Open access (OA) refers to content freely available on the public internet and which carries less restrictive copyright and licensing terms than traditionally published works, but it is copyrighted.
While OA is a newer form of scholarly publishing (which is commonly described as starting in 2002), many OA journals comply with well-established peer-review processes and maintain high publishing standards. For more information, see Peter Suber's overview of Open Access: http://legacy.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm.
The libraries heartily support OA in a number of ways:
They are reviewing, making information available and having discussions with the campus community on their "Big Deal" subscriptions, in line with other Virginia doctoral institutions.
They provide an open access repository of W&M research and scholarship, W&M ScholarWorks.
Offering information including faculty workshops on free textbooks (Open Education Resources, OER) and promoting funding opportunities for authoring, adapting or adopting them.
Scholarly research indicates that not only are publishers offering more open access content from their own platforms, but they are increasingly receptive to publishing content which originally was posted open access elsewhere. Generally, this is because scholarship goes under extensive editing between initial publication as a thesis or dissertation and acceptance into a peer-review publication. The articles below speak to this effect.
Truschke, Audrey. Publishing a Revised Dissertation. Dissertation Reviews (April 13, 2015)