Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On the Open Access Debate within Humanities

In Giving it Away: Sharing and the Future of Scholarly Communication, Planned Obsolescence author Kathleen Fitzpatrick writes about the open access debate within the humanities.  

According to Fitzpatrick this debate has, so far, been bogged down by a focus on the financial difficulties involved in switching to an author-pays model of publishing, due to the relatively low levels of funding received by humanities scholars.  While acknowledging the reality of these concerns, Fitzpatrick argues that the seemingly insurmountable nature of them is leading to a lack of movement on the topic.  She argues that a shift in focus away from these financial concerns, toward a focus on how open access aligns with the core values of scholarship, would help to move the conversation forward.

One key value, well-aligned with open access for Fitzpatrick, (borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous), is the value of “giving it away.”  

What I want to argue is that this sense of “giving it away,” of paying forward knowledge that one likewise received as a gift, functions well as a description of what should be the best ethical practices of scholars and educators.  We teach, as we were taught; we publish, as we learned from the publications of others. We cannot pay back those who came before us, but can only give to those who come after.  Our participation in an ethical, voluntary scholarly community is grounded in the obligation we owe to one another, an obligation that derives from what we have received.  [End of Excerpt].

More than a simple duty this “giving it away,” Fitzpatrick notes, is something that serves the larger public good. For example, as humanities scholars make their work freely accessible to the general public, they increase the chances that the larger society might benefit from their knowledge.  

As to the viability of giving it away, Fitzpatrick, acknowledges that clever innovation would be needed to turn open access into a sustainable publishing model for humanities scholars.  However, she notes that the current system might be closer to that solution than one might first assume given the “engine of generosity” that already exists with authors, editors, peer-reviewers, and publishers all contributing to the scholarly publishing endeavor without direct remuneration.   

Fitzpatrick also sees a number of ways open access would benefit the humanities, in particular by increasing scholars’ impact and decreasing “public apathy” toward the field.  In light of these benefits and the alignment with scholarship’s core values, Fitzpatrick argues, open access may well be a worthwhile goal for humanities.  In fact, she argues, it may be time to move beyond the question of whether to pursue open access, to the question of how open access might be accomplished sustainably.

No comments: