Thank you to everyone who contributed to making our conference at the British Library – Open access monographs in the humanities and social sciences – a success.
Authors, publishers and funders from all over the world attended – more than 250 on each day, which is testament to the topicality and importance of the subject matter. Our speakers explored various aspects of the debate surrounding open access (OA) and the new approaches that researchers, funding bodies, librarians and publishers may need to adopt if they decide to go down the OA path.
Setting the scene
Monograph publishing has been in trouble for at least 20 years, as we heard in a scene-setting opening talk by University of Salford vice chancellor and Jisc board member Martin Hall, with sales now typically around ten per cent of what they were in the early 90s and individual copies costing as much as £100 as a result. With that in mind, it’s very clear that something needs to change, and OA and digital publishing offer an interesting and fresh way for academic knowledge to be shared more widely, and for improving scholarship.
The monographs conference, organised jointly by Jisc Collections and OAPEN, was the first to bring together stakeholders from every group and also the first to address the topic of monograph publishing in the humanities and social sciences (HSS).
Jean-Claude Guedon, professor at the department of comparative literature at the University of Montreal, said he wants to ‘go beyond the monograph…..and think about how to make the great conversation flow frictionlessly’. He believes that the traditional monograph is rigid and constraining: he wants academics to embrace the fact that any published work is a joint effort and to appreciate how individual documents relate to lots of others. He calls it ‘the sociologies of the book’ and it offers a thought-provoking way to broaden the debate about how researchers work.
The conference Twitter feed #oabooks was (and still remains) highly active and Jean-Claude’s comments attracted a lot of reaction. @martin_eve and @j_w_baker agreed that digital publishing is not just about replicating print, but also about ‘embracing the connectivity that the web makes possible’.
Martin also sounded a cautionary note, commenting that a more collective approach is ‘easy to say, but hard to do’
I think few of us would deny that Martin is right, but some authors and publishers are already trying. Some of those with first-hand experience spoke at the conference about the work they are doing in OA. Described how they are extending the reach of new work, maximising its value and using the results to help them secure future funding.
Building on the premise that OA can help to develop a rich and genuinely global discussion, Rupert Gatti, a director of Open Book Publishers and a fellow of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge, pointed out that ‘the pay to read model effectively says “Africa, we’re not interested”’ - It’s an appealing thought that OA could help to level the playing field for people with fewer economic resources and invite their unique perspectives. Scholarship would be richer for it.
In the same panel discussion, Kim Hackett, REF higher education policy advisor at HEFCE shared HEFCE’s view that OA offers improved efficiency during the research process, better and wider public understanding of the research work and enhanced sustainability. She reminded us that HEFCE is building the requirement to publish in OA form (for journals only) into the Research Excellence Framework (REF) after 2014. Discussions continue to decide whether OA monographs are included in the REF.
Many of the OA publishing models currently being trialled make use of some version of the freemium concept, where the basic version of the document is available for free, as a pdf or HTML file, with other options available at a cost. That may be simply a printed version or it could be much more, with added-value features such as music and film.
Publishers are also experimenting with various options for who pays – in some cases, this is libraries or groups of libraries. Knowledge Unlatched favours the option of a consortium of universities pooling resources and sharing the financial risk, while the Open Library of Humanities is opting for a library partnership subsidy model in which libraries each pay a subscription to secure open access to works. In other models, authors are being asked to finance the work, usually through their funding bodies or their university and this is a concept that is starting to gain traction.
Although, not everyone approves. @ernestopriego tweeted:
‘the problem with inverting the business model.. is that these APC [author processing charges] are unpayable by most’
In many cases, it is still very early days and the numbers of OA publications produced remains tiny.
Key concerns for authors, of course, focus on their legal rights and there is still a lot of uncertainty about the value of open licences. But according to Ben White, head of intellectual property at the British Library, fears that open licences are a plagiarist’s charter are unfounded. Joscelyn Upendran, the CEO of Zilpa, described the options available to authors under Creative Commons (CC) open licensing. She told us that CC licences offer real choice about how they want to cover themselves and the worry that OA means authors can wave goodbye to due credit and proper citation was banished. That thought was echoed by at least one comment in the Twitter stream, including this one from @IntarchEditor:
‘IA [Internet Archaeology] switched to CC-BY [licences] in Jan and immediately authors paid more attention to attribution of 3rd party content’
The whole issue of open licences is going to be crucial to the long-term success of OA initiatives. We have been doing some work to foster understanding and support the effective use of licences. The latest output from our OAPEN-UK project, the guide to Creative Commons for HSS authors is a useful starting point.
Peer review is another hot topic on the OA agenda. For Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director of scholarly communication at the Modern Language Association (MLA), traditional peer review models have some shortcomings that OA practices may be able to address. Some of those who have exposed their work to open peer review say the result is quite different. OA makes it possible for reviewers to offer comment paragraph by paragraph rather than holistically about the work as a whole. That’s not to denigrate the value of traditional approaches to peer review – but wouldn’t it be great if we could devise a way to give the researcher the best of both?
There is still a lot of work to be done to develop practical and useful OA models for monograph publishing, but it’s clear that OA could help to resolve some of the issues we currently face. As Cameron Neylon, advocacy director at the Public Library of Science (PLoS), said in his provocative closing address – the whole point of a monograph is to generate discussion and the further development of ideas – how better to make sure it is accessible than via open access?
This comment from Cameron's talk struck a real chord and was widely tweeted: 'An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented good.'
Join the discussion
If you’d like to find out more about what went on at the conference, videos and presentations are available on the event page.