As part of a wider emphasis on digital publishing and the relevance of humanities scholarship, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) are giving new life to out-of-print humanities books. In January the two organizations announced a new joint pilot grant program, Humanities Open Book, which will help publishers identify important out-of-print works, secure rights to them, and convert them to EPUB format ebooks freely accessible under a Creative Commons (CC) license. Awards range from $50,000 to $100,000 per recipient, and will cover a period of one to three years.
Recently I attended the conference of a major learned society in the humanities. I was only there for a day, and attended only two sessions: one as a panelist and the other as an observer. Both sessions dealt with issues related to Open Access (OA), and in both of them I was deeply taken aback by the degree to which the scholars in attendance—not universally, but by an overwhelming majority—expressed frustration and even outright anger at the OA community. The word “predatory” was actually used at one point—not in reference to rapacious publishers, but to OA advocates. That was pretty shocking.
In what at first looked to be a decisive move in the direction of open access (OA), Nature Publishing Group announced December 2 that it would officially adopt two initiatives that would provide access to articles previously available exclusively by subscription. But the new features come with restrictions that many see as a nod to OA in name only, and Nature News quickly corrected its initial headline, which read “Nature Makes All Articles Free to View”—but not before it was picked up by a number of news and social media outlets.
California has become the first state to mandate open access for the products of some taxpayer-funded research. On September 29 Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the California Taxpayer Access to Publicly Funded Research Act, coauthored by Assemblyman Brian Nestande (R–Palm Desert) and Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D–Los Angeles). AB 609, as the bill is known, ensures that those who stand to benefit most from state-funded research, such as healthcare providers, students and professors, biotech professionals, and anyone with an interest in the field, will have access to current research results free of charge. Beginning January 1, 2015, the products of more than $200 million in annual research paid for by California taxpayers will be freely available—with some restrictions: AB 609 applies only to research funded by the Department of Public Health.
Tyler Walters, dean of university libraries at Virginia Tech, was named founding director of SHARE (SHared Access Research Ecosystem) October 6. SHARE was established in 2013 by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the Association of American Universities (AAU), and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) in response to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memo on “Expanding Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research.” SHARE’s mission, as stated in its press release, is “to help ensure the preservation of, access to, and reuse of research outputs.”
Martin 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.
This fall, as part of a $10,000 grant program funded by the NC State University Foundation, NCSU Libraries has invited faculty members to develop alternative course materials. The Alt-Textbook Project is a competitive grant for faculty members to develop free or low-cost alternates to traditional textbooks using open source material.
Looking back, the irony is so heavy-handed that it seems contrived. As my colleagues and I were preparing for our MOOC on Copyright for Educators and Librarians, which launched for the first time last week, the only resource that we wanted to use but could not successfully negotiate the permission for was Susan Bielstein’s book about negotiating permissions. It would have been great for us and, I am convinced, for the Press if we could have offered a single chapter of it for our over 8,000 MOOC participants to read. In the event, however, we rediscovered the fear and lack of sound business sense that grips the publishing industry, but also discovered the richness of the free resources that were available to us.
In response to my column a few months ago on ebooks and the demise of ILL, I received a depressing email from an independent scholar noting the numerous obstacles he faces because of the increasing restrictions on access to ejournals and now ebooks. He wrote that he lives near a major public university in the southeast and has been using the university library for years. Despite being publicly funded (at least as much as any state university is publicly funded these days), the library has restricted access to all the databases only to university affiliates with IDs, which means most of the journals are inaccessible to guests. And with the increasing licensing of ebooks, more and more books are inaccessible as well.
The library community has been talking about a “journal pricing crisis” for over two decades. What we have not seen so far is any kind of concerted effort to break through this cycle. But two growing movements—the push toward open access and the growth of library publishing programs—make me think that we may be reaching a tipping point. In a white paper released last month, library administrators Rebecca R. Kennison and Lisa R. Norberg describe the need for “deep structural changes” in the systems through which scholarship is created and communicated. I honestly do not know if their proposal is the one that will trigger these changes, but I know that they are pointing us in the right direction.