November 21, 2017

Martin Eve: Building the Open Library of the Humanities

olhMartin Eve is in a good position to spread the word about how open access publishing can benefit the humanities. He is a lecturer on 20th- and 21st-century American fiction at the University of Lincoln in the UK, with an impressive list of journal articles, book chapters, conference papers, and professional affiliations. His most recent book, Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future, will be published by Cambridge University Press this November.

At the moment, however, he is on research leave in order to concentrate on developing his new venture, the Open Library of the Humanities (OLH). On September 23, LJ attended a talk Eve gave at Columbia University’s Butler Library on Open Access in the Humanities, where he discussed the need for open access (OA) in scholarly publishing, how it works, the challenges it faces, and some workable potential solutions, including OLH.

OA—scholarly work that is peer-reviewed, free to read online, and freely available for reuse—has been gaining momentum in the academic and research communities over the past decade, either on the  “green” OA model, in which authors self-archive their work in a publicly accessible repository, or the “gold,” where the work is published in an OA journal.

At the same time, a fair amount of resistance to OA practices still exists. Publishers object to OA on economic principles, as it undermines the revenue generated by journals. Some researchers feel that it devalues their work as well, lowering it to the level of “a database to be consulted,” in Eve’s words. He believes the academic community is over-reliant on scholarly publishing’s status quo; as he told the crowd at Columbia, “the system reinforces itself through economies of prestige.” Even as interest in altmetrics grows, the quality of research continues to be gauged by the number of citations an article gathers and the status of the journal it appears in.

Institutional and funder mandates, which require that researchers make their work available on an OA basis, have helped spur compliance both in the U.S. and abroad. Most of this progress is occurring in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, largely due to the escalating costs of scientific publications, which make OA journals an appealing alternative. Journal prices have steeply outpaced inflation, not to mention library budgets. “Even Harvard can’t afford all the journals it wants,” Eve points out. Also, the grant funded model of science research makes it easier to cover article processing charges, the fees many OA journals charge authors to publish, which can average $2,000–$3,000 per article. But there is also a measure of urgency for OA initiatives within the humanities and social sciences (HSS).

A SINGLE ECOSYSTEM

Humanities research traditionally has a low deposit rate in repositories. This is in part because journals will keep HSS articles under embargo often twice as long as STEM work, as the citation half-life is longer—scientific data becomes obsolete far more quickly than humanities research. HSS publication cycles and peer review processes are longer as well.

The gold model of OA journal publishing offers some solutions, but they are not always as feasible for HSS as they are for STEM. Article processing charges can be prohibitive, especially as humanities studies are rarely funded as fully or via the same mechanisms as STEM research. The practice of unbundling, where authors are given a menu of editorial services to choose from according to their budgets, is a poor solution as well, according to Eve—“Do we really want people to skimp on proofreading?” he asks. He favors the consortial model, where journals join forces in order to remain affordable and share resources, and has built OLH on this principle.

He feels that the economies of HSS and STEM form a single ecosystem, with similar problems and opportunities. The initial concept for OLH, in fact, was modeled on the Public Library of Science, an open access consortium of scientific journals.

BUILDING OLH

Eve discussed OLH with LJ in January 2013, when it was still in the early stages of development. He envisioned OLH as a consortial platform with the authority of established names behind it, explaining that “We need a publishing venue that attracts instant respect from scholars. That can only be done by ensuring that it was built by scholars with the requisite academic capital, not imposed by publishers, who are losing the moral high-ground. The organization needs to be non-profit, but sustainable.”

Together with his fellow academic project director, Caroline Edwards, Eve has developed OLH on the Library Partnership Subsidy model, in which libraries join forces to support the infrastructure of an OA platform rather than simply purchasing individual journals. “To fund an operation publishing 250 articles and 12 books in partnership with reputable presses per year, we need a banded average of just $700 from 500 libraries,” Eve explains. “If 1,000 libraries participated, this cost is lowered to $350. On the $700 rate that’s a cost to each library of $2.80 per article.” Participating libraries are entitled to representation on the OLH Library Board, giving them a say in governance issues and input into the future inclusion of overlay journals—co-branded journals that will run on top of the OLH platform.

In April 2014, the University of Lincoln secured an initial planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help build and launch OLH. This will involve developing a business model to ensure its sustainability, soliciting and processing articles, and building the infrastructure in partnership with OA publisher Ubiquity Press. Signups are not yet open, but OLH has a expressions of interest from some 65 libraries, with a firm commitment from The Wellcome Trust, and 150 articles pledged.

Eve plans to launch OLH in spring or summer of 2015, with 90 libraries and four or five journals to be phased in. He has written an automated typesetting program to help facilitate the publishing process, and is hoping to attract some “brand name” partner libraries and editors. OLH’s Monograph Publishing Pilot already has interest from Oxford University Press, Harvard University Press, Cambridge University Press, and the born-OA press Open Book Publishers.

Even given the widespread reluctance to adopt OA practices that necessitates a mandate system, Eve has high hopes for the future of OA. Academic libraries can do their part by talking to faculty about OA, he advises; the same problems exist everywhere, and researchers need to be walked through the process in order to demystify it. And while gold—scholarly work freely available in OA journals—is the ultimate goal, Eve told LJ, “Green [is] the way to go in order to fix the mess we’ve made. Green props up the existing system to a degree, but you’re not going to change everything overnight. Support gold, mandate green.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Jim Clapp says:

    I noticed that “Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future” is available for purchase. Is there an “open access” version?

  2. Hi Jim,

    Yes – there will be an open access PDF version available immediately with a CC BY-SA license.

    Best wishes,

    Martin