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Going Open

Time was, the afterlife of humanities scholarship lived out in the copies of books stored on some number of library shelves. It left traces in print on catalog cards, visible to the browser through Dewey’s decimal system. If authors had no copies left on their personal bookshelves because they’d given them away to friends and relatives, they might luck out and find one in a used bookstore somewhere. Then books became accessible through search engines and digitized library catalogs. But they had yet to become searchable themselves or accessible for download.

Now out-of-print books come to readers through academic presses that digitize and deliver back catalogs in digital form for a fee. And the afterlife of journal essays is lived out in such platforms as JSTOR and Project MUSE, accessible to academics through gated library subscriptions. Now too they come to readers in multiple forms of open access, though scholarly books can still be locked up through draconian copyright restrictions. Google Books delivers whole books out of copyright and snippets of books in copyright. Some presses strike deals with Google to deliver back catalogs openly through Google Books. And, if copyright has reverted back to the author, institutional repositories at colleges and universities make out-of-print books by faculty openly accessible under specified conditions.

Increasingly, scholarly work, in book and article forms, can live “open” in its two primary modes of green and gold open access. Green open access is the term of reference for the decision by authors to retain copyright and archive their publications or data sets through well-managed institutional repositories. Articles can be made openly available in preprint or postprint versions, immediately accessible or accessible after an embargo period, commonly but not uniformly 12 months. Gold open access is publisher controlled. Going gold involves publishing in journals in which all content is freely provided or in for-profit journals with an open-access option. In both gold cases, journals require a payment fee or article processing charge (APC) for publishing open access, commonly running from $1,000 to $3,000. Gold model payments made by authors or their organizational proxies commonly come out of grant monies, though sometimes they come from funding agencies directly.1

Through these evolving arrangements, scholars can now share their work before it is ready for publication, multiply the networks for work upon its publication, stretch its impact through multiple formats, and extend its afterlife. They can go open for professional ends: to get work out sooner, gain a wider audience, extend its impact. They can go open for field-related ends: to excite other scholars, invite them to the conversation, intervene in debates. They can go open for the benefit of others: to make work easily accessible to emergent scholars nearby and around the globe. They can go open for utopian ends: to address issues of educational injustice related to the disparities between haves and have-nots, and the resource-rich and resource-strained institutions in this country and around the globe.2

The call for “maximum access and optimal re-use,” as Tom Cochrane observes,3 has been in the air ever since Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989. That call is the effect of multiple intersecting forces: the imaginary of the knowledge commons, exigencies of professionalism, the politics of government funding, and the transition in the scholarly publishing system noted in the previous section of this book. The imaginary of what Michel Bauwenson terms a “commons-based knowledge society”4 derives from the affordances attached to networked cyberinfrastructure: the communicative capacities of digital technologies and the ease of archiving and aggregating the Big Data of research for repurposing and reuse. It also derives from the utopian commitment to meeting grand challenges—of climate change, health delivery, disease eradication, economic development, and educational and social justice and the animating vision of a modern-day distributed Alexandrian library, whose common goods can be freely accessed and opened not just to academic researchers but to everyone around the globe with a connective device.

The exigencies of professionalism revolve around the faculty desire for impact and an extended afterlife to scholarly work; the increasing pressure to quantify excellence in scholarly output; and the urgency in STEM and medical disciplines to distribute research findings quickly, in the competition for prestige through grant funding, patenting, and technology transfer. The political forces encompass the pressure on federal government agencies, as the principal funders of STEM and medical research, to assure taxpayers that their monies are well spent and the knowledge they paid for is accessible; and the national interest in maintaining competitive advantage in the global marketplace of patents, inventions, and new technologies.

Finally, there is the impact of the three-decades long churning of scholarly publishing systems. Researchers in science and STEM fields, and quantitative social sciences, have struggled through dramatic changes in journal publication. Humanities faculty and qualitative social scientists have struggled through pressures on book publication. These systems in turmoil are distinct and linked. Let me explore the trend to open access in the sciences before turning to trends in open in the humanities.

