May 12, 2018

Q&A: Martin Eve on Why We Need a Public Library of the Humanities and Social Sciences

Martin Eve

Martin Eve

Dr. Martin Eve, a lecturer in English Literature at the University of Lincoln, recently proposed an open access archive for the humanities and social sciences on the PLOS model. LJ caught up with him to hear about his plans.

Where did you get the idea for PLOHSS, and why do you feel it is needed?

I’ve long held the view that Open Access is a positive thing, particularly on the ethical front, but the recent prominence of the Finch report in the UK has raised the issue for many who had never considered it before, mostly in a negative way (“how will I afford to publish?” etc).

My previous thinking had led me to believe that institutionally managed Gold journals could be a viable solution. However, I’m now concluding, following a prompt from Tim McCormick, that institutions are too disparate and fractured to pull this off as a coherent opposition project. Therefore, what is really needed, in my view, is a scholar-designed OA mega-venue, run on a non-commercial basis, sanctioned by major figures, with the lowest (and waiverable) APCs possible for the under-funded humanities and social sciences (or institutional backing such that APCs aren’t needed).

Taking this discussion out into the public forum, the project grew from a discussion on Twitter, continued by email, between several figures, including Tim McCormick, Cameron Neylon, Mike Taylor, Martin Coward, Josie McLellan and David Mainwaring. [Editor’s Note: McCormick gathered and reposted that conversation.]

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.

This project is in the germination stage and I am being as transparent as I can in these early days. I want a democratic basis for this project. and just because I think it at the moment doesn’t mean that this won’t substantially change in the coming months as we get off the ground.

Are there other, similar or related open access initiatives in the humanities and social sciences already underway? Why combine them, rather than having separate social science and humanities archives?

There are several other initiatives and we’re involved in dialogue with many of them already to see where resources can be pooled; Jason Kelly’s project at IUPUI is one example, Brian Hole’s UbiquityPress another, Sage Open is also up there, alongside Dan Scott’s Humanities and Social Science Directories. I’m also not averse to a separate PLOSS and PLOH if that was the general consensus. The only argument I can see for combining them is, again, scale. I’m a big believer in cross-subsidising – if a discipline isn’t “viable” financially, but others are exceeding their targets for sustainability, we can provide a platform that publishes based on a worth that goes beyond the financial.

Who else in involved so far? What is the organizational model? What is the time frame? How is the startup phase being funded?

I only launched the initial call for interested participants last week. My co-lead on the project at this early phase is Caroline Edwards, one of my institutional colleagues at the University of Lincoln; we see ourselves as here to get an organizational structure off the ground that can then begin to roll under its own momentum. Tim McCormick is our US-based counterpart. Tim has worked for HighWire press and is currently a consultant for Stanford Media X. Cameron Neylon or PLOS is advising in an unofficial capacity, Mike Taylor likewise; Martin Coward has given valuable input from his editorial experiences so far, David Mainwaring is an initial LibTech correspondent. I’ve also had approximately 100 emails expressing an interest, across all fields, in some form of involvement, some from figures more senior than I could possibly have hoped. Things look good, but as people confirm I’ll be able to say more.

Even at this early stage, the organizational structure that I’m planning can be outlined with some ease:

  • Academic Steering and Advocacy Committee
  • LibTech Committee
  • Finance, Sustainability, and Legal Committee
  • Editorial Committees
  • Advocacy Forum

The first committee is, I believe, among the most important at the initial phase. We need to ensure the social foundations are in place long before the technical options begin. For this, then, we need a broad mix of international, extremely well-respected (both AltAc and traditional) scholars; the people who, in essence, evaluate research output for systems such as the UK’s REF and Australia’s ERA. The people who determine what research is “good”. With these people on board, I intend to organize a series of meetings, to which I will pitch the various ideas we have circulating. We’ll then try to for as close to a consensus as we possibly can in order to get the thing built.

The LibTech committee will be comprised of librarians and IT people; those with knowledge of infrastructure and systems. In short, these are the people who know what would work when they hear the recommendations of the Academic Steering and Advocacy Committee, and can advise on pitfalls and implementation.

The Finance, Sustainability, and Legal Committee is, as its name implies, key to the “business model” of the organisation. This is the committee that would recommend pricing policies and ensure that the organisation can fulfil its goal. Simultaneously, this will be the most isolated committee of the project, as it is imperative that the editorial committees maintain autonomy.

