Authors: Emma Gilby, Matthias Ammon, Rachel Leow and Sam Moore
This is the second of a series of blog posts, presenting the reflections of the Working Group on Open Research in the Humanities. Read the opening post here. The working group aimed to reframe open research in a way that was more meaningful to humanities disciplines, and their work will inform the University of Cambridge approach to open research. This post considers the future of scholarly communication from a humanities perspective.
PILLAR ONE: THE FUTURE OF SCHOLARLY COMMUNICATION
This first pillar deals with ‘open access’ narrowly understood: the future of the publication landscape, and the question of the sustainability and viability of different publication models in an open access world.
The open access initiative in general values a wide range of contributions to academic life. The arts and humanities thrive on long-term, multi-scale, conversational, collaborative, interdisciplinary projects; all cultural work can be so defined. Any move towards research diversity therefore works in the favour of the arts and humanities.
Open Research aims first at opening out ‘traditional’ research content, such as that published in journals and monographs. Thus it aims also to demystify the existing publication process. In general, it prioritizes the wide dissemination of public-facing research. Further, it allows us to envisage new forms of publication, such as the use of dynamic images and data visualisation as already undertaken in investigative journalism.1 Other examples of new Open Access formats include semi-public peer-to-peer review and the opportunity for readers to highlight passages and contribute to a crowd-sourced index of terms.2
In the immediate and short term, A&H colleagues require institutional support to understand and get to grips with the current routes to open access within academic publishing, which present various advantages and challenges. For more detail see Plan S and the History Journal Landscape, A Royal Historical Society Guidance Paper https://royalhistsoc.org/policy/publication-open-access/plan-s-and-history-journals/
Current routes to OA in scholarly publishing include:
- Paying directly for article or book processing charges levied by publishers. This is easy if one’s research falls among the very small percentage of A&H research that is funded by the research councils, who allow for such fees, but otherwise challenging.
- Taking advantage of a ‘read and publish’ deal set up between a publisher and an institution. This is easy if one is at the right institution at the right time, but otherwise challenging. There is also confusion amongst colleagues about what happens when these time-limited, transitional deals expire: will publishers revert to simple processing charges (see above)? Or will all published material by then be fully OA (see below)?
- The self-deposit in an OA institutional repository of a manuscript that is accepted for publication and peer reviewed but that has not been edited or typeset by the publisher in any way. This is easy with the right systems in place, but problematic because it neglects the import of the editing process in A&H research. Without undergoing this process, ‘accepted manuscripts’ are very vulnerable to errors, especially in the case of the very many scholars who regularly work in languages that are not their first, or in the case of early career scholars who are less familiar with critical processes and how to evidence them, or in the case of colleagues with various kinds of disabilities such as dyslexia. Other issues also abound with the deposit of manuscripts in repositories. In cases where scholars receive an acceptance that is subject to improvement, the final ‘date of acceptance’ is ambiguous for legal purposes. And in cases where the work in question uses copyrighted material, further legal issues emerge about when and how it may be possible to circulate this. In all these senses, then, many A&H colleagues simply dislike the thought of their ‘accepted manuscript’ circulating. In the case of institutional repositories, there seems to be a direct and obvious tension between the goals of open research and quality control.
- Publishing with a fully OA journal or academic publisher that does not require a processing charge. This is obviously the most straightforward and therefore best route to OA, but raises the fundamental question of how such work is conducted and funded. The notion of the ‘scholar-led’ press, established and monitored by scholars themselves, presupposes that academics can somehow fit the work of the professional editor, copy editor, translator or type setter etc. into their spare time. In addition, many OA journals rely on charitable donations. Fundraising is also a skilled business: will universities’ development directors and offices be diverted to do the work of seeking these charitable donations? Is it possible for existing publishing houses and presses to construct a sustainable business model that allows for free and open publishing, while overlaying their own professional services onto the scholarly work provided by academics? Can already successful enterprises such as Open Book Publishers in Cambridge3 be ‘scaled up’? The members of the working group have not seen any impact assessments or pilot studies considering which of the current forms of scholarly communication will simply die out in the absence of subscription and royalty income. We would like to see evidence-based impact assessments as a matter of priority. In general, it is unclear whether even the largest and most prestigious scholarly societies will survive the loss of income that will result from a move to OA. As one member of our group put it, ‘the research is not open if it is dead’.
