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The humanities and open access: opportunities and challenges

It is now a week since the main event hosted by the University of St Andrews Library for Open Access Week: The humanities and open access: opportunities and challenges, and we have had time to reflect on some very interesting presentations and discussions. The keynote address and Q and A session from Professor Gary Hall are now available on YouTube, and a summary of the rest of the day follows.

12:10 Starting the open access journey - why choose open access? Dr Chris Jones (Director of Research, School of English, University of St Andrews) Chris has wide research interests in poetry, especially that of the Anglo-Saxon period and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 
Chris started off by giving us his perspectives on open access self-archiving. He remembers being intrigued, though 'a little scared', at the idea of striking out the clause on copyright assignment in his early publishing career. He now finds that more publishers will give permission to deposit in a repository. He is concerned about the authority of published work being accepted when it is open access (he acknowledges the REF may be seen as the ‘problem’ here) but he has also learnt that good metadata and the possibility to add coversheets to author versions ensures that definitive versions can be cited.

12:20 'Why open access is important for the humanities, the University, everyone...' Professor Gary Hall (coventry University and open humanities Press) Gary Hall is Professor of Media and Performing Arts and Director of the Centre for Disruptive Media at Coventry University, UK. He is author of Culture in Bits (Continuum, 2002) and Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now (Minnesota UP, 2008). In 1999 he co-founded the open access journal Culture Machine, which was early champion of OA in the humanities. In 2006 he co-founded Open Humanities Press (OHP), the first OA press dedicated to contemporary critical and cultural theory, which currently has 14 journals in its collective. An OHP monograph project, run in collaboration with the University of Michigan Library’s MPublishing, was launched in 2009.
 
Gary enlightened us with philosophical theories about ‘authorship’ and described the ideological motives behind open access, suggesting scholarship should be about cultivating ideas rather than ‘owning’ a definitive stance on a subject. He asked: ‘Do we need to explore new ways of being academics?’

He went on to describe a number of practical projects that creatively engage with open access, for example allowing contributors to learn about OA issues as they draw content from existing OA sources and repackage it, as in the Living Books about Life series. In the OHP monographs, scholars ‘come together’ around a topic of interest and carry out the editorial work. Each project facilitates a learning experience for authors and reviewers as well as new reusable content for a global readership, thus changing scholarly publishing culture.We heard about the importance of credibility, and this is being answered through the academic networks involved in OHP and the international experts on various Editorial Boards.




The Q & A section focussed on issues of quality, and it was recognised that academics need to consider when, and how far, they push the boundaries of ‘traditional’ publishing.



14:00 Journal hosting services
Angela Laurins & Claire Knowles (Digital Library, University of Edinburgh) [Presentation on slideshare]
Angela gave us an overview of Open Journal Systems (OJS), how it is used globally and the variety of approaches in Edinburgh University’s journal hosting service. We saw how easy it could be to set up and run a new journal with an open access model ‘out of the box’, leaving time for people to concentrate on quality and promotion of content. Claire described how they have helped journal managers use statistics to analyse their readership, for example forging links with Universities in regions where they see a high volume of visitors.

Janet Aucock & Jackie Proven (Library, University of St Andrews) [Presentation on slideshare]
Janet described how a journal hosting service moved from initial conversations about what might be possible, to an embedded service. Jackie continued the idea of conversations to explain the iterative process of setting up hosted journals, and how we have found it a learning experience for all involved.

Gillian Duncan (Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St Andrews)
Gillian gave a case study of how and why the Journal of Terrorism Research uses OJS, particularly the opportunity it gives to students and early career researchers to get experience of publishing. Open access is crucial to many of their readers who could be located in war zones without easy access to subscription journals.

14:45 Disciplinary perspectives
Dr Guy Rowlands (Centre for French History and Culture, University of St Andrews)
Guy gave a detailed account of how he came to publish an open access ebook series: St Andrews Studies in French History and Culture. 2 years ago he saw a need for shorter-length works (25 – 50,000 words), and describes them as ‘midigraphs’. (It is interesting to note Palgrave’s recent move to introduce works of this length in the humanities and social sciences, with its Pivot imprint). Print copies are currently produced for major libraries and as promotional tools, but print versions will be phased out by 2015 when he believes open access versions will have sufficient credibility to stand alone. He is very encouraged by the level of downloads from Research@StAndrews:FullText – far surpassing what print sales would achieve.

Prof Mario Aguilar (School of Divinity, University of St Andrews)
We were given an interesting insight into the Editorial process of an open access journal: Sociology Mind and the way that scholarship happens when ideas are challenged. Through layers of peer review before and after publication, we heard how how ‘open access open a new world’. The quality of articles is improved over time, as well as their ability to reach far corners of the globe.

Dr Sarah Dillon (School of English, University of St Andrews)
Sarah started by saying she found out by accident she was involved with open access – as she had simply chosen to publish with the most appropriate publisher and it turned out to be Open Humanities Press. Work on her research project ‘What Scientists Read’ has also led her to consider visibility and impact of her outputs, and how open access can really help with public engagement. She then described the very real issues faced by academics faced with pressure to publish with ‘reputable’ publishers when research assessment was imminent, perhaps being forced into an outdated publishing format by prevailing culture. She suggested academics have real power to change things, and they need to use it to push boundaries.

In summing up this section, Guy reminded us that what hasn’t changed for scholarly communication since the 17th century is the importance of credibility.

15:35 Open access projects and current awareness [Presentation on slideshare]
Jeremy Upton (Deputy Director of Library Services, University of St Andrews)
Jeremy highlighted new developments with open access ebooks, particularly the OAPEN initiative and Knowledge Unlatched

15:45 Institutional/library perspectives
John MacColl (University Librarian and Director of Library Services, University of St Andrews)
John rounded off the day with some quotes from each of the presenters to illustrate the hopeful and  inspirational opportunities offered by open access, as well as the pragmatic and sometimes difficult challenges we face in this period of transition.

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