Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies News

Open Access for Alumni

October 23rd, 2019

Oct. 21-27, 2019, is International Open Access Week. This is part of a series — written by Purdue faculty — that demonstrates the benefits of open access scholarly publishing. For the entire series, visit

by Erla P. Heyns, Head, Humanities, Social Sciences, Education, and Business Division
Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies

Purdue Libraries Head of the Humanities, Social Sciences, Education, and Business Division and Associate Professor Erla Heyns
Erla Heyns, Head of the Humanities, Social Sciences, Education, and Business Division;  Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies

An issue very dear to my heart is providing access to published research for alumni. The professionals who graduate from our universities and enter such fields as veterinary medicine, psychotherapy, social work, and many more have been carefully trained to find and evaluate research literature while they are students. Once they graduate, they are cut off from this access, and they have to depend on employers who might or might not subscribe to certain needed journals. If not, they have to pay, if they are able, for access.

The consequences of deficient access are far-reaching for our society. How can it be acceptable for a veterinarian, for example, not to be able to stay current with the research literature? How can it be acceptable that a psychotherapist has to depend on learning about the latest research only haphazardly, at annual conference presentations, instead of being able to focus on current research in a particular area at the time of need? These critical fields, in which professionals make a significant difference in the lives of their clients, in our lives, typically do not have adequate access to important new research.

The urgency of having a holistic approach to provide access to research for all professionals cannot be overstated. Universities, not just libraries, should tackle the issue with renewed vigor, since we are not only infringing on the lifelong learning opportunities of our alumni, but we are also hurting ourselves and the entire population as consumers of professional care.

There is very little written about this subject in the library research literature, but what is published relates to two different approaches to the problem.

One is to think about alumni as an extension of the university they graduated from and to suggest ways to give them access, perhaps through subscribing on their behalf or providing a service through which they can request an article for a fee or the university will pay the copyright fee.

Another discussion that has been happening at some institutions is to try to convince publishers to create favorable funding models so that alumni can subscribe to journals in their fields of study. This has not been successful, except in very limited instances. Another issue with the solution of individual subscription access is, in most fields, research literature is not just published in a few journals. The problem, of course, is also bigger than just access to the journal literature; journals are indexed in databases that alumni also cannot access. Google Scholar provides valuable access to be able to identify research, but it is by no means comprehensive or complete.

The second context in which this problem is being discussed in the literature is in the context of open access. The benefit of open access is apparent since everyone will be able to access current research. Bruce Symphony, in “Open Access for Scholars Left Behind” (2018), emphasizes the importance of teaching students how to find and cite legitimate open access publications so that they are aware of these resources and are more likely to use them in their professional lives.

Providing access to alumni requires a university community working toward a comprehensive solution, and a main feature of the solution is awareness of and ability to use high-quality, open access material.

Information about other 2019 Open Access Week activities at Purdue is available at

Learn more about Purdue’s Open Access resources, including Purdue e-Pubs, Purdue’s open access digital repository, at