“The mid-1980s to 1990s,” Paul Conway observes, “was marked by massive price inflation as for-profit journal publishers moved aggressively toward electronic publication.”5 Scientific researchers grew restive with commercial control of access to their work and with the rapacious pricing by for-profit publishing giants, foremost among them Elsevier, which maintain a near monopoly on the prestige market for results of research in STEM and medical fields. Thus, the decade from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, according to Conway, “was marked by recognition, diagnosis, and possible solutions to the problem, and the identification of OA as a viable option.”6

By the early 2000s, restiveness turned to advocacy. Calls for an alternative system for circulating new knowledge gained purchase and momentum.7 In quick succession, three influential and widely referenced statements defining open access and issuing the call for open in the STEM fields and sciences generally appeared: the Budapest (2002), Berlin (2003), and Bethesda (2003) statements. Here is the Budapest statement, giving an account of the benefits, for authors and readers, in having open access to research findings: “Many different initiatives have shown that open access is economically feasible, that it gives readers extraordinary power to find and make use of relevant literature, and that it gives authors and their works vast and measurable new visibility, readership, and impact.”8 And here is its call for action:

To secure these benefits for all, we call on all interested institutions and individuals to help open up access to the rest of this literature and remove the barriers, especially the price barriers, that stand in the way. The more who join the effort to advance this cause, the sooner we will all enjoy the benefits of open access.9

Since these calls, Conway continues, a “third decade has been marked by acceptance (momentum) of the OA models, but also increasingly complicated strategies to break the hold of commercial publishers and to create an economical and politically-acceptable OA regime.”10 After a decade plus of manifestos, the trend toward open is well launched, if not untroubled.

Across the globe open access has become a mandated feature of research in medical fields, though no uniform mandate has emerged. In the United States, the National Institutes of Health set its public access policy to meet the mandate of Congress’s Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, requiring “that NIH-funded researchers submit a copy of their refereed journal articles to PMC (formerly PubMed Central) upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after publication.”11 When, in early 2012, a bill to roll back the mandate was introduced in Congress, an outpouring of support for open access in higher education ensued. Among those weighing in were 11 university provosts in the CIC (Consortium of Institutional Cooperation, composed of Big Ten universities plus the University of Chicago). Collectively, they issued a statement entitled “Values and Scholarship” that reaffirmed the importance of open access for the advancement of “the public good.”12 “Toward that end,” they wrote, “our scholars seek to share information broadly as the most effective way to assure excellence—not just for themselves, or for a particular university, but for the relevance of their disciplines and the world-changing outcomes each can produce.”13 In mid-2012, the Faculty Senate at the University of California, San Francisco, arguably the most prestigious life sciences center in the country, voted “to make electronic versions of current or future scientific articles freely available to the public.”14 UCSF was among the first of the Research 1 public universities to do so. And on February 22, 2013, the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House issued the directive “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research” to ensure that “the direct results of federally funded scientific research are made available to and useful for the public, industry, and the scientific community. Such results include peer-reviewed publications and digital data.”15

At the same time, research scientists, engineers, and mathematicians have been protesting against the high cost of publication in their fields. In early 2012, thousands of researchers in the United States and abroad signed the “Cost of Knowledge” statement calling for a boycott of Elsevier as the foremost publisher of leading science journals. The statement denounces “a system in which commercial publishers make profits based on the free labor of mathematicians and subscription fees from their institutions’ libraries, for a service that has become largely unnecessary.”16 On April 10, 2012, the Guardian in England weighed in on the deleterious effects of the prohibitive pricing of journals:

In the arid language of modern economics, information is “non-rival,” which is to say that one person can have more without another having less—so there ought to be no need for anyone to be locked out by subscriptions. . . . The rationing of reading is always objectionable, but the consequences are suddenly graver because of text-mining technologies. These look across studies to uncover truths invisible to the human eye—truths which might sometimes save lives—and yet papers that languish behind pay walls are not available to be crunched in this way.17

By August 2015, 15,185 researchers from around the world had signed the pledge, many committing not to publish in Elsevier journals; not to referee for said journals; and not to do editorial work for them. The rationing of reading; the firewall around data; the inflation of pay-to-publish economics; the exploitation of scholarly labor—these are the terms through which scientists, engineers, and mathematicians articulate their continued frustrations with the scholarly publishing system.18

Across campuses, in buildings housing literature, language, history, anthropology, classics, and philosophy departments, humanities faculty and qualitative social scientists have been confronting changes in the system of book publishing. The journal publishing system in the humanities and humanistic social sciences differs from the system in the science and STEM fields. Comparatively, journal publishing in these fields tends to be a shoestring affair, dependent on universities to provide some space, sometimes release time for editors, some administrative expertise of library and press staff, and some modest budgetary commitment to supplement subscription fees. Individual subscriptions are also modestly priced. Or they are a benefit of membership in professional associations. In this system, there is no incentive drawing for-profit publishers into the market. The turmoil in the humanities and humanistic social sciences involves the publication of the book.

