Skip to Main Content

Cambridge LibGuides

Find out more about our library services, facilities and resources

Open Access

Terminology of Open Access

Confused faceOpen Access is a very terminology heavy area. You will hear terms such as 'gold' and 'green', 'embargo' and 'APC' but what do any of these mean? Getting to grips with the terms used in Open Access is a must when trying to advocate to researchers and you will find that many of them are as confused as you! The following primer offers short, plain English explanations of the basics of Open Access.


This is the period of time that a publisher stipulates authors must wait before they can make their publication openly available. The exact length of an embargo period differs between publication and discipline but it is usually between 6 and 24 months. Having an embargo period allows the publishers to ensure that they have first right to share the work with their subscribers before it is made available to others.

Gold Open Access is a publishing model which makes the material available to everyone at the time of publication. Sometimes referred to as ‘born Open Access’, this content has no embargo period so can be released immediately. There are two main options for authors wanting to publish their work via the gold route. They can choose a journal which publishes Open Access by default or they can pay a fee to make their work openly available in a more traditional journal (see Hybrid Open Access below). In some cases there will be a charge for this (see Article Processing Charges) which can be quite high. The term gold Open Access implies that it is the best choice – the gold standard – but this is not true. If there is a fee involved then this can deter authors but there are other viable choices for making work available. Although funders mandate that work must be made openly accessible, comparatively few of them stipulate that this has to be via Gold Open Access.

Green Open Access is a much more common route for authors. It involves making a version of the work available via a repository which anyone will then be able to access. Although in a few cases this may be the final, typeset and copyedited version it is more likely to be the author accepted manuscript – the version of the work which is post peer review but pre-publication. Publishing via the green route is free for the author(s) and fulfils obligations for many research funders. Sharing work this way usually involves an embargo period but this will be clearly stated by the publisher.

Librarians (and researchers) may also come across reference to something called hybrid Open Access. These are journals which operate a typical subscription model where content is behind some type of paywall but selected articles are made available Open Access. These articles have been made open after the authors or their funders have paid a fee. This leads to something known as double-dipping where institutions are effectively paying the publisher twice to access the same content – once to make the article Open Access and again for the subscription to the journal as a whole. A lot of money is spent on hybrid which has been criticised for not being a true Open Access model and just another money making scheme for the publishers. Recently there has been a backlash against hybrid Open Access journals with some institutions threatening to stop paying for this content.

An article processing charge or APC is the charge that is made to make something available Open Access. It usually comes through at the time of acceptance and needs to be paid prior to publication by either the researcher, their funder or their institution. This charge covers some of the lost revenue for the journal but also goes towards paying for editorial services like proofreading, editing, indexing and actually hosting the finished product. APCs can vary widely between journals and disciplines. The average cost of an APC is currently c. £1,700 but prices of up to £5,600 per article are not uncommon. Although to some this may not sound like a huge figure it can add up across a large institution which publishes regularly.

In order to make work openly available it needs to be deposited in an online repository. Many researchers are confused about Open Access as they believe that they have made their work available by adding it to online research sharing sites such as ResearchGate and but there is more to Open Access than just putting something online. A repository is a store of information and can house materials in a variety of formats from book chapters and articles to data and presentations. There are repositories dedicated to specific types of output, subject based repositories and those which showcase the outputs from a particular institution. Repositories commit to ongoing preservation and access to materials unlike commercial academic social networking sites which could withdraw access or change their conditions at any time. Using non-repository sites to share work often infringes copyright and publishers have recently started to demand that works uploaded outside of their specific terms are taken down. It is important that both researchers and library staff realise this distinction. Although some funders will mandate that outputs from projects they fund are deposited in a particular repository the institutional repository is the most usual.

You might notice the many interconnections between these terms and how you often need to understand one before fully understanding the concept of another. The more you work with Open Access the more familiar these terms will become. It may take some practice but it will happen!

Think about ... Terminology

Open Access services are delivered in different ways in different institutions - in some this is done via the library, in others via the Research Office and others might have a different structure entirely. Think about how these services work in your local institution and whether this changes the way you would describe any of the terms above. Are there other terms which it would be useful to explain to those you support? How might you do this?

© Cambridge University Libraries | Accessibility | Privacy policy | Log into LibApps