In an attempt to build on last week’s post a bit, I’d like to spend this post discussing some other takes on OA and digitization. I’ll mainly be copying and pasting from two articles I’ve come across in my research in hopes of sharing what I’m learning this semester. In the end, I think it will be clear that the issues surrounding academic publications, OA, digitization, state history journals v. national journals, STEM journals v. humanities journals, and the effects of monograph publishing on journal publishing are simply too much for one to take on in a summer semester. The reality is that reading about these issues places one in a mental back-and-forth (or perhaps more of a ‘tug-of-war’) between opinions on all of the above – one day you’re pro-OA, the other you’re more critical of how OA is fair financially to those involved in creating and editing content, etc…
In “Open Access Goals Revisited: How Green and Gold Access Are Meeting (or Not) Their Original Goals” by Sara L. Rizor and Robert P. Holley (Journal of Scholarly Publishing 45, no. 4, July 2014, pp. 321-335), two librarians offer their opinions on the state of OA. Please understand that a bit of background understanding is necessary to get some of what they’re talking about (I read this article a few times, then read other articles, then came back to it, and then finally understood it a bit), but it is a very good assessment of where things presently stand concerning OA. Also, the article groups STEM OA and humanities OA together most of the time, and that is a bit problematic – it’s much better for us in humanities to understand OA in our field because things are different (namely funding opportunities).
In regards to the history of OA:
“(Open access) journals, otherwise known as gold OA, gave scholars an alternative outlet for their work. The literature published in these journals would be made immediately accessible to users free of charge without anyone having to circumvent copyright restrictions or negotiate with publishers to grant the permission to self-archive. In this sense, gold OA took the subscription bull by the horns by tackling the issues with traditional publishers head-on. Competition, the BOAI (Budapest Open Access Initiative – basically the preeminent advocacy group for OA) asserted, would be a good thing in the scholarly publishing market. Critics, on the other hand, suggested that without the revenue from subscription fees, there was no way for gold OA journals to achieve long term sustainability…But the BOAI, recognizing this issue, maintained that alternative business models could offer substitutions for traditional revenue streams and, better yet, would end up costing less. Some of their suggestions for collecting fees to cover the cost of production (in 2002) included ‘foundations and governments that fund research, the universities and laboratories that employ researchers, endowments set up by discipline or institution, friends of the cause of open access, profits from the sale of add-ons to the basic texts, funds freed up by the demise or cancellation of journals charging traditional subscription or access fees, or even contributions from the researchers themselves.’” (323-324).
Okay, so this passage should give you an idea of the reasons people want OA and the lack of reasonable funding advice advocates provide — I don’t know about you, but to me none of those suggestions at the end there seem feasible for humanities journals in 2015.
For the next excerpts, you need to know that the article defines green OA as: “scholarly research freely available to all potential users immediately upon publication through open digital repositories” usually provided by the author’s institution or the author themselves.
In regards to the success, or lack thereof, of OA:
“First, only ‘7.7 percent of the scholarly articles published’ in 2009 used the gold OA model…In another study, green OA fared better: Twenty-one per cent of articles published in subscription journals were available as self-archived versions. However, this still leaves nearly 80 per cent of subscription articles behind access barriers” (325).
“Even more disappointing is the fact that indexing and discoverability of the Green OA articles that do exist is still imperfect and therefore makes finding these works challenging…as green OA gets more sophisticated (as indexing and discoverability improve), it is more likely that budget-starved librarians will decide to cancel subscriptions to journals that are fully available in institutional repositories” (326).
“Over the last decade, author fees have become the standard way to support OA journals. Perhaps a better term would be ‘review and dissemination fees’ since that is what they are used for and need not be tied to authors’ pockets. Critics of gold OA have suggested that using this model is in fact unsustainable because author fees are not any more affordable than subscription fees. Duke University, in an early example, would have paid the same amount on author fees for reports published in 2003 by their social science and science faculty in PLoS as they did on their entire journal subscription budget in the prior year” (327-328).
“Not surprisingly, outside support for gold OA fees is lacking for researchers in disciplines like the humanities that often do not receive research funding, researchers from developing or otherwise economically underprivileged countries, and graduate students, unemployed PhDs, and adjunct faculty who feel pressured to publish to increase their odds of being hired for a tenure track position. Undeniably, researchers in these groups may very well be at a disadvantage in using gold OA” (329).