In the previous section, I sketched the dynamics of this changing publishing system. Here, it is important to reiterate that the crisis in academic book publishing is related to but also independent of the crisis of the exorbitant cost of science journals published by for-profit corporations. Library funds formerly designated for the purchase of academic press lists have had to be diverted to cover the rising costs of journals in the science and STEM fields. Standing orders for purchases of academic press books have dwindled to between 200 and 300 per book. But there are other contributing factors to the turmoil of the system, among them the impact of digitization on academic book publishing, the online sales of used books, the changing purchasing and accessing habits of scholars themselves, and the shift from positioning academic publishing as a public good to approaching it as a break-even or profit-making venture. With regard to book publishing, the critical issues thus revolve around an unsustainable marketplace, an inadequate business model, and a paucity of alternatives. In this roiling environment, the call for open access as a solution to a problem and as a social good adds more confusion than light to efforts of evolving sustainable publishing models.

Thus, while the sense of urgency and the immediacy of relevance are palpable in the sciences, in the humanities the move to open access has had slower uptake. Slow uptake is an effect of the attenuation of urgency in the life of tenured academic humanists and the relative scarcity of data-driven research with potential immediate benefits for the public and the field. Scholarship in the humanities often moves in slow time, compared to that in STEM and medical fields. If it is successful, it eventuates in potentially paradigm-shifting books, pieces of it to be spun off along the way in journal articles. Rarely are preprints of those articles mounted on websites. Mostly, humanists are habituated to waiting six months to a year for peer reviews of book and article manuscripts, and two years from the time of contract to publication.

In a 2005 piece entitled “Promoting Open Access in the Humanities,” Peter Suber, now director of the Harvard University Office for Scholarly Communication, cataloged multiple features of work in the humanities that make open-access publishing less attractive for humanists, among them less pricey journal subscriptions noted above; less access to grant-funded research that bears the costs of author processing charges; less political pressure from a taxpaying public that rarely thinks of humanistic scholarship as life-saving; less demand for access to preprint articles; high copyright fees for the use of visuals and printed material such as poems; and the secondary status of articles versus books in the humanities, for which faculty somehow imagine royalties as compensation for the slow time it takes to bring them to publication.19 And, of course, there have been no external mandates that humanities scholarship must be deposited in institutional repositories. Despite these formidable obstacles to an altered imaginary of professional practice, however, Suber made the call for humanists to change their publishing practices, beginning with journal articles, which he described as “the low-hanging fruit for open access” in the humanities.20

Five years later, Daniel J. Cohen, formerly of George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and now the director of the Digital Public Library of America, impatiently promoted open-access thinking in the humanities. Cohen made a trenchant case for open-access initiatives by factoring in the “hidden cost” to humanities scholars of presenting one’s work in the closed publication system. The case invokes economic terms humanists rarely consider when talking about publishing. “The largest hidden cost is the invisibility of what you publish” (emphasis his), he observes: “When you publish somewhere that is behind gates, or in paper only, you are resigning all of that hard work to invisibility in the age of the open web. You may reach a few peers in your field, but you miss out on the broader dissemination of your work, including to potential other fans.”21 This cost is a high one to pay for maintaining the status quo of traditional publication formats, venues, and values.

Ten years have passed by since Suber’s call and five years since Cohen’s trenchant riposte about publishing behind a firewall. Initiatives in open-access journal publication are developing rapidly, if at different paces and through different practices around the world. During those years, humanities faculty, a good number of them working in media studies and digital humanities, but also faculty working in a diverse range of other fields, have been changing the ways they communicate their work by pursuing open-access options. As scholars change their habits and dispositions with regard to communicating open, there are, of course, concerns, issues, constraints, and contentious debate. For a detailed exploration of open access in the humanities, readers can turn to Martin Paul Eve’s 2014 Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future. Written by this cofounder of the Open Library of Humanities (OLH) and published by Cambridge University Press, Eve’s book is, to be sure, available in an online open-access version and for purchase on the press website.22

Here I want to explore how initiatives in open access are playing out in four arenas of scholarly publishing, briefly discussing short-form writing, journal publications, and dissertations, and lingering on long-form books.

New media writing. The arena in which open-access values predominate and practices operate at this moment are born-digital forms, embedded in the platforms of social media. While earlier generations of humanists commonly shared, and still share, early versions of their work in conference papers, now more and more faculty and doctoral students have taken to blogging, tweeting, and contributing to scholarly and professional conversations on “commons “ sites such as the MLA Commons.23 This short-form writing is scholarly activity with attitude and often substantial intellectual heft. It is termed “gray literature” on such sites as PressForward. “An experiment in new methods for capturing and highlighting presently orphaned or underappreciated scholarship,” PressForward has launched a set of journals on the open Web, including proceedings of THATCamp unconferences; Digital Humanities Now, “an experimental, edited publication that highlights and distributes informally published digital humanities scholarship and resources from the open web”24; and Data Curation Now, a journal format to “identify and disseminate the ‘gray literature’ of white papers, project reports, and online writing that are so important to the field of digital libraries.”25

