On Thursday, June 27th at 2 pm, Harvard will host a public talk about Open Access and the Humanities in the Thompson Room of the Barker Center. Presented by the Open Library of the Humanities Academic Project Directors, Martin Eve and Caroline Edwards, they will discuss:

The greatest successes of the Open Access movement have taken place within the sciences where the tipping point was all but reached in 2012. In the humanities, however, there has been a greater degree of skepticism as to the cross-applicability of the models deployed in scientific publishing and the argument continues to rage. In this talk, we detail the background to open access publishing more broadly in historical terms before sequentially evaluating the economic models, social strategies and areas of contention within the humanities subjects themselves.

–– Event description, Berkman Center for Internet & Society

In short, the Open Library of the Humanities hopes to capture the success of the Public Library of Science. PLOS “is a non-profit organization dedicated to publishing excellent, thoroughly peer reviewed scientific research under open access conditions at a financially fair rate.” OLH is working to take this model and apply it to the humanities, creating a publishing platform that will revolutionize access to research for academics in any situation, with any budget. Learn more at their website, openlibhums.org.

This type of project is very interesting to and poignant for us in the digital arts and humanities here at Harvard as its success could mean a greatly changed academic publishing landscape for the future. Read below for the transcript from DARTH’s interview with Dr. Martin Eve.



DARTH Crimson: Your talk will focus on the contrast between the success of open access in the sciences, versus the reluctance in the humanities to embrace the movement. What do you think is holding the humanities back?

Dr. Martin Eve: Broadly speaking, the reluctance in the humanities (as a widely defined range of disciplines) seems to stem from three core points, although there are undoubtedly others.

The first is a culture of fear regarding digital ephemerality. Few humanists are aware of the sophisticated mechanisms for digital preservation such as LOCKSS and CLOCKSS and, from anecdotal evidence, tenure committees and other international research assessment paradigms exhibit a strong bias towards print that has hindered the transition to a digital environment. This has not been helped by instances of poorly preserved scholar-run digital journals folding after a single issue. Without this shift, which is still problematic and requires both technical education and a demonstration of digital safety, open access is impossible as it depends upon non-rivalrous commodity exchange and the elimination of print economics.

The second is a mis-placed analysis of the primary value-added phases of scholarly publishing, particularly in the journal, as opposed to monograph, segments. Recognising that journal brand should not be a marker of prestige, but that we should instead be looking at the academic labour that validates the articles within the publication, is a difficult cycle to break. If we do evaluate on journal brand (we do), it is very difficult to establish a new name in that field except through perseverance and high-quality publication over a long period. Because of the pre-existing prestige trap, however, it becomes difficult to solicit the academic labour without the nominal authority. There was only one catch and that was Catch-22…

Finally, the economic implications have been less sorely felt in the humanities, where the absolute cost of subscriptions is lower. That said, the rise in journal subscription costs by roughly 300% above inflation since 1986 is proportionally mirrored in the humanities and we are contributing to a budgetary crisis in library procurement, even if at a lower level than our scientific counterparts. This is a baffling argument in some ways. It seems clearer than ever that the value of the humanities must be argued for and demonstrated at every turn as we enter the next phase of our own crisis of under-funding. Conversely, to say that it is acceptable for science to move to open access in order to lower expenditure and broaden access, but that we in the humanities need not as we work on lower budgets with the implication that it doesn’t matter if our work is read, seems to pre-admit that our importance is in question. To demonstrate value, even if we dislike that phrasing, we should be trying to eliminate all barriers to people reading our work and open access seems to be the best solution to that problem. By thinking critically about our own modes of production, we can use the power of the internet to bridge social, cultural, economic, and international barriers to access to our research. As Peter Suber notes, because of our institutional systems of subsidy, scholars are uniquely placed to make this jump and we would be foolish to miss the opportunity.

Thank you to Dr. Eve for taking the time to share some thoughts with us here at DARTH Crimson. To learn more about OLH and what this means for the digital humanities as a whole, be sure to attend!

Time: 2-4 pm, June 27, 2013
Location: Thompson Room, Barker Center, Harvard University
Free and Open to the Public

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