Public Access

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 This begins in the simplest possible way: ensuring that the readers we might hope to reach have access to the work that we’re already doing, in the forms that we’re already doing it. Mobilization around the establishment of what has come to be known as open access began in the scientific community more than twenty years ago, and has since spread, with varying degrees of uptake, across the disciplines. The conditions for this movement’s development were, at the outset, economic: scientific journal subscription prices had risen precipitously in the early 1990s (and have continued escalating since), creating both a crisis for research library budgets and a growing information divide between those with access to such libraries and those without. In order to create a more globally equitable distribution of knowledge, scientists began to debate and organize around a set of possibilities for transforming publishing processes and creating new models for opening scientific journal articles to everyone.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The goals of the open-access movement were never solely altruistic; it was clear even in its early days that science itself would benefit if its communication processes were freed from the commercial channels into which it was increasingly being funneled and access to the research literature were unencumbered. But the links between the social good created by increased public access to research results and the potential for accelerating scientific discovery were established early on. The Association of Research Libraries gathered a cluster of early listserv discussions around these issues into a 1995 volume entitled Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads: A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing. In the introduction, editors Ann Shumelda Okerson and James J. O’Donnell argue that “in the interests of science, the law of the market cannot be allowed to function. An item with a very small market may yet be the indispensable link in a chain of research that leads to a result of high social value” (1). The escape from the market values that dominated scientific communication, in other words, would help science progress, and that progress could potentially serve the public good.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The open access movement was established as a means of attempting to ensure that the social value served by scholarly research could flourish. The guiding principles of this movement were originally articulated in the Budapest Open Access Initiative, published in 2002, which gave the movement its name. Following behind the Budapest initiative were the June 2003 Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing and the October 2003 Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Scientific Knowledge. Together, Budapest-Bethesda-Berlin defined the agenda for open access scholarly publishing:

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited. (Chan et al)

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 “Open access,” that is, means free access not just in the sense of “gratis,” work made available without charge, but also in the sense of “libre”work that, subject to appropriate scholarly standards of citation, is free to be built upon. This is the cornerstone of the scholarly project: scholarship is written to be read and to influence more new writing. Early mobilization around open access thus targeted not just the economic inequities that were being worsened by the market orientation of scientific publishers, but the resulting restrictions in the creation of new knowledge created by the growing divide between the information haves and have-nots. Open access presented the potential for scholars to help bridge this divide, serving not only their own interests in getting their work into broader circulation, but also serving a larger public interest.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 As the Budapest Open Access Initiative put it:

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the internet. The public good they make possible is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds. Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge. (Chan et al)

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 It’s hard not to be moved by the idealism of a statement such as this, and easy to see why the movement’s impact accelerated. By the tenth anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, the open access movement had spread widely through a dramatic increase in the number of OA journals (the so-called “gold” road to open access), including the very public mass resignations of a number of editorial boards of closed-access journals, who then joined together to start new publications online. Additionally, the open access movement was profoundly expanded through a growing number of institutional and disciplinary repositories (the “green” road to open access), as well as an increasing number of institution- and funder-based mandates requiring the deposit of the products of research done under their auspices.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 What made this growth in commitment to open access possible, as Peter Suber points out, is the precise convergence of the Internet’s ability to radically reduce the costs of reproduction and distribution of texts to near-zero with what Budapest calls the “old tradition” of scholars publishing their work without payment. That latter factor, Suber notes, “does more than insulate cutting-edge research from the market and free scholars to consent to OA without losing revenue. It also supports academic freedom and the kinds of serious inquiry that advance knowledge” (16). That scientists and other scholars are indirectly rewarded—with jobs, promotions, speaking engagements, and so forth—for the impact of their work rather than directly paid through sales means that they are free to “microspecialize,” as Suber puts it, focusing their energies on areas that may be “of immediate interest to just a handful of people in the world, which are essential to pushing the frontiers of knowledge” (16). While some have argued that the public cannot understand and therefore does not need access to such highly specialized work, ensuring that everyone who might be interested is able to find and engage with this work precisely so that those frontiers can be pushed requires making it as fully and as freely available as possible. That is to say: the value of public access is not determined by the size of the potential public, just as the value of a scholarly field is not diminished by its relative smallness.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 1 However, it is important to note that there have been some significant differences among fields in their abilities to embrace open access. Some of these differences have to do with the obviousness of public impact: the implications for medical research, for instance, in “uniting humanity” in a common quest for knowledge might be obvious, but the role that the humanities might play in contributing to and sustaining a “common intellectual conversation” has been a good bit less so. But some of the differences are more pragmatic in nature: the early open-access movement was clear from the beginning that its focus was on freeing journal articles from barriers to access. This is a relatively attainable goal, as the incentives for authors (increased impact) outweigh, or should outweigh, the potential drawbacks (lost revenue or prestige), and as the technologies available for circulating and reading articles online are well-developed. In many humanities fields, however, the most important work is done in book rather than article form. Not only have the technologies for circulating and reading books online been to this point far less suitable to most research purposes, but the incentives for authors have been inverted. The lost revenue from royalties may be modest (or even in many cases imaginary), but there is at least a potential loss involved. Far more serious is a perceived loss in prestige, as a university-press published book—at many institutions a requirement for tenure and promotion—cannot be pulled out of that publishing system without becoming something else entirely, something that may not be accepted as equivalent. This does not mean that scholarly books shouldn’t similarly be made fully publicly accessible; rather, it is just to point out that different approaches are required. Such approaches are currently being explored by open-access publishers such as Punctum Books and Lever Press, open-access ventures at established presses such as Luminos at the University of California Press, and multi-institutional projects such as the AAU, ARL, and AAUP’s joint open access monograph publishing initiative.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 4 Even in these instances, however, the economic model into which much open access publishing has settled in the last decade is readily suited to the sciences and highly challenging to make work in the humanities and many branches of the social sciences. Rather than funding journal publication through subscriptions, through which the reader pays for access, open-access publishers largely rely on article-processing charges, through which the author pays for distribution. Because many scientific journals had long required page fees (for the production and reproduction of graphical elements, for instance), and because the grants that fund the vast majority of scientific research frequently covered those fees, the transition was relatively simple: publishing costs that enable researchers to make their results available to the world are now written into grants in the sciences, and in fact many granting agencies today require open access distribution (whether through a “gold” publication or through a “green” repository) as a condition of funding. In the humanities, however, not only is the available grant funding generally too low to accommodate the inclusion of significant publishing charges, but the vast majority of research is either nominally supported by the scholar’s institution or is self-funded. In many cases, the author-pays model would literally mean that the author was paying, a significant new barrier to publication for many. And, in fact, there is an argument to be made that the shift from reader-pays to author-pays merely shifts the inequities in access to research publications from the consumer side to the producer side of the equation: researchers who are working in fields in which there is not significant grant funding available, or who are at institutions that cannot provide publishing subventions, cannot get their work into circulation in the same way that those in grant-rich fields, or at well-heeled institutions can.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 3 For all these reasons, I don’t want to sound as if I’m suggesting that a large-scale transition of scholarly communication in the humanities to full public access would be easy. It wouldn’t. At the same time, however, I don’t want to restrict our sense of the possibilities for a more open future for scholarship based on existing economic models. Enabling public access to scholarly work is not just about undoing its commercialization but about making public engagement with that scholarship possible, desirable, and perhaps even inevitable. For that reason, despite the serious challenges involved, we must stop ending our conversations about open access in the humanities with the seemingly insurmountable obstacles and instead start figuring out what it will take to get around them.

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