The Open Access movement is dedicated to providing unrestricted access to scholarly materials in all disciplines.
There are a few definitions...
...but they all refer to scholarly research being made
OA logo by art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, and JakobVoss - http://www.plos.org/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5069489
Q: Are open access journals scholarly and reliable? Will they help me get tenure?
A: YES, if you chose the right ones! Excellent, scholarly open access journals have flourished on the web. Of course, that doesn't mean every journal is great. Anytime you are thinking about publishing with a journal (OA or toll-access), you should evaluate it carefully. Tools like Think. Check. Submit. can help you do this.
Q: What if the journal in which I want to publish isn't OA?
A: That's fine! Most publishers allow some form of self-archiving -- that is, posting some version of your work for the public. CUNY Academic Works is here to help you do this. If you don't know whether your publisher allows this, or which version you can post, please check Sherpa/RoMEO, which indexes journal policies.
Q: Does open access cost a lot of money?
A: Not necessarily. SOME open access journals have article processing charges, but by no means all of them. AND self-archiving, mentioned above, is free.
The traditional model of scholarly publishing relies on journal subscriptions and book purchases. Colleges and universities pay scholars to produce research and provide reviewing and editorial services, while the publishers distribute that work to libraries (and sometimes individuals) for a fee.
Over time, some problems have arisen with this model:
Open access publishing attempts to solve some of these problems by making scholarly research freely available, without access or licensing restrictions.