Many questions remain, above and beyond those already evoked:
- The situation with respect to the goal of publishing of all academic monographs freely and openly remains extremely fluid, and all the enquiries we were able to make in the working group confirmed that this is an area of great uncertainty. Academic books require considerable up-front investment by publishers, and it is vital that this labour and expertise is properly supported in an open access model. How to ensure that open access books do not entail a race to the bottom in terms of editorial and production standards?
- Researchers and publishers will also have to think carefully about content such as book reviews, notices, short discussion pieces, author interviews and so on: content that is useful to the discipline, but peripheral to the article form and that would not generally appear in a repository, for example.
- The place of UK debates in the global publishing industry is unclear. Like all scholarly publishing, A&H publishing is international in nature and most journals and presses will draw from as wide an international field as possible. How will the editor of a UK-based journal, responding to the OA requirements of UK decision-making bodies, deal with international authors who are not subject to the same requirements or set of priorities? How will an international editor deal with UK academics?5 These questions come up repeatedly in conversations with colleagues.
- Scholarly societies in the arts and humanities do not charge a fortune for their journals, and also offer conferences, communities and support (financial and otherwise) for early-career scholars. To analyse the costs and benefits of access to their publications, it will be necessary to look across cost centres within any given institution. To offer a worked example of library costs from 2019, ‘the bundled UK cost for 2020 the RHS’s Transactions and its Camden book series is £205 (this is a maximum figure, excluding all discounts). In the financial year 1 July 2018-30 June 2019, RHS awarded (for example) £2,781.56 to support ECR researchers at York University and £3,177.16 to support ECR researchers at Oxford.’6 So it would be useful to see studies of the rate of institutional return on investment in publications by university libraries.
- Concerns about licensing were already well documented and summarized by Peter Mandler in 2014: ‘For one thing, we do not have full ownership of our texts ourselves – we use others’ words and images, often by permission. For another, we have our own norms of how best to incorporate one work within another – e.g. by quotation – which derivative use denies. Most important is our moral right (long acknowledged in law and ethics) to protect the integrity of our work. By all means read and disseminate our work free of charge, but do not change it as you are doing so – write your own work.’6
- Concerns about distortions allowed by CC BY in the reuse of oral history interviews and other sensitive/polemical content are important for many A&H colleagues as they are for our colleagues in the social sciences.
- Evidence of predatory publishers simply reusing content from repositories is starting to emerge, seemingly justifying concerns about CC BY as opposed to CC BY- NC-ND or CC BY-ND.7
1See for instance a project on the takeover of real estate by the Church of Scientology in Clearwater, Florida: https://projects.tampabay.com/projects/2019/investigations/scientology-clearwater-real-estate, or a series of investigative articles on the post-9/11 burgeoning of the US intelligence services collected here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/william-m-arkin/
2Matthew Gold & Lauren Klein, eds. Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012), https://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu
3 ‘We are a nonprofit independent publisher with no institutional backing. Open Book relies on sales and donations to continue publishing high-quality and free to read titles. We gratefully acknowledge the generous support of The Polonsky Foundation, the Thriplow Charitable Trust, the Jessica E. Smith and Kevin R. Brine Charitable Trust, The Progress Foundation and the Dutch Research Council (NWO).’ https://www.openbookpublishers.com
4 See the following testimony: ‘The bi-lingual, topic-specific journal I edit…draws articles from authors across the world and is published in Switzerland. Hence, specific OA requirements pertaining to UK-based authors will be considered in setting OA policy but will probably not be a determining factor. Hence, if strict requirements are introduced around OA in relation to UK funders, this may serve to reduce the possibility for UK-based authors to submit articles to my journal. This would obviously be an issue for the journal but would also be one for UK academics also, as it would result a more limited range of potential publication outlets.’ Margot Finn, Plan S and the History Journal Landscape, A Royal Historical Society Guidance Paper, pp. 47-8.
6 Peter Mandler, ‘Open Access: a Perspective from the Humanities’, Insights 27 (2), 2014, http://doi.org/10.1629/2048-7754.89
7 Guy Lavender, Jane Secker and Chris Morrison, ‘ What happens when you find your open access PhD thesis for sale on Amazon?’, 8th July 2021, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2021/07/08/what-happens-when-you-find-your-open-access-phd-thesis-for-sale-on-amazon/