Open Access – a Defense

16 Jan

The debate about open access among mostly Russian history specialists is expanding. Steve Barnes, the creator of Russian History Blog, has written a very informative post stressing the inevitability of change in how we conceive, produce and disseminate academic knowledge. Steve also provides informative links about some of the theories, experiments and successes in open access academic publishing.

I think it’s also worth stating that the evolution of this debate is a testament to the value of open access. We are witnessing an intelligent, civil, and lively debate that is not fixed to one venue, in real time, is transparent, and open to all regardless of training, title, or institutional affiliation.

This debate, I’m afraid, would be impossible in an academic journal as it is currently conceived.

I don’t know about others, but I’ve learned more about the ways journals in our field are produced and managed as well as the persistent challenges editors face to consistently provide a high quality product. Despite my disagreements with some of the editors about open access, my appreciation for what they do has grown immensely in the last few days.

Anyway, here’s a excerpt from Steve’s post. I highly recommend it.

I don’t doubt the tremendous value of journals for scholars. I read them regularly, have published in them in the past, and hope to do so in the future. However, I do think we should recognize that our journals as they are currently published do impose certain costs on the academic and intellectual enterprise. These costs are most readily apparent in the limitation of readership, the primary concern of Guillory’s initial post,  but as Michael O’Malley (among others) has argued in a pair of blog posts, peer review itself imposes significant costs on the scholarly enterprise.

However, even if we leave aside the question of whether maintaining the status quo is desirable, doing so may prove impossible. Surely the major changes in the publishing world wrought by the digital revolution and the reduction of public funding for higher education and scholarship will impact our academic journals as well. No doubt, they already are. (Our academic monographs will likely change due to similar processes, but I will leave that aside for the moment given that this conversation has focused mostly on journals.) As my colleague Dan Cohen, Director of RRCHNM, has put it in one of his many writings on the subject:

…it’s a collective failure by historians who believe—contrary to the lessons of our own research—that today will be like yesterday, and tomorrow like today. Article-centric academic journals, a relatively recent development in the history of publishing, apparently have existed, and will exist, forever, in largely the same form and with largely the same business model.

Major change is inevitable, argue Cohen and many others like him who have spent years thinking seriously about the intersections of digital technology and historical/humanities scholarship. If so, shouldn’t scholars try to shape the change rather than merely react to that which is imposed upon us?

You can read the rest here.