Open Library of Humanities


Countless words have been spilled on the immense potential offered to the educational world by technology. From online courses through to digital reading environments, new technologies seem to offer us a bright future for teaching and learning. Yet, there are many hurdles to achieving this potential, particularly when so much research work ends up behind expensive paywalls.

The Open Access Movement has spent the last decade attempting to address this problem and, in the past three years, has made significant headway. Yet, in the humanities disciplines, open access to research work remains a challenge. There are a number of reasons for this difficulty but one of the most pressing is the economics. In models of open access provided by the publisher, there is sometimes a fee that authors must pay. In the humanities disciplines, the funding to cover such costs is not so readily available as in scientific fields. This makes a transition to an open, online environment harder in these subject areas.

The project that I founded and co-direct is called the Open Library of Humanities and it aims to address this problem. With funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we are building a business model for open access to humanities research that does not involve author-facing charges. Instead, libraries pay a small amount each into a cost-pool from which we then remunerate the labour of publishing so that work can be made openly available. We have tight standards of peer review and quality control, alongside an internationally respected advisory board. In the first couple of months, over 60 institutions have already signed up.

So far so good. The other major problem, though, is that researchers will tend to publish in the journals respected by their peers. If, therefore, these journals remain closed, then the problem is not solved. Our solution to this is that journals that wish to become open can migrate to our platform, sharing our economic model and gaining the benefits of open access. We have five journals coming on board at our launch, in September.

Open access is a complex subject and I can’t here do full justice to it. What is clear, though, is that different disciplines have different social and economic contexts. It is a horrible, clichéd soundbite, but also true that “one size does not fit all”. By offering researchers a fresh economic model in which they need not pay, but that is also affordable for libraries (less than the cost of some single subscription journals), we can make open access a reality in these disciplines.

Dr Martin Paul Eve is a Senior Lecturer in Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London. He is the author of two books: Pynchon and Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Foucualt and Adorno (Palgave, 2014) and Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future (available open access from Cambridge University Press). He is a founder and co-director of the Open Library of Humanities.

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