The University is tasked with educating its students, but also has a broader mission of conducting research, discovering truth and disseminating information to benefit the society in general. University Presses have and continue to be a tool for sharing information, Technology is now providing additional opportunities through institutional repositories (Penn State's newly established Scholarsphere is an example), electronic Theses and Dissertations databases, and digital collections are created individually and collectively with other institutions. The HathiTrust is an example of a massive and historic endeavor.
Foundations and government funding agencies are also requiring the results of research to be made available to the public, and demanding that publications stemming from funded research be available for access within a defined period of time, typically 6 - 12 months after publication. In the case of NIH-funded research, the requirement is law and non-negotiable; compliance also affects future funding eligibility. Be looking out for additional U.S. Government agencies that may institute similar requirements in the future.
Open Access provides unrestricted access and unrestricted re-use of publications accessible on the internet. This primarily addresses peer reviewed materials that are normally behind a publisher's "pay wall", and not just anything that is on the web. These items are processsed through the traditional review processed, but made available immediately by the author(s) paying a publication fee, or after a defined period of time as the result of the journal's policy or a negotiation. Many publishers are now providing multiple models to accommodate authors and funding agencies. Some have created memberships for institutions so that their faculty and students can receive discounted fees (look in the Priorities box on this page for PSU memberships. Additional information on Open Access issues and interesting discussions from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL/SPARC)
Creative Commons is another option if you are interested in providing access to your work. This organization has been in existence for almost 10 years and has created a framework for distributing information and gives authors a variety of ways to share their work with the world. Their licenses can be used for all kinds of creations and not just scholarly and research materials.
Technology has changed the medium in which information is delivered and shared, and the speed of the evolution has changed faster in some disciplines than others. The "journal" is still alive and well, and the process by which it is published is by and large the way it was in the twentieth century. The peer review process has not been superceded by Twitter, and publishers still prefer to own copyright and control distribution. However, subscription prices has risen beyond library budgets can bear, and the scholarly and research community find themselves with limited access to the material they create, review, and then put in the hands of the publishers. So changes are taking place, and you are the generation of scientists that will see this evolution through.
In additional to complying with institutional policies and funder requirements, one should carefully review a publisher's copyright agreement before signing, and negotiate to retain as many rights as possible. Consider the follow uses that are often given up with the publishers' default document:
For Compliance with the NIH policy, you may use the attached NIH Compliance Addendum that is prepared by Penn State legal counsel for that specific purpose. For negotiating the retention of additional rights, consider the CIC Addendum that is prepared by the Big Ten Libraries and endorsed by the Penn State Faculty Senate.
The publishers may not agree to everything requested, but you will never get what you do not ask for.