the power to make our economy grow and our local communities thrive.” Federal agencies that spend more than $100M on research and development must make the published results of federally-funded research freely available to the public within 12 months of publication.

Science Europe, the association of 51 European national research organisations based in Brussels, publishes its “Principles for the Transition to Open Access to Research Publications.” This statement declares that “the transition to Open Access is a world-wide process and, with these principles, Science Europe wishes to contribute to the discussion at global level.”


The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) mandates open access for all UK research entering the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the assessment exercise through which government funding is allocated to UK universities for research.

The Research Councils UK (RCUK) adopts a policy on open access, which requires all research-council-funded research to be made available via an open-access repository within 6 months of publication (for STEM subjects) and 12 months after publication (for humanities and social science subjects).


The Open Library of Humanities (OLH) launches as a diamond open access publisher with 7 journals, funded by its Library Partnership Subsidy (LPS) scheme – a membership network of university libraries. Housed at Birkbeck, University of London, the OLH is awarded a three-year grant of $741,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to build a sustainable model for open-access publishing in the humanities. The OLH initially uses a digital publishing platform provided by Ubiquity Press from 2015 until 2018, when it launches its own in-house platform called Janeway (see below).

The entire editorial board of Elsevier’s flagship linguistics journal Lingua resign their positions and start up a new diamond open-access journal called Glossa, published by the Open Library of Humanities. As Glossa’s Editor-in-Chief Johan Rooryck (who went on to become Director of Plan S) writes in the Editorial Introduction to the first issue published in 2015: “we have been able to flip our journal from subscription to Open Access in about four months. In this way, we provide proof of concept that it is possible to quickly and seamlessly move an entire editorial team, its editorial board, its authors and its readers to a new publishing platform.”

As the owner of the journal title for Lingua, Elsevier continues running the journal with a new editorial board. Prominent linguistics scholars organise a boycott of Lingua, calling it “Zombie Lingua” on social media and refusing to publish or review for the old journal.


The European Union announces that “all scientific articles in Europe must be freely accessible as of 2020” and that the Commission will “develop and encourage measures for optimal compliance with the provisions for open access to scientific publications under Horizon 2020.”


A coalition of 11 leading funding agencies from across Europe, with the support of the European Commission and the European Research Council, announce the launch of cOAlition S. As they write, this mandates the open-access publication of “all scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional, and international research councils and funding bodies, must be published in Open Access Journals, on Open Access Platforms, or made immediately available through Open Access Repositories without embargo.”

The OLH launches its in-house publishing platform Janeway. The platform allows the OLH to offer its journals cutting-edge technology at a sustainable cost for international library partners. It also ensures the OLH’s sustainable growth into the future and independence from commercial publishers.


Covid-19 accelerates the use of open-access preprint servers worldwide, providing overwhelming evidence of why open access is crucial to equitable research communities. Scientific manuscripts that are made available in advance of their formal peer review and publication (preprints), accelerate scientific discovery as researchers across a range of disciplines attempt to understand the Coronavirus. MedRxiv, a preprint server focused on health and medicine launched in 2019, drives this accelerated pace of scientific discovery and international collaboration.


Science Europe, COAlition S, OPERAS, and the French National Research Agency (ANR) launches an Action Plan for Diamond Open Access. The initiative works towards a scholarly publishing infrastructure that is equitable, community-driven, and academic-led and owned, to enable the global research community to take charge of a scholarly communication system by and for research communities. It focuses on efficiency, quality standards, capacity building, and sustainability, and it addresses the alignment and development of common resources for the whole Diamond OA ecosystem, including journals and platforms. The initiative aims to respect the cultural, multilingual, and disciplinary diversity that constitutes the strength of the sector. Since its launch, the Action Plan has been endorsed by hundreds of organisations and individuals (including the Open Library of Humanities).


The world’s first ever diamond open access global summit is held at Toluca, Mexico on 23-27 October. Co-organised by Science Europe and partners, including Redalyc, UAEMéx, AmeliCA, UNESCO, CLACSO, UÓR, ANR, cOAlition S, and OPERAS, the summit brings journal editors, organizations, experts, and stakeholders from all continents together for the first time. The organisers publish a Conclusions and Way Forward statement which states that: “Diamond OA is ultimately a means to an end: equitable access to scholarly publishing and reading, with a focus on the quality of the content rather than on the publishing venue.” UNESCO announces that it will host the Secretariat of the globally distributed cooperative for Diamond Open Access, organised through a federated community of Diamond Capacity Centres.


This timeline has been adapted from the following sources:

  • François Waldner et al., “The academic, economic and societal impacts of Open Access: an evidence-based review,” F1000Res 5 (2016): 632. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.8460.3
  • "Open Access: History & Policies: An Overview of Our Changing System of Scholarly Communication," Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory. Available at: ( Accessed 20 February 2023)
  • Glenn S. McGuigan and Robert D. Russell, "The Business of Academic Publishing: A Strategic Analysis of the Academic Journal Publishing Industry and its Impact on the Future of Scholarly Publishing," Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship, 9(3) (2008): n. pag. Available at: (Accessed 20 February 2023).
  • Larivière, Vincent, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon, "The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era," PloS One, 10(6) (2015). Available at: (Accessed 27 April 2023).
  • Katherine Thomes and Karen Clay, “University Libraries in Transition," ASEE Prism, 7(8) (1998): 26-29
  • Lawson, S. & Gray, J. & Mauri, M., (2016) “Opening the Black Box of Scholarly Communication Funding: A Public Data Infrastructure for Financial Flows in Academic Publishing”, Open Library of Humanities, 2(1), e10. DOI:
  • Martin Paul Eve, "Tear it down, build it up: the Research Output Team, or the library-as-publisher," UKSG Insights, 25(2) (2012): 158-162, DOI: 10.1629/2048-7754.25.2.158