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Why USENIX Rocks: Open Access!

In computer engineering, two databases reign supreme over all: the IEEE’s Xplore Digital Library and the ACM’s Digital Library. With perhaps a few exceptions, any paper worth reading can usually be found in one of those two locations… assuming you’re willing to pay for it. While both organizations support several open access journals, the vast majority of their holdings sit behind paywalls, inaccessible to the general public.

Enter USENIX, more formally known as USENIX, the Advanced Computing Systems Association. USENIX began in 1975 as a simple “UNIX Users’ Group”, where attendees could share their ideas about operating systems and commiserate with fellow UNIX users. (Side note for the non-techies: UNIX was one of the first widely-used operating systems, like Windows or MacOS is today.) Today, the USENIX Association sponsors several major conferences and workshops in the field of computer systems research, including the USENIX Symposium on Operating Systems Design and Implementation (OSDI), the USENIX Annual Technical Conference (ATC), and the USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI).

Supporting Open Access

What sets this organization apart from the IEEE and the ACM, however, is its commitment to open access. The mission of the USENIX Association includes:

  • Fostering technical excellence and innovation;
  • Supporting and disseminating research with a practical bias;
  • Providing a neutral forum for discussion of technical issues; and
  • Encouraging computing outreach into the community at large.

To these ends, since 2008, the proceedings of any conference sponsored by USENIX are made available free of charge online. This includes not just publications, but in recent years audio recordings, slide presentations, and occasionally even video recordings. Furthermore, the organization is known for its advocacy of open access in the greater community. They’ve even been known to needle the IEEE and ACM on the matter.

Why It Matters

Look, do I even need to mention why this matters? I’m sure we’ve all heard the arguments before:

  • From a purely practical point of view, there are the insanely high costs of maintaining subscriptions to top periodicals and databases. To maintain competitiveness with their peers, university libraries must allocate vast swaths of funding to ensure researchers can access the latest work in their fields.
  • And from a (if only slightly) more idealistic point of view, taxpayers fund a great deal of research through federal research grants from a variety of sources. It seems obvious that the fruits of their tax dollars be made available to them without incurring additional fees.

So support open access — heck, if for no other reason than it means your library can spend more money on better coffee — and consider submitting your next paper to a conference sponsored by USENIX. All three of the conferences listed above — OSDI, NSDI, and ATC — are top-tier and will look splendid on any CV.

And hey — get a paper published at a USENIX conference, and you too can be a part of computing history.

Published inGRAD 5104


  1. Shannon Kinzie Shannon Kinzie

    You mention in your “Why It Matters” section that the costs of paid journal subscriptions can be quite high (and joke that the money could be spent on coffee). We also heard some of the numbers related to the scholarly publishing industry in class this evening. I would be interested to hear how a change to all open access journals would impact college budgets and other economic factors.

  2. Thanks for the inspiring post. I really liked the mission of USENIX and their support to the open access movement. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to compete with the top tier journals like IEEE. Also, I am in complete support of the fact that lesser the money university library spends on the traditional journals, faster would be the process of transition to the open access journals.

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