Publication Date

April 1, 2013

Perspectives Section


A recently launched initiative, theOpen Library of the Humanities (OLH), has been received with interest in the humanities community, which has yet to find consensus on open-source publishing. Based on the model of the nonprofit Public Library of Science, or PLOS, which provides a peer-reviewed open access platform for the sciences, OLH intends to be a publishing avenue that is “low cost, sustainable, open access” for the humanities and social sciences.

Still in its early days, the OLH's principal academic project directors, Martin Eve and Caroline Edwards, who are both lecturers in English at the University of Lincoln (UK), have put together a diverse group of advisors and committees to guide the venture's development. The project's Academic Steering & Advocacy Committee includes historian David Armitage of Harvard University, Cable Green of Creative Commons, and Kathleen Fitzpatrick, the MLA's director of scholarly communication, as well as scholars, policymakers, archivists, editors, and others from the worlds of scholarly publishing and teaching in the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Under the PLOS model, the author pays a fee to submit an article, sometimes known as an author payment charge or article processing charge (APC), circumventing the existing model whereby publishing costs are subsidized by institutional subscription fees. In the cases where the author or their sponsoring institution cannot afford the fee, which ranges from $1,350 to $2,900 for US-based authors, PLOS waives the fee or offers reduced options. PLOS attempts to further level the field by waiving or reducing the fee depending on the author's country of origin.

The AHA Council, which released a statement in September 2012 detailing its concerns about open access scholarly journals, has raised a number of questions in particular about the applicability of a sciences-based funding model to humanities publishing, where the economics of funding and institutional support are very different. On the subject of APCs, Martin Eve is hopeful that the OLH can find a hybrid solution to funding humanities publishing. In an e-mail, he noted, "We are hoping, though, to avoid APCs altogether through widely distributed (and therefore very low) library partnerships subsidies. This might sound like a return to subscriptions, but the difference here is the model of many libraries paying very little so that content can be free, rather than many libraries paying a great deal so that they can exclusively own (or, actually, as it stands, 'rent') content."

There are still many details to be worked out about how the OLH will manage factors such as permissions and how peer review will be handled, and while the PLOS is a model, it is only a starting point. "The primary element that we're taking from PLOS is the academic-lead component," Eve wrote. "[T]he emphasis is placed upon 'the organization's roots within the academic community'; this is exactly what we are doing." While the idea of open access has both its supporters and detractors in the humanities community, Eve believes that the historical strengths of the humanities—to absorb new information, analyze it, and develop new ways of thinking—are fundamental to the project's success. "OLH is based around the humanities community," Eve wrote, "talking and then building."

is the associate editor ofPerspectives on History.

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