Open works in progress

June 5, 2014

G. R. Evans (“Questions over open books”, Letters, 29 May) may be pleased to hear that there are, by my count and off the top of my head, at least seven large projects already investigating the urgent questions surrounding open access to books.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the monograph has been claimed to be in crisis for at least 40 years, economic models are at the forefront of these discussions. There are ways of achieving open access (through the green route) without any of the author-payment difficulties that Evans raises (although there are other questions).

While Knowledge Unlatched’s successful pilot, which required the support of at least 200 global libraries to make a collection of 28 new humanities and social sciences books freely available for anyone to read on an open access basis, has already demonstrated a gold model that completely avoids the “author pays” system about which Evans is concerned, there are also active investigations into the book of the future/open access books by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (led by Geoffrey Crossick); Jisc and Jisc Collections; an Arts and Humanities Research Council call that is currently being decided upon; various publisher-led initiatives; new born-open access publishers with different models (eg, Open Book Publishers, Amherst College Press); US library publishing initiatives; my own Open Library of Humanities project and many others.

All these efforts have been well circulated and publicised (a high-profile conference at the British Library last year was covered in this magazine, and copies of at least one output were sent to all UK university libraries), but interest from the broader humanities community in the future of scholarly communication has, in the majority of recent cases, been forthcoming only when it is perceived as a threat to the norm, which is disappointing to say the least.

We must, of course, preserve what works and we must not succumb to technological determinism. However, to imply that these investigations are hidden, that the questions are not being asked (and answered) and that there have not already been vigorous demands for such investigations seems incorrect to me.

Martin Paul Eve
University of Lincoln

 

G. R. Evans is right to highlight that there are broader questions that must be answered about monographs and the implications of any move towards open access. The Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Monographs and Open Access Project, being led by Geoffrey Crossick, distinguished professor of the humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, was set up to address these questions, and therefore has the broader ambition that Evans is asking for.

A key aim of the project is to understand the monograph’s place in academic culture; the survey being run jointly with the separate OAPEN-UK project is a small part of our work to meet this aim.

We are pleased that  Evans has responded to the survey, which was sent to a range of university research offices and learned societies for distribution. We would welcome further responses at www.surveymonkey.com/s/K96XZD5. The deadline for completed surveys is Friday 6 June [2014].

Ben Johnson
Research policy adviser, Hefce

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