Journal publications. The current state of journal publishing is in transition and transformation. Professional organizations are taking steps toward open. In the United States, the Modern Language Association now publishes accepted essays for its online journal Profession on a rolling basis throughout the year as well as issuing an annual e-book; the rolling version and annual e-book version are available to anyone accessing the website. Governments elsewhere around the world are affecting the trend to open in journals. In Brazil, for instance, academic journals seeking a rating of excellence from the educational board overseeing research, including journals in humanities fields, require contributors to include a statement in their submission materials permitting the journal to make the work available online. Particular fields are trending open. Open-access journals are increasingly common in digital humanities, among them the prestigious Journal of Digital Humanities and Digital Humanities Quarterly. And new “boutique” presses are spinning off innovative open-access journals to complement their commercial publications, such as the line of journals at the independent Intellect Press. And these are all initiatives conforming to the tradition of peer review. As of the summer of 2015, 517 peer-reviewed, open-access journals in languages and literatures and 152 in arts in general and arts and architecture, as well as 100 in Media and Communication, were listed on the DOAJ—Directory of Open Access Journals—website.26

Humanities scholars are publishing in open-access e-journals. They are conversing with journal editors about routes to open access, gaining knowledge about the repertoire of options available out there: full open access; or subscription for immediate use/free after embargo; or free from Web but printed for a fee.27 They are advocating for limited embargo periods with journal publishers and editors, say, for a one-year period, so that their essays can be made openly available on their professional websites or in institutional repositories relatively soon after publication. They are securing their own copyright to their material. They have also launched their own peer-reviewed, open-access journals, such as the Medieval Review (open-access rolling reviews of new work out of Indiana University), Southern Spaces (an online, multimedia, open-access journal out of Emory University), and Networks and Neighborhoods (from the independent, antigatekeeping Punctum Books).28 Or they have developed online, open-access components to traditional print journals, as in the semiannual Postmedieval Forum, described in its purpose statement as “a vibrant space for public, open, and spirited conversations relative to the content published in postmedieval and to pressing issues and questions circulating in medieval and early modern studies more broadly.”29

An increasing number of humanists, then, are walking the walk of open-access values, despite what are still significant constraints in play. A major obstacle concerns article processing charges (APC). In the current environment of financial constraint, some journals are resorting to APCs as a mechanism for dealing with costs (processing, editing, formatting, packaging, and circulating scholarly research) that persist through the transition from paper to digital distribution. For-profit journals, therefore, may offer the option of publishing open access but set a steep price on that choice. So too with academic journals, as I was dismayed to discover when I learned that my desire to publish an article open access would cost me, or my university, $3,000. Gold OA options thus remain problematic for faculty in the humanities. It is costly for humanists to bear exorbitant APCs, because they rarely have grant funds available to cover those charges. And in many, though not all, colleges and universities, there is little to no funding available to humanities faculty to cover the charges, especially since there may be no college or university policy, in addition to policies developed to address government mandates and funding agency directives, that covers accessibility of nonfunded research output.30 And yet there is activism and advocacy afoot, as humanities faculty raise the issue of APCs with their chairs and deans and provosts.

There are challenges as well for journal editors desirous of taking journals open access. This is particularly the case for nonprofit scholarly and professional associations trying to shift to gold OA. Those associations have depended for years on subscription fees to support their journals. Moreover, as premier, high-status publication venues in the disciplines, the journals are viewed by members as a significant benefit of membership. Associations thus face a double threat in pursuing the ideal of open access: the significant loss of subscription fees and the preference of members for embargos on open access for a fixed period. Even in this difficult economic and political situation, however, humanists are making the case for a future that trends toward open.

While the trend toward open in journal publishing shows no abatement, it remains the case that going open is not always an easy choice for humanists. Many humanities faculty are understandably concerned about the economic health of journals. They express allegiance to journals, ones for which they have done reviewing, ones they have helped launch, ones in which they have published, ones on whose editorial boards they serve, ones that have brought legitimacy to their field. Given the disproportionate share of library budgets dedicated to the big sciences journals, humanities faculty feel the threat to their venues of publication and want to see those journals find funding, survive, hang on, rev up. They know their professional lives depend upon them and, at least in the short term, upon the subscription model through which journals support themselves. As Chris Wickham, coauthor of the British Academy report on “open access journals in Humanities and Social Sciences,” observed, there is a “felt need to protect journals from going under because no-one needs to buy them because all the research is already free.”31 This commitment to journal survival is important; but far more research based on the actual figures of subscription holders and readers/users is required to assess what the real impact of going open is on journals, both traditional print and online and some hybrid of the two. And there is evidence that many scholars keep up subscriptions to journals that are open to them through JSTOR and Project MUSE; that many value free and subscription access simultaneously.