The Editorial Committees are, as I see it, discipline-specific editors who can bring their subject knowledge to the journal in order to, on a practical, day-by-day basis, edit the journal(s).

I’ve had quite a few expressions of interest from academics who don’t neatly fall into any of the above categories. I think it’s important that these voices aren’t excluded and so I have a final “advocacy forum” listed; a sort of “have your say” pool for those who have already expressed an interest or are spreading the word through social media channels.

Finally, funding: Nothing has yet been decided, but it has been mooted by certain reliable unnameable figures that we would be aiming to pitch at about $1m-$1.5m to get off the ground. I don’t want to say more on where that pitch is going, but that gives you an idea of the scale.

Why template off PLOS, and do you anticipate that you will have to make changes to the model because of the different subject matter?

We’re beginning to have the predictable discussion about the gatekeeping function with two, again predictable, camps emerging. There was a huge resistance in the sciences to the “OK to publish” model and there would be, inevitably, the same in the HSS. I think that some sort of compromise is probably necessary: an initial filter for linguistic problems (expression is key in many of our disciplines) and then a comprehensive peer review.

Are you working with PLOS directly? Are you using its open-source Ambra platform?

We’re not affiliated with PLOS, but are in dialogue with figures such as Cameron there. We’re still deciding a name, but PLOHSS is on the cards (but we’d need to work out permissions). We’re unlikely to use Ambra, but rather to build a new system that fuses various aspects of FOSS projects such as Ambra, OJS, and others.

What are the fields in which you are initially planning to launch PLOS-style journals?

This is up for discussion. I’m still wavering between an omni-disciplinary melting pot and subject-specific journals.

Given that article fees in the sciences are often paid for by grant funding that doesn’t necessarily exist in the humanities, where do you expect the publication fees to come from?

Where grant funding does exist, we’d expect this to be budgeted in. Where a departmental budget could stretch to it, we’d hope that would come off. Finally, we’d be looking at library budgets. There’s also the possibility of institutional subsidy, as mentioned in the initial Budapest Open Access Initiative statement. The advantage of this last approach is that institutions would have a remit to mandate publication in PLOHSS.

What existing journals do your target audience already read?

We’re looking to target the entire sweep of the HSS. I’d also like to add, though, that I’m not a huge fan of journal brand. I concede that this might sound hypocritical – I am, after all, talking about building an initial brand here – but I know that, in my academic practice, I take more note of the author of a great article, rather than the journal in which it was published. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for the important work that some journal publishers do in terms of building brand (I’m thinking particularly of Sage here), but rather that I hope that this project will focus more on ways of engaging with the pieces post-publication; social integration, post-review, altmetrics etc.

What is your review process to maintain quality and credibility?

The most important thing to stress is the absolute separation of powers between finance and editorial. I’m a little sick of hearing the argument that all APCs are “vanity publishing”… isn’t it worse to imagine that publishing behind a paywall, with a readership of your article that totals five, is less of a vanity effort? There are labour and costs in publishing open access articles and we need to find a model that, on a non-profit basis, makes that work possible without exploiting people. We’ll need to pay for archival systems (so that, unlike the 3:AM fiasco, we don’t almost lose ten years of work and that these articles last beyond a human lifespan), web and database servers (including secondary and tertiary backups), CrossRef fees (for DOI numbers and stable resource locators), and staff – we need to hire a (relatively small) team of people to run this huge project full time.

We’re currently discussing the degree to which the PLOS “not the gatekeeper” model can work in HSS, and will let people in on that discussion. What I can say for sure is that there will be a rigorous but constructive peer-review process that will accept high-quality work, however niche, without bars on resubmission, and certainly no outright rejection without review or reasonable comment. I am in favour of double-blinding submissions in order to ensure fair review (and also to utterly divorce finance from editorial), but this is still under discussion. Only once something has been through the review process will any form of finance be brought up. The decisions of the finance committee on article “targets” cannot be made available, externally or internally, until the end of the year when the next set of prices and targets are revealed. In other words, if we fall short, we fall short, and will have to have backup budget to cover this rather than any form of compromise.

Finally, how do we ensure credibility: only through people. People are what will make this project work, and that’s where we’re starting. “Build it and they will come” is a fallacy. Get the right people to build it… well, that’s a different matter.


This article was updated to remove Josie McLellan’s name as an initial LibTech consultant; she was privy to initial conversations about the project by email but has no role beyond that and remains neutral with regards to the project.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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