Open Access for the Humanities

During my first week at my new job, my team hosted an event called “Open Access for the Humanities” in conjunction with SPARC Europe. It was a free event, open to anyone who was interested, and consisted of four talks – two by OA publishers, and two by researchers from the University, giving their perspective on OA.

The first speaker was Frances Pinter who, as well as being the CEO of Manchester University Press, is also the Executive Director of Knowledge Unlatched, a project which sounds a bit like Kickstarter for publishing. Essentially, the idea is that academic libraries each pledge some money to make a book OA. If enough libraries pledge, then the book is “unlatched” and will be published OA (or made OA if it has already been published). The more libraries who participate, the less they each have to pay, as the cost to publish each book (the Title Fee) is a fixed sum decided by the publisher. The pilot project involved a package deal where libraries pledged to pay for publishing a set of 28 books, spanning a range of subjects. It was a success; 297 libraries participated, and ended up paying less than $50 per book. I like the idea, especially given that OA for books is something that really needs work, but I’m not sure if scaling up to larger book collections would go down as well – libraries still have to pay for the ebook licenses for non-OA textbooks and don’t have unlimited resources. This interview with Frances on Semantico.com explains more about KU and addresses some of the scaling-up issues.

Something else that was quite interesting was the collection of author interviews on the KU website: they give a good snapshot of the attitudes that authors in the humanities have towards OA publishing.

After Frances, we heard from Brian Hole, the CEO of Ubiquity Press. UP enable authors to publish their work for much lower fees than those that the large publishers charge. You can publish in one of their OA journals, or you can set up your own; they provide the support for universities or libraries who want to set up a press or a journal but haven’t got the resources in-house. They’ve got a large peer review database which is shared between all the journals, so their publications are held to the same rigorous standards as other, more established, journals (fighting the perception of OA as inferior quality). You can also publish books or other types of research – Brian said they’ll publish anything, including research data, software and wetware (I think he meant cyberware), but I haven’t been able to find any unusual examples on their website.

UP’s aim is to make OA publishing affordable and sustainable for everyone, so they offer a range of options to reduce costs, for example fee waivers or simple file hosting (without editorial support etc) for institutions in developing countries. I really like this as it gives everyone a chance to make their research visible without having to go through the expensive traditional routes.

The two Leeds authors who presented at the event gave their own takes on OA publishing and what it means for them. Malcolm Heath spoke about the tension between the author as a publisher, and the author as an author, two personas which can often want quite different things. Alaric Hall then illustrated some of the benefits of OA using examples from his own career; he got a job based on the fact that his interviewer had been able to access and read one of his recent publications, and he built new international research partnerships thanks to his work being freely discoverable online. He also mentioned how he uses Wikipedia as a pre-publication research space, reading, editing and creating articles relevant to his research, and collaborating with other editors to improve the information. It was good to hear an academic being positive about Wikipedia for once!

Overall the event was really interesting and I enjoyed hearing about initiatives that go beyond green vs. gold. I was also very happy to go away with some post-it notes, a pen and a lovely sticker which is now on my notebook.

SPARC Europe are hosting four more OA events before Christmas, in London, Coventry and Scotland. See here for more details.

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