Dissertations. At this point in time, many journals, and their faculty boards, adopt an embargo policy that establishes a fixed period (of months, years, or specified date) during which the journal is not openly available to readers who have not paid for a subscription. Other scholars advocate short embargo periods. There are good reasons for such an embargo for journals, among them subscriber benefits, subscription income for nonprofits, and a sense of exclusivity for a tight community of readers. But embargoes remain a contentious issue, as they certainly are with regard to a third arena of open-access publishing in the humanities—digital versions of dissertations, an arena that affects newly minted doctorates and junior faculty on tenure-track appointments expecting that their dissertations must be revised into a first book as a requirement for advancement.

I’m among those who advise against a long embargo period on dissertations. Sure, those in support of shorter embargo periods need to be mindful about the ability of senior scholars to risk new experiments in scholarly communication and open access without the threat to careers that doctoral students and emergent scholars might confront and/or imagine. Nonetheless, it is worth noting shifts in the practices and venues of scholarly work in the humanities, which will continue to be more fluid, more responsive to open forms and preprint iterations. But most important, it is worth registering that arguments in favor of long embargo periods reinforce what I see as the fantasy that the first book is just the dissertation in need of some tweaking. Reinforcing the twinning of dissertation and first book does a disservice to early scholars, to those with aspirations to do something different, something hybrid, and to those who want to get their ideas out and in the conversation.

There are certainly collective voices out there making the case for longer embargo periods. In response to university mandates that students submit their dissertations in digital form to open-access university repositories, leading scholarly associations have issued endorsements of embargoes on dissertations for up to six years. In 2013 the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians publicly endorsed such embargoes; and in spring 2014, the Medieval Academy of America followed suit, circulating its “Statement on Online Dissertation Embargoes,” which strongly argues for student choice in the matter.32 And mentors offer arguments in defense of embargos of humanities dissertations that speak to concerns for emerging scholars, including anxiety about the potential misuse and appropriation of intellectual property; concern about resistance of academic presses to contract a manuscript, a significant proportion of which has already appeared in print; and the indeterminate status of an openly accessible dissertation as a “publication.”33 Yet subtending all these concerns is the assumption that there is a close relationship between dissertations and first books, which, as I noted, is misleading in most cases. Moreover, the arguments don’t factor in how press editorial practices have shifted in response to the emerging ecology of academic publishing and how editors seek out exciting new voices through available sources of scholarly communication. As a 2013 statement from the Harvard University Press Blog entitled “On Dissertation Embargoes” reads, “If you can’t find it, you can’t sign it.”34 Nor do those who argue for long embargoes acknowledge that some graduate students come in with expertise in and desire to share pieces of their scholarly writing in short-form modes; that some graduate students imagine addressing a larger public in their work; that some conceptualize innovative projects that invite interactive exchange with readers/users; that some might benefit by learning to live open early on.

The long-form book. With regard to the long form, that book which has been the traditional gold standard in humanities disciplines, there are initiatives as well. Humanities scholars are collaborating in new publishing ventures or negotiating with academic publishers for multiple formats of production, as in a combination of paper, print on demand, and open-access download. A sampling of books living open follows.

A number of humanities scholars have begun to publish their work through Open Humanities Press, the initiative of a group of self-organizing scholars around the globe pursuing new ways to publish the latest work of well-known scholars in a publicly facing, open online venue. The goals of Open Humanities Press are to “Advocate Open Access in the Humanities; Foster Community; Promote Intellectual Diversity; Improve the Experience of Academic Publishing; Explore New Forms of Scholarly Collaboration.”35 Editors have set as one of their series the provocatively titled “Liquid Books,” an oxymoron that upends the humanist’s imaginary of “the book” as solid, fixed, complete. As Gary Hall observed in “Radical Open Access in the Humanities,” “Books have always been living and liquid,” and now are “open to be annotated, edited, updated, reimagined.”36 Or there is the independent, renegade publishing venture noted above, Punctum Books. The international collective of scholars announces:

Punctum books is an open-access and print-on-demand independent publisher dedicated to radically creative modes of intellectual inquiry and writing across a whimsical para-humanities assemblage. We specialize in neo-traditional and non-conventional scholarly work that productively twists and/or ignores academic norms, with an emphasis on books that fall length-wise between the article and the monograph—id est, novellas, in one sense or another.37

Punctum goes further to talk of “tak[ing] in strays” and “the imp-orphans of your thought and pen” and “little vagabonds,” its jaunty self-description hinting at desires for fragments, clusters of ideation, scholarly riffs.38

