Monday, November 11, 2013

Open Access

I've been reading in Daniel J. Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt's Hacking the Academy this week. The editors crowdsourced the book in a week (see here for the original contents and here for the resulting book). The short essays are quite readable and provocative, both of which results were intended by the editors.

I'm very struck in reading the "Hacking Scholarship" section that all the contributions claim passionately and as a given that Open Access is a superior publishing model for academics over all the other ones that exist out there.

I have two big unanswered questions after reading the contributions on publishing.

1. How will libraries effectively catalog materials that are "curated" by links rather than included in a published volume of essays, whatever form the "volume" takes. The essays tend to assume that the value of scholarship and a shifted time sequence of peer review is in the present, so that the contemporary audience will grow. But much of humanities scholarship's value rests in its long-term discoverability, years if not generations in the future. It is absolutely crucial that libraries and their key databases continue to be able to sift and make available scholarship over the long run.

2. How will the costs of Open Access be redistributed? Doing work to put stuff up on the web is not free, even if the costs of printing and distribution are mitigated. Critics of the Finch Report in England suggest that the costs will shift from publishers to authors (and whatever institutions support them), making it more difficult for scholars on the margins--graduate students, PhDs who have not landed tenure-track employment, and scholars at teaching-oriented institutions with little research support--to get published.

Neither of these is taken up in "Hacking Scholarship."

A colleague pointed me to a few critiques, most especially these:

AHA Statement on Scholarly Journal Publishing

Opening the Journal: How an Open-Access E-Journal Can Serve Scholarship, the Liberal Arts, and the Community

I think I'll have to assign these together.

My favorite observation in the "Hacking Scholarship" section, incidentally, is Mills Kelly's definition of scholarship"It is the result of original research; it has an argument of some sort and that argument is situated in a preexisting conversation among scholars; it is public, it is peer reviewed; and it has an audience response." This articulates in some interesting ways with my comments about Wikipedia
in Teaching Wikipedia without Apologies,where I claim a key problem of Wikipedia is the difficulty of making arguments in a collaboratively-executed document.