The first passages here seem to indicate that OA is not successful in achieving its goals of spreading through academia and making content accessible to all. The last few passages provide some of the reasons why, mainly – again – due to funding.
(here is the link to this article: https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_scholarly_publishing/v045/45.4.rizor.html )
CONCERNING DIGITIZATION IN A HISTORY JOURNAL:
In “The JAH in the Digital Age: A Conversation — Opening Remarks, 2015 Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians–Saturday, April 18, 2015,” David Prior (assistant editor of JAH) shared some opinions on the incentives (or lack thereof) for history journals to go digital.
Though JAH is much larger than FHQ (their staff is made up of 17 people), their revenue is generated in much of the same way: “The JAH derives its revenue from institutional subscriptions, individual members of the Organization of American Historians (OAH), and advertising. The JAH also has business relationships with Oxford University Press (OUP), which oversees the printing, promotion, and distribution of the JAH, and the History Department at Indiana University (IU), which provides financial support and staff” (1). There are obvious differences between the two, but I thought that a lot of Mr. Prior’s comments are relevant to FHQ and the overall incentives/reservations to going digital:
“Although access to the JAH requires either individual or institutional fees, the JAH has little if any evidence that there are substantial numbers of people who want to read the JAH but who are priced out of access…Also, OAH members and institutional subscribers continue to believe JAH content is worth its modest cost” (4).
“With Open Access and double-blind review, the JAH is aware of and interested in the broader conversations taking place within the humanities. But in both cases the JAH does not as yet feel that revising policies on these topics will enhance the journal’s ability to produce scholarship and deliver it to interested readers” (6).
“The digital age has opened up to the profession a host of new opportunities, but these are wrapped up with complex and overlapping problems” (11).
So again, these passages do a good job of explaining reasons against going OA. And of course that last quote perfectly sums up the complexity of publication practices.
(here is a link to this article:
CLOSING THOUGHTS AND CHANGES FROM LAST WEEK:
So, in regards to OA, some of my thoughts have changed since last week.
I still think that state journals occupy a unique gray area in that they are tied to state historical societies and must think about society subscriptions when deciding what content to provide digitally because they don’t receive as much subsidization from universities as the JAH’s of the world do, and because state societies and their publications do (and should) work together as a team–one in the same entity. And I still think that state historical societies should poll their subscribers to understand exactly why they subscribe – again, if most subscribers would remain subscribers despite state journals being OA, then that could be a ‘best of both worlds’ scenario, and everyone would win.
However, having read a bit more (including the above excerpts), I think questions about OA need to be asked as well. Firstly, does OA really do all the things it sets out to? Are there really tons of people out there pining for information they can’t access? If all content is OA, does that provide people with greater access, or streamline access in such a way as to cause people to miss ‘the bigger picture’? Imagine that people read only the articles they are looking for, and miss many articles that are helpful to them that they would have caught had they had a print copy, and physically seen more. How might OA lead to slippages in content quality of journals? These are just a few of many questions.
Overall, I think OA is a bit suspect, and though it is truly fantastic in theory, I personally don’t know how it would work in practice. Furthermore, I don’t know that the current state of things is as bad as OA advocates sometimes indicate.
And of course, the major question always comes back to money:
Who is going to pay for OA? Imagine that journals poll their subscribers, and learn that very few would pay subscriptions if journals were free online. Then what? Imagine that universities decide they don’t want to fully subsidize humanities journals to be OA (which is pretty much how it is now, from what I’ve read). Then who—who—is going to fit the bill?
Don’t look for answers here. Not yet, anyway. Like I said before, this is not a summer semester project. I doubt it’s even a thesis or dissertation project, honestly. Once you learn about OA, you need to consider monograph publishing. Once you figure that out, you need to understand pressures faced by University Presses, and so on and so forth forever and into infinity, so it seems. Questions provoke new questions, and the whole discovery process feels more like a vicious cycle.
Researching journals and digitization is extremely educational, thought-provoking, and enlightening, but is not very fruitful in the cultivation of quick and easy answers. However, I think it’s such an important thing for graduate students to learn about if any solution is to come in the near future, because new minds might find new solutions – we should definitely have a ‘Publishing Practices’ Colloquium in the near future for students who plan to move onto the PhD level. This is crucial stuff!
Until next time, best to all!