Individual scholars are negotiating with presses for the simultaneous appearance of a book in open-access and commercial print versions, as did danah boyd. Principal researcher at Microsoft Research, research assistant professor in media, culture, and communication at New York University, and fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, boyd negotiated with Yale University Press to have It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (2014) appear as a free download on her personal website the day the book appeared in the commercially marketed print form from the press. The copyright page tells readers: “For a digital copy of the work, please see the author’s website at”39

For even more variety in the way in which humanities bookishness lives in open, there is MediaCommons Press.40 On The Piracy Crusade page is a link to a site hosting the “original manuscript” of the book by Arem Sinnreich, subtitled How the Music Industry’s War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties.41 The original manuscript was posted on MediaCommons Press for open peer review through the CommentPress platform. In his introduction to the online version for open comment, Sinnreich, attentive to issues about the labor of reviewing and the importance of its recognition as intellectual contribution and impact, informed reviewers: “All public and private commenters will be explicitly thanked in the Acknowledgments section of the printed book.”42 In late 2013, the University of Massachusetts Press published The Piracy Crusade under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. The license enabled Sinnreich to leave the original text online and openly accessible even as the book is available for sale on in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle versions. The website for The Piracy Crusade at MediaCommons Press announces that “in Spring of 2014, the published version of the book could be accessed in PDF format for free.”43

The site presents other projects in various iterations of open. Chapter 6 of Thomas Streeter’s The Net Effect: Romanticism, Capitalism, and the Internet, already published by New York University Press, is available for free download. There is a short “bio” of the open peer review stage of Learning through Digital Media: Experiments in Technology and Pedagogy, edited by R. Trebor Scholz, and the link to the published book website with its learning toolkit and constituent essays available for download or purchase.

For another iteration of open-access book publishing, consider the history of Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K. Gold for the University of Minnesota Press. Debates, in its first iteration of bookishness, appeared in print form in 2012, a compendium of essays and reproductions of born-digital formats, as in blogs and tweets. Its review process combined peer-to-peer open-access review and traditional blind peer review. Then in 2013 the “book” appeared in its open-access version of bookishness, an interactive version of the printed Debates presented through a “custom-built social reading platform.”44 About this platform, the website announces: “The platform marks a significant shift for Debates in the Digital Humanities, from a single printed edition of collected essays to an expanded, ongoing digital publication stream.”45 Bookishness here morphs into open-access stream.

This riff on bookishnesses offers a glimpse of future possibilities and also a cautionary tale of streams interrupted. On the site, Gold announces on January 3, 2013, the future appearance in 2013 of an “expanded edition” that will contribute a “new cluster of essays.”46 But, in late 2014, this new iteration of streaming bookishness had yet to appear. Now it’s not as if journal issues in traditional print formats aren’t delayed in their publication date. Delay is not an argument against these experiments. What this site signals is a stay-tuned open-access process, a flexibly contented “publication,” and a conception designed to track the movement of a field in real time. Such ventures, whether carried through or still aspirational, become indicative of the fluidity of the moment and the complexity of inhabiting a scholarly world in which multiple concepts operate and commingle.

These are all versions of bookishness. Books digitized in accessible repositories. Books in dual or triple styles of dress. Born-digital bookishness. Bookishness in stages of assuming form. Bookishness as ongoing stream. Bookishness as augmented multimedia distribution. All versions of open negotiated between authors and publishers.

The possibilities are out there. So too a number of concerns and constraints. Humanities scholars voice a concern that placing a book in open-access format undermines the financial gain that comes through royalties for all the hard work of researching, writing, and revising the manuscript. In 2005, Suber offered two counterarguments: one, that there is little available evidence that sales of a book are suppressed by having free access to the book in, say, a pdf format.47 Indeed, one might argue that wider accessibility to one’s work might increase sales. And two, very, very few scholars in humanities disciplines earn significant money in royalties from book sales, unless they produce a crossover book with commercial success. Stars and some textbook authors, no doubt, do make money. But for most scholars, it’s a matter of weighing potential greater impact and engagement with one’s work, and thus a reprieve from oblivion, against potential minimal income. And, given that the average sales figure for printed books in the humanities from academic presses, as noted earlier, is around 200–300, minimal is becoming more minimal, if that’s grammatically possible.

Presses and libraries face concerns related to finding an economic model that accommodates open access while ensuring the sustainability of the academic press. In response they have conceptualized new models for the production of humanities monographs. One potentially paradigm-shifting venture is Knowledge Unlatched (KU), a project out of the United Kingdom involving libraries around the world that bundles participating libraries into a consortium that agrees to pay publishers a common title fee in exchange for new monographs being available in open-access venues. KU has completed its pilot phase, and is now testing scalability, based on the following model: “The Knowledge Unlatched model depends on many libraries from around the world sharing the payment of a single Title Fee to a publisher, in return for a book being made available on a Creative Commons license via OAPEN and HathiTrust as a fully downloadable PDF.”48 In this model, humanists are not asked to bear the cost of the fee to cover editorial and publishing costs; instead, that cost is shared by libraries, the more involved, the less the fee. A report on the pilot project describes how KU tested its economic model and assessed its value for authors, libraries, and publishers.49

Finally, humanities scholars and presses confront the problem of securing permission rights for digital versions of books and essays or for born-digital projects with embedded images, audio, and video. This constraint is what the authors of the “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video,” published online by the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University, refer to as “copyright uncertainty.”50 Indeed, copyright restrictions deeply embedded in the products of humanities scholarship continue to trump author prerogatives and constrict the boundaries of fair use. However, the boundaries of fair use, of reuse and repurposing, are slowly, and sometimes dramatically, expanding in some quarters through favorable court rulings regarding HathiTrust, due, in part, to activism on the part of scholars.

After forming in early 2014, the Author’s Alliance, whose motto is “Promoting authorship for the public good by supporting authors who write to be read,” filed an amicus brief on behalf of the defendant in the Author’s Guild v. Google lawsuit directed at Google’s Book Search project, arguing that “the dismantling of Book Search would be harmful to our mission of helping authors reach readers.”51 The Author’s Guild, a long-lived organization dedicated to serving authors who make their living from writing and advocating for their interests in copyright protection, has filed a series of lawsuits seeking to strengthen that protection and limit the scope of digitization projects.52 In an adversarial position, the Author’s Alliance advocates for more flexibility in copyright law to address the needs of those who do not want their work to fall into oblivion, and “provide[s] information and tools designed to help authors better understand and manage key legal, technological, and institutional aspects of authorship in the digital age.”53 In the summary judgment issued by the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, Judge Denny Chin found in favor of Google and its Google Books project and against the plaintiffs, determining that “Google’s use of the copyrighted works is highly transformative” and thus within fair use guidelines and so protected under copyright law (19) and that “Google Books provides a way for authors’ works to become noticed, much like traditional in-store book displays” (25).54 Such significant changes to the ecology of open-access book publication take place through the hard work of committed humanities scholars, as well as other academics, who organize, advocate, and register their arguments for more flexible copyright law and practices.

As discussion of these four arenas of scholarly communication makes clear, the desire to reach more readers is intensifying, the requisite changes in scholarly practices profound, the effort needed for faculty to move to open access formidable, the activism on the local level and the national level essential, the trend toward open in the humanities unstoppable.

Going open will not be easy for humanities faculty. First of all, there are the needs. To go open, humanities scholars need new tools, new platforms, and new models for assembling journals and books. They need new networked publishing structures, structures that organize ongoing “open review” as part of the process of scholarly writing, revision, and communication. They need a licensing infrastructure to facilitate open access and redistribution and reuse infrastructure. They need a robust cyberinfrastructure. They need flexible academic press policies. They need an expanded culture of peer review, at once traditional and peer-to-peer. In sum, they need people to contribute their expertise, time, and technical and editorial acumen to satisfying these needs.

There are two initiatives out there to support faculty with interests in going open. To contribute to changing the system, to how faculty research, write, make open, and revise scholarly work in the humanities, Kathleen Fitzpatrick established MediaCommons, a digital network for scholars. To provide licensing infrastructure, others pioneered “Creative Commons licenses” through which faculty retain copyright to their work and take responsibility for deciding how and where to make it accessible to others for copying, distribution, attribution, and reuse. Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the Internet commons; it “develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.”55 Although there have been obstacles to a large-scale move to Creative Commons licenses, there are signs that academic presses and scholarly associations are beginning to resolve these issues and to build Creative Commons licenses into their contracts.

Then there is the imperative of advocacy, arguments that evaluation criteria need to be attuned to and adequate for hiring, tenure, and promotion processes in the changing ecology of open; that open-access journals are not by definition less rigorous in their review processes than traditional print journals; that books can prosper in open mode; that extending an embargo beyond a year is a mistake; that short-form writing loosens up the voices of humanities scholarship. In other words, that excellence can live open. And that part of the academic mission is making knowledge available to everyone.56

Ultimately, this new ecology of value in the academy will tax humanists and their self-understanding. Faculty have been educated to normalize the constrained spaces of a closed system of scholarly publication. Now they are confronting the possibilities of release from certain of those constraints. Making work open access, publishing in open-access journals, making research data and archives open access, all these decisions involve a transformation in the notion of “value” and valuation, the sense of an individual’s value, the understanding of the relationship of value to venue, and the understanding faculty have of their value to their institutions.57 Intellectual labor is the measure of value in times of judgment, at tenure and promotion, in annual reviews. Intellectual labor is also a gauge of professional value.

For many humanities scholars, intellectual labor is also the gauge of commitment to expanding access and diversity, recognizing marginalized communities of practice and knowledge-production, extending inquiry into communities through publicly oriented scholarship. Yet, Cohen observed, in “Open Access Publishing and Scholarly Values,” that “humanities scholars in particular have taken pride in the last few decades in uncovering and championing the voices of those who are less privileged and powerful, but here we are in the ivory tower, still preferring to publish in ways that separate our words from those of the unwashed online masses.”58 Decisions to publish open, for an increasing number of humanities scholars, are decisions more closely aligned with scholarly commitments.

With the move to emergent scholarly communication platforms, modes, and media, and the adoption of open-access processes and publication arrangements, and with the archival capacities of institutional repositories and the public facing networks of social media, humanities faculty will have to take their emergent role as curators seriously. So let me conclude this discussion of communicating open with some observations about the faculty role of self-curator. There was a time when humanities scholars celebrated when offered a contract by an academic press; negotiated modest royalty rates of something between 5% and 10%; filled out marketing forms; provided the revised version of a manuscript; and then settled into expectations that the press would sell a certain number of books to libraries across North America, send copies of that book to a set of reviewing journals and magazines, and then forward the reviews as they came in.

Then college and university libraries stopped buying entire lists in the humanities from academic presses, in part as a budgetary response to escalating costs of science and medical journals and in part as an acknowledgment of the declining value of redundant book purchases across the academic library universe. Lower per book sales ensued. To economize, university press publishers outsourced editorial work and curtailed marketing efforts. Reviewing venues contracted in number. And scholars, still overwhelmed with the number of books produced each year, no longer purchased paperbacks as liberally as they had in the 1970s and 1980s. By the late 1990s academic authors recognized they had to be proactive about marketing their books to other scholars. Unwillingly, many authors, and I include myself here, began this early project of curating their work—displaying it to others in flyers distributed at conferences or mailed to colleagues on lists purchased from professional organizations. Now self-curatorial practices have become far more extensive. Now faculty attend seminars on online profiles; and then put on to-do lists the authoring or updating of an array of professional profiles on multiple websites and in multiple platforms. They disseminate fragments and versions of their work through social media. Some get “a following.” They display, and mount excerpts from, publications to whet appetites. They place essays for which they retain copyright online. They deposit print versions or digital files of the books and articles for which they hold copyright in institutional repositories.

All of this activity takes time; but self-curation can serve not only to brand faculty—a nagging feature of corporate-speak, I agree—but to serve other purposes, some of which I like to think of as noble. For me, it is a way to respond to queries I often receive from graduate students around the world. They ask if I can tell them what I said about women’s autobiographical writing in my 1987 book. They have no way of getting access to a copy. I can barely remember what I said then, and would have to spend hours trying to summarize the argument in a couple of e-mail paragraphs. But I can put my out-of-print book on or in Michigan’s Deep Blue institutional repository so that those graduate students can get access to it free, online. It’s a win-win knowledge exchange, an open exchange going both ways, and an exchange that is supported as a matter of policy and practice by my university.

There’s a bumpy ride ahead, to recall the quip from Bette Davis in All About Eve. Academic humanists can find themselves out of their comfort zones—what with consulting the copyright infrastructure available on Creative Commons; staying abreast of legal decisions regarding fair use; gauging the affordances of multiple forms of bookishness; overcoming hesitancy to let work live open; rethinking their relationship to cultures of urgency; crafting new kinds of documents when preparing for forms of evaluation; and making curatorial to-do lists. Scholars, publishers, and institutions confront thorny and evolving issues of copyright; and as new obstacles arise, new modes of adaptation and innovation follow. Administrators—research officers and graduate school administrators—chase after changes, develop policies, confront funding mandates. And nationally, governments adopt different mandates with different consequences for the production, circulation, and reception of knowledge.

Here are moving parts again, the moving pieces of open access as possibility, initiative, obligation, and ethos, and the moving pieces of mixed practices, mixed media, and mixed economic models. But I’d rather be in the vehicle than on the sidelines. In the vehicle, faculty can respond to change and make change, in the new ecology of publication structures, in the infrastructures of open-access licensing, in changing self-understandings and evolving narratives, and in reconceptualizing doctoral education. And just maybe, the investment in transforming doctoral education can contribute, if in a small way, to advancing the cause of educational justice on a global scale by optimizing the utopian vision of a “commons-based knowledge society.”

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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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