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I’ve always found that to get a clearer idea of a subject that has developed over time, it’s a worthwhile exercise to identify the key dates: what were the events that really mattered? That’s certainly worth doing for Open Access, and I was prompted to create a chronology after reading Simon Linacre’s recent post. Of course, others have had this idea as well: Peter Suber created a timeline of Open Access back in the early 2000s, but his chronology is very detailed, and it’s not so easy, in fact well-nigh impossible, to see the big milestones. His chronology was transferred to the Open Access Directory from 2009, but not to the present day. Sadly, even though there is a “visual timeline” of Open Access (created by the commercial company Symplectic), neither the Suber chronology nor the visual timeline is visible in a single view, which kind of detracts from the purpose. The visual timeline ends in 2016. What is more, both chronologies seem to me to muddy the water somewhat by including dates that are not relevant for Open Access, such as the launch of Project MUSE, or the date that Symplectic was launched.

Here is my view of the 20 key dates in the history of OA. The idea is to compress the events down to something that can be grasped as a whole:

1991Launch of arXiv, the subject preprint portal, establishing the principle of shared content in the interests of research. arXiv is to this day the most widely used preprint service. Amazingly, it continues to be free to use; it is supported by many institutions who benefit from the service provided.
1995Stevan Harnad, “A Subversive Proposal”: as soon as research authors publicly self-archive their refereed and unrefereed papers publicly online, the research literature will be free for all.
1998SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) founded
1999ETD-db, software for archiving e-theses, released – a model for much repository software
2000PubMed Central, a database of full-text medical articles, is launched (and in 2005 NIH mandates that all its funded health-related research is deposited there)
2001The OAI-PMH protocol, today the standard format for harvesting and sharing repository content
2001The launch of Eprints, the first major open-source repository software
2002Launch of Dspace, created by HP with MIT, the other major open-source repository software
2002Creative Commons licences, clarifying a range of rights for free distribution, for example “NC” does not allow commercial reuse
2002BioMed Central, the first commercial OA publisher, introduces article processing charges (APCs) – a payment by the author to publish their work open access
2002Budapest OA Initiative defines open access, comprising the right to “read, download, copy, distribute … crawl them for indexing”. It removes most, but not all, restrictions on reuse
2003DOAJ launched, a curated collection of Open Access journals
2003Berlin Declaration on Open Access
2004Open Knowledge Foundation founded
2004Stevan Harnad et al define green OA (made available via repositories) and gold OA (published with immediate full access)
2006PLOS ONE, the best-known OA journal, launched
2013US Government commits to providing public access to federally funded research
2018Plan S launched, requiring that from 2021, all scientific publications from public funding  should appear in OA journals or platforms
2018The first transformative agreement (also known as “read and publish”), described as a “transitional arrangement”: instead of paying publication fees per article, publishers negotiate with institutions to pay them to publish a number of articles by their researchers, with immediate OA
2023The OSTP/Nelson Memo mandates OA (both for articles and data) for federally funded research in the USA.

Even a concise chronology like this will invite comments and criticism – which is what I hope to get. What conclusions can be drawn from this chronology? Most obviously, there was a burst of activity in the early 2000s, followed by a long period of consolidation. Not much seems to have changed between 2004 and 2018. But the OSTP Memo seems to suggest some major changes in the coming years in the United States, which makes me feel Open Access will become more of a live topic again.

I haven’t listed the many other funding models that exist for OA journals, because none of them appears to scale.  OA books now appear in much larger numbers, but they still represent only a very small proportion of all OA output. There are many aspects of OA publishing that I would like to include, but which don’t fit comfortably on a timeline – hybrid journals being one of them.