Digital Humanities
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Inquiries into culture, meaning, and human value meet emerging technologies and cutting-edge skills at Pratt Institute's School of Information

Possible futures for Open Access

On October 23rd, the National Federation of Advanced Information Services (NFAIS) held a one-day workshop on “The Impact of Open Access Models” at The Hub’s Cira Centre in Philadelphia. The twelve speakers ran the gamut from large publishers and aggregators to university presses, librarians, researchers and funders. At the outset, the goal of the workshop was to describe the current financial models of open access (OA) available to actors within the broad domains of STEM and Humanities and Social Science (HSS) publishing and consider the form these models may take in the near future.

The structure of the workshop tacitly acknowledged the chasm between the publishing realities of “the two cultures.” The morning speakers dealt primarily with science publishing while the afternoon focused more closely on humanities and social sciences. Public funding availability and recency needs drive the sustainability of STEM OA strategies. Wiley Publisher Simone Taylor reported that the company anticipates OA journal publishing will be a $440 million industry by 2017, especially as they and other major players like Elsevier continue to promote journals that harness a Green OA model. In Green OA, authors submit articles to subscription journals in exchange for the right to make a version of their presented work available via institutional or personal repository, usually after an embargo period. Green OA seems to be gaining momentum as funder mandates increasingly require open access–without necessarily accounting for associated fees in allotments–and researchers in developing economies seek to publish in vaunted outlets.

As a hybrid and alternative, Dr. Brian Crawford, President of the American Chemical Society‘s Publishing Division, promoted the sponsor-based model, or Gold OA, in which published content is made freely available immediately in exchange for an article-processing fee (APC). Publication costs ordinarily supported by subscription are shifted to institutions hosting the research and ACS attempts to alleviate these costs through vouchers to published authors and discounts on subscription content for institutions that elect to publish OA. The NFAIS audience reacted positively to Dr. Crawford’s presentation, which also addressed assigning tiered fees based on need so as to better position less well-funded universities in such a model.

Through these morning presentations, it also became clear that the STEM journal publishing industry is reckoning with two distinct phenomena summarized by NFAIS Board of Directors Member Nancy Blair-Deleon in her “Perceptions of OA Financial Models” survey report. One, even with some of the cost deflections implemented by publishing and discovery entities, industry members believe government support and mandate remains a necessity for the continuation and stewardship of OA publishing. Two, in spite of the profligacy of OA journal sources, some 14,000 (!) in 2015, users don’t really consider whether content is OA or not before accessing it–they just want the content. Both content providers and content consumers have to share costs and access points in order to entrench OA publishing as a stable industry. To that end, the morning presenters each expressed their support for Chorus, a non-profit entity that attempts to unify the access, monitoring, and preservation needs of libraries, publishers, and funders in a single platform for publicly-available research.

These kinds of partnership ecosystems are all the more important in HSS publishing. K|N Consultants Principal Rebecca Kennison underscored the limitations of applying current OA models to scholarly communication in the humanities: there’s not enough available funding to cover realistic APCs and besides, monographic publications remain the coin for measuring achievement. Additionally, as research output diversifies and DH work gains traction in more corners of academia, cost-per-unit assessments have not kept pace. Determinations of upfront expenses do not take into account para-textual elements like datasets and online platforms that are intrinsic to the finished product. The strategy that Kennison traced out in her presentation (and more fully in this K|N white paper) involves an new inflection of the assumptions surrounding the merits of OA publishing, one that centers scholarly societies and libraries. Sharing the products of research and scholarship is the responsibility of every institution and libraries are the hubs for collecting, organizing and preserving these products. Tertiary institutions, those that receive these products, can provide systemic financial support of the research process and the conversion of output to OA. The research process can in turn be more strongly stewarded and widely-disseminated by academic societies in partnership with libraries and university presses. The concept of flattening institutional boundaries to funding support in the service of knowledge access is admittedly one that faces serious challenges, not the least of which being the general conservatism of academic economies. But it is consonant with the questioning sustained by DH research in the service of what Burdick terms, “ubiquitous scholarship” (Digital Humanities, 30). In practice, such an infrastructure would be a boon to interdisciplinary and multimodal researchers.

To see what form such a system could take, other presenters offered accounts of Knowledge Unlatched (KU), a pilot program currently in its 2nd phase. KU calls for libraries to pledge title processing fees for monographs (typically about 4 times the cost of article APCs) to university presses in order to make those titles fully OA (“unlatched”). This is intended to mitigate risks to presses for making content freely available and because the fee is fixed, costs to individual libraries can be minimized as more partners pledge support. KU’s Judy Luther explained that the second phase has already attracted more publisher submissions and participating institutions and the program garnered title views from 167 countries. Temple University Press Director Mary Rose Muccie confirmed that revenues on titles accepted to the program more than covered costs and the OA raised the profile of the press’s frontlist. What remains to be seen is how title selections for unlatching will continue after the pilot period and its appointed task force transition to a full implementation. It’s also no small question to determine how usage and scholarly impact will be effectively measured across the variety of OA hosts that stage the unlatched content. Still, the potential for university presses and by proxy, their parent institutions to have a replacement revenue source to account for lost print sales could free resources for new partnerships and perhaps accelerate the embrace of born-digital scholarship projects.

The NFAIS workshop cemented the notion that OA is a complex and unavoidable dimension to scholarly communication. Researchers will continue to seek venues for their work that make it widely available and afford it prestige. As models for OA have settled across STEM and HSS spheres of scholarship, financial realities have made the collectivization of costs across contributors perhaps a necessity for sustainability. The hierarchy of monographic publishing requirements shapes how these newer models handle content, but it is clear that many actors are beginning to grapple with non-traditional humanities work as a similarly inevitable reality. The urgency to publish will continue to make APC-dominated fields a risky prospect for authors and I would have liked to hear how some of these proposed OA models can promote and stabilize peer review standards in the face of predatory journals. As the industry grows, alternative models will have to operate in parallel with many divergent infrastructures. There remains much room to reconsider how the costs and benefits of OA are distributed.

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Eugene Rutigliano

Eugene Rutigliano

I am a student in the Pratt School of Information. I also serve as Collection Development Specialist at the American Council of Learned Societies Humanities E-Book platform.
Eugene Rutigliano

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