By Lisa O’Sullivan, Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health
Here on the blog we normally write stories based on the content in our collections, upcoming events, and other issues related to the history of medicine and health. However, we are also deeply interested in the issues facing libraries and the people who use their services.
By now it’s axiomatic that the digital world poses new opportunities and challenges for researchers, libraries, educational institutions, and publishers, which must be engaged with digital formats in a sustained and thoughtful way. The realities of this landscape encompass challenges to traditional models of publication and new expectations around access to both historic collections and new research literature. Open Access (OA) publishing and archiving is a central one of these challenges. In December 2013, we hosted an informal meeting around questions of OA at The New York Academy of Medicine.
Why is OA such a critical concern for libraries, researchers and publishers? (And why should you as a reader care?). As participants in our 2013 event discussed, issues of access to information have, ironically, been exacerbated by the growth of digital journals and electronic resources. Access to new research, whether in the sciences or humanities, is often prohibitively expensive for individuals and institutions. Authors struggle to make their work accessible to the broadest possible readership. Jill Cirasella at CUNY has produced an excellent summary of what’s at stake in discussions of OA.
The Wellcome Trust has been at the forefront in supporting open access to the research it funds in biomedical science and medical humanities, from its support of the open-access eLife journal to ensuring that all research funded by the Trust is made freely available to users. As such, we’re delighted to be working with the Trust to coordinate a panel called Innovation in Digital Publishing in the Humanities at the American Historical Association Annual Meeting taking place in New York in January.
Our panel will examine OA from a number of perspectives. However the potentials (and associated challenges) of digital publishing go beyond OA to broader opportunities for readers, publishers, and writers in the digital world, whether relating to new ways of presenting archival material online, new ways of doing and sharing research, or new ways to engage larger audiences, and we will explore some of these as well.
The panel will be chaired by Stephen Robertson, professor and director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History & New Media at George Mason, whose Digital Harlem project has won multiple awards for innovation in digital history. We’ve asked our speakers to start the conversation early by giving their thoughts on the biggest challenge or opportunity facing digital publishing.
This week, we’ll start with two perspectives on Open Access and its implications, from Cecy Marden (Wellcome Trust) and Lisa Norberg (Barnard College Library). We will publish thoughts from Martin Eve (University of Lincoln and Open Library of Humanities), Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Modern Language Association), and Matthew K. Gold (New York City College of Technology and City University of New York, Graduate Center) over the next few weeks. Visit our Innovation in Digital Publishing section to read them all as they go live.
Feel free to pose questions to the participants individually or as a group; they will respond here and take your thoughts into consideration for the