Things are Happening in the Humanities. But You Need to be Patient

A few weeks ago, Peter Suber, one of the leading figures of the open access movement, published a blog post on the website of The American Philosophical Association, entitled: ‘Why Open Access is Moving so Slow in the Humanities’. In there, he sums up 9 reasons why this is the case and I will just mention a few below:

‘Journal subscriptions are much higher in the Sciences Technology and Medicine (STM), than in the Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS). In the humanities, relatively affordable journal prices defuse the urgency of reducing prices or turning to open access as part of the solution.’

‘Much more STM research is funded than humanities research, so there is more money available for paying any open access charges.’

‘STM faculty typically need to publish journal articles to earn tenure, while humanities faculty need to publish books. But the logic of open access applies better to articles, which authors give away, than to books, which have the potential to earn royalties.’

Sadness of it all is that this post is a slightly revised version from the original from 2004. Today we’re still dealing with almost the same issues as 13 years ago. One of Suber’s conclusions is that “Open access isn’t undesirable or unattainable in the humanities. But it is less urgent and harder to subsidize than in the sciences.”[1]

I fully agree with this conclusion. But did we achieve nothing for the humanities then? No, a lot of things have happened in the last 5 to 10 years helping the humanities to make a transition to open access. But we are not there yet.

Open Access Journals

Globally several humanities journals have made the flip from toll access (TA) to open access and several new open access (niche) journals have seen the light in the last couple of years. Currently 9,426 open access journals are indexed by the DOAJ, of which a substantial part is in the humanities. A majority of those journals however, and we must not forget this, don’t charge a dime to publish research in open access.[2] In many cases, and this is exemplary for the humanities, foundations, institutions, and societies are paying for publishing research.

The financial model for open access in the humanities is not an easy road. In my previous life as a publisher in the humanities I’ve developed a few gold open access journals, all financed with money from institutions or research grants. However, subsidies for a journal coming from different institutions is a fragile model. Some of the journals had the ambition to move towards an APC model. None have done it so far.

New kid on the block, but very successful, is the Open Library of Humanities, run by Martin Eve and Caroline Edwards. They proposed and have implemented a model, which is a library funded model. With enough supporting libraries they are able to publish humanities research with no APCs. Main goal is to unburden authors with all kinds of financial hassle.

Institutional publishing

Another trend is the renewed rise of institutional (library) open access publishing. Some examples are Stockholm University Press, UCL Press and Meson Press. They distinguish themselves from traditional university press in the way that they only publish research in open access.

Online research tools

Other interesting developments are the experiments with redefining online publishing. I think it’s safe to say that these experiments just happen in the field of media studies. Collaborative research, writing and publication platforms like MediaCommons and the recently launched Manifold are very exiting initiatives. They all experiment with new digital formats, writing and publishing tools, and data publications.

Open Access Books

Open access for the academic book is on the agenda since 2008 / 2009 with the development of, amongst others, the OAPEN platform. And with indexes like the Directory of Open Access Books, established in 2011, open access books become visible and findable. Two weeks ago, a new milestone was reached with 8000+ open access books being indexed by DOAB and published by 213 publishers.Schermafbeelding 2017-06-23 om 23.55.15

However, open access for books is still underrated. There is a lack of aligned policies. Also, the lack of funding options makes it still very difficult for (smaller) humanities publishers to come up with a sustainable model for open access books. The focus for open access funding still lies with article publishing in journals and the financial models that come along with it.

For this website, I keep track of funders (research councils and universities) that actively support open access book publishing in media studies. I do this since 2015, but up till now the options for funding can be counted on 4 hands maximum. But even in the field of open access books things are happening with projects like Knowledge Unlatched. This project looks at funding coming directly from university libraries, supporting the ‘platform’ or book package and not the individual publication.

So, the important question now is what types of sustainable business models are appropriate for open access publishing in the humanities?

I think one important thing to keep in mind is that if we keep comparing the STM with the HSS it will not getting us very far. Another problem is that (open access) funding policies are still very focused on a local or national level or simply only look at APCs/BPCs. We need to work on a better international alignment of open access policies (per discipline) with different stakeholders (funders, libraries, publishers).

The Dutch Approach: Open Science

In February of this year, the National Plan Open Science[3] was launched in the Netherlands. Towards 2020 this roadmap concentrates on three key areas:

  1. Open access to scientific publications (open access).
  2. Make optimal use and reuse of research data.
  3. Adapting evaluation and award systems to bring them in line with the objectives of open science (reward systems).

cover-os-eng2One of the requirements is that by 2020 all researchers working for a Dutch research university need to publish their work (journals and books(!)) in open access. So this includes the HSS as well. To accomplish this the plan is launched to align all Dutch stakeholders to meet these requirements.

During the launch all the important academic stakeholders (research funders and associations) in the Netherlands explicitly committed themselves to this job. In Finland, similar things are happening.[4] And in other countries discussions have started about open access and open science requirements and indicators as well. It’s of great importance to connect these initiatives together as much as possible.

Preprints… “what”?

One other thing that Suber also mentions in his blog and I’d like to bring into this discussion, are preprints. In the humanities depositing preprints or post prints is not so common as it is in the sciences. That is for obvious reasons; loss of arguments and research outcomes, scooping, etc. etc. But are all these reasons still valid?

As academic community, it’s important to share your research to improve science. In the HSS we are apparently in need for platforms that can quickly disseminate research, based on the popularity (also among humanities scholars) of commercial social sharing platforms like Academia.edu and Researchgate. Note that I deliberately call them social sharing platforms, because that’s what they are.

It’s important that we need to make clear to academics what the implications are when using platforms like Academia.edu and ResearchGate. Both examples are commercial enterprises and interested in as much (personal) data as possible. The infrastructure serves a need but it comes with a cost. We need to think of sustainable alternatives.

IMG_7384
Preprint servers per discipline. Image credit: Bosman, J. & Kramer, B.

Back to the preprint discussion. In the humanities (thus for media studies), it is unusual to share research before it is published in a journal or book. But if everyone is so eager to share their publications in different stages of their research why is it still not common practice to share the work on a preprint server, comparable with ArXiv or SSRN (when it was not Elsevier property), and new servers like LawArXiv, SocArXiv, PsyArXiv, etc.

Will it ever become common practice in the humanities to share research in an earlier stage? Maybe this practice could help moving the humanities a bit quicker?

Who knows.

Notes

[1] https://blog.apaonline.org/2017/06/08/open-access-in-the-humanities-part-2/

[2] https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2015/08/26/do-most-oa-journals-not-charge-an-apc-sort-of-it-depends/

[3] https://www.openscience.nl/en

[4] http://openscience.fi/publisher_costs

Header image credit: Slughorn’s hourglass in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. © Warner Brothers