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Seeking New Paths to Open Access in the Humanities

Earlier this week, I attended webinar, called “Open Access in the Humanities” led by Rupert Gatti. Dr. Gatti is a Fellow in Economics at Trinity College, Cambridge and Co-Founder and Director of Open Book Publishers. The presentation outlined the landscape and the challenges of Open Access in the humanities.

One point that resonated with me, given the centrality of monographs to the humanities, was a statistic that showed the relative dearth of new open access academic books in relation to new journal titles. Clearly there are combinations of reasons preventing a more robust move to open access in the humanities, both economic (the problem of financial capital: books (e or print) are more labor intensive) and sociocultural (the problem of cultural capital: in that humanities books are awarded status and prestige through publishing houses). Gatti’s presentation took on these challenges by seeking a sustainable ways to address these conditions, showing some exciting options moving forward.

The bulk of his presentation was spent on Open Books Publishers, a new publishing project for peer-reviewed open access monographs, which he directs. (See Open Books Publishers:

http://www.openbookpublishers.com/section/25/1/faqs ) This outfit has only published a few books to date, but their economic model, which includes a mixture of revenue from big name supporters, hard-copy and alternative format sales, and voluntary author-generated publication grant funding makes them an interesting new player in field.

Gatti also outlined other important initiatives. One of these was Knowledge Unlatched, (See: http://www.knowledgeunlatched.org/ ) a project which seeks long-term cost savings for institutions by sharing the costs of making HSS monographs available on a Creative Commons license. UC Libraries is part in one of their pilot projects. Another was Unglue It, ( https://unglue.it/about/) a project designed to help individuals and institutions join together to liberate specific ebooks “crowd-funding ” payments to authors and publishers so they they will relicense their works under Creative Commons licenses.” 

It is exciting to see these different economic models being tried. While I can’t say they will all achieve the sustainability they desire, it is clear that their aim is to create cooperatives to address real costs.

This webinar was sponsored by UKSG, a group formally that United Kingdom Serials Group. UKSG has evolved into a network that encourages “the exchange of ideas on scholarly communication…spanning the wide range of interests and activities across the scholarly information community of librarians, publishers, intermediaries and technology vendors. More about their activities can be found here: http://www.uksg.org/

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