Updated August 6, 2013.
After a college professor writes an academic journal article, it usually has a long but vivid transit to publication. The professor sends it to a journal, where it endures rounds of reviews and edits by other academics. Eventually, it's scheduled for publication, and it waits, not yet born. Then its big day comes--it's published!--and formatted, printed, bound and mailed to subscribing institutions, and uploaded to a journal's servers. Perhaps the professor's home college or university receives the print copy, perhaps they've purchased server access, but, regardless, they pay twice: Once for the research, and once for the product of that research.*
Last week, the faculty of the University of California -- some 8,000 professors who work at the highest tier of a massive public education system -- adopted an open-access policy, making their work available to "the people of California and the world" free of charge. About 40,000 publications a year will now flow into the web's digital common, sitting in the university's online institutional repository, eScholarship.
And that, just by itself, is welcome. Instead of having to subscribe to an academic journal, or travel to a research library, hopeful readers of a UC-authored academic paper can visit eScholarship and download the paper, for free.