The Access Principle

From Digital Libraries and Electronic Publishing

The Access Principle

The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship

By John Willinsky

An argument for extending the circulation of knowledge with new publishing technologies considers scholarly, economic, philosophical, and practical issues.





An argument for extending the circulation of knowledge with new publishing technologies considers scholarly, economic, philosophical, and practical issues.

Questions about access to scholarship go back farther than recent debates over subscription prices, rights, and electronic archives suggest. The great libraries of the past—from the fabled collection at Alexandria to the early public libraries of nineteenth-century America—stood as arguments for increasing access. In The Access Principle, John Willinsky describes the latest chapter in this ongoing story—online open access publishing by scholarly journals—and makes a case for open access as a public good.

A commitment to scholarly work, writes Willinsky, carries with it a responsibility to circulate that work as widely as possible: this is the access principle. In the digital age, that responsibility includes exploring new publishing technologies and economic models to improve access to scholarly work. Wide circulation adds value to published work; it is a significant aspect of its claim to be knowledge. The right to know and the right to be known are inextricably mixed. Open access, argues Willinsky, can benefit both a researcher-author working at the best-equipped lab at a leading research university and a teacher struggling to find resources in an impoverished high school.

Willinsky describes different types of access—the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, grants open access to issues six months after initial publication, and First Monday forgoes a print edition and makes its contents immediately accessible at no cost. He discusses the contradictions of copyright law, the reading of research, and the economic viability of open access. He also considers broader themes of public access to knowledge, human rights issues, lessons from publishing history, and "epistemological vanities." The debate over open access, writes Willinsky, raises crucial questions about the place of scholarly work in a larger world—and about the future of knowledge.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262232425 312 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


$20.00 T ISBN: 9780262512664 312 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • A well-researched and scholarly account of the issues surrounding the publication of research. The book is both balanced and fair in its discussion of the various models and responses to concerns about the accessibility of publicly funded research.


  • The Access Principle is a brilliant book, meticulously researched and richly documented.

    Gene Glass and Sherman Dorn

    TC Record

  • The subtitle of this book is somewhat misleading, as 'The Case for Open Access' takes up only a portion of the book. Histories of the scientific journal and the public library movement, while informative, don't add much to his central argument, and his criticism of the Bush administration's claims to a scientific basis for the No Child Left Behind Act is merely a tangent. Still, his book is thoughtful, informed, and thought-provoking, and his account of the role of the Internet and an incipient open-access movement is genuine news.

    New York Sun


  • John Willinsky understands the way the Internet changes everything for scholarly communication and has written a clear and compelling defense of open access, both in principle and in practice. I recommend it especially for its treatment of copyright issues and the special situation of scholarly societies and developing countries.

    Peter Suber

    Open Access Project Director at Public Knowledge and Research Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College

  • John Willinsky is among the academic pioneers in the use of open access technology for research and scholarship. This book will prove invaluable for faculty, students, and independent scholars who wish to liberate themselves from the grip of the big corporate Internet colossus. Willinsky writes in a clear and convincing style, and his suggestions are right on target.

    Stanley Aronowitz

    Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Graduate Center, City University of New York

  • In this informative, provocative, and lively book, John Willinsky makes a powerful case for the simple (but not yet widely accepted) proposition that the fruits of scholarship should be shared with the widest possible audiences. Every scholar needs not just to read this book but to act on it.

    Roy Rosenzweig

    Director, Center for History and New Media, George Mason University


  • Received the 2006 Blackwell Scholarship Award presented by the American Library Association (ALA)