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Open Access and Scholarly Communication

I was excited to finally get to the unit on open access, as it’s something I’ve been somewhat aware of but haven’t fully had the opportunity to explore. When I worked at SIUE’s library, I was able to sit in on some meetings and learn about the university’s green open access option: the SPARK institutional repository. I also was able to learn a bit about the open access publication requirements of certain funders, but this was very specific context.

In Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future, Martin Paul Eve breaks down the current trends of open access in the communities and addresses the stances of both the pro-OA and anti-OA points of view on a variety of issues. Eve provides a helpful introduction that breaks down commonly used terms around open access (including green vs gold, subject/institutional repositories among others) and traces the history of open access from its inception through its more prominent presence in the sciences to the ways it has slowly been incorporated into humanities publishing. Personally, I found the chapter “Digital economics,” the most useful as it explores the benefits and risks of open access publishing. It discusses the commercialized aspects of the academic publishing business and the costs of different models on both the publisher and user sides of journals and monographs. The most eye-opening element of this chapter for me was the discussion regarding economic capital versus social capital:

…systems of economics and value in scholarly communication/publishing are determined not solely in financial terms but also in the exchange of symbolic capital…although interdependent, these systems can be broken down into questions of quality and value as socially ascribed and questions of finance in terms of labour value and capital (even if the latter are, also, social at their core). (43)


Ideas of symbolic value, specifically in terms of perceived prestige, permeate the rest of the book’s discussion on open licensing, monographs, and innovations in open access. The book ends with discussions of looking forward to the future of open access and different possibilities for feasible models in the humanities; however, it was published in 2014 so it would be interesting to further explore the progress that has been made since then.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s “Giving It Away: Sharing and the future of Scholarly Communication” explores open access within the humanities with a call for openness and generosity. The essay points to complex nature of open access in the scholarly communication in that while many publications are for an audience of a small group of fellow scholars, the work is necessary to continue research within the community of academics. Fitzpatrick acknowledges the limitations of cost in scholarly communication and addresses some of the issues of the exclusivity of information in the ivory tower. Thus, she proposes an ethical way of participating in scholarly communication:

We teach, as we were taught; we publish, as we learned from the publications of others. We cannot pay back those who came before us, but we can only give to those who come after. Our participation in an ethical, voluntary scholarly community is grounded in the obligation we owe one another, an obligation that derives from what we have received. (355)

This pushes against the capital of perceived prestige that Eve pointed to as one of the biggest barriers to open access in his book, and through the spirit of “giving it away” is the only way to eliminate profit from the equation. Fitzpatrick proposes multiple possible models for moving in this direction, and closes with a series of questions asking readers to spur them into action to be part of this solutions.

The chapter “Crowdsourcing in the Digital Humanities” by Melissa Terras goes in a slightly different direction from the other readings this week by exploring the ways in which the public is engaged in humanistic research activities through crowdsourcing projects. Terras breaks down the major issues of crowdsourcing, identifying two key problems: information management and ideation. To explore the issues and benefits of crowdsourcing in the humanities, Terras investigates several heritage projects that rely on this method of gathering or sorting information. While institutions fear the risks of potentially bad or mismanaged information (possibly due to volunteer beliefs), it is suggested that they should rather view crowdsourcing as a manner of fulfilling missions of creating and maintaining digital collections. Ultimately, “crowdsourcing in the humanities is about engagement, and encouraging a wide, and different, audience to engage in processes of humanistic inquiry, rather than merely being a cheap way to encourage people to get a necessary job done” (430). While issues of ethics and sustainability do arise, Terras believes that these can be prevented within the digital humanities with mindful efforts to build bridges between communities and scholars in the humanities.

Since I’m still in the early stages of my PhD program, I have not given much thought to publications. However, this week made me consider the choices I will need to make as I begin to submit to journals. Issues of prestige have definitely been on my mind as I am constantly wary of the job market and see where my peers publish their work, and it makes me wonder how to navigate negotiating open access. I was given hope with the suggestion in Eve’s book that early career scholars in 2014 were already more aware of and thinking of open access options, and now that I have more information I can start making a plan as to how I will ethically publish my work when the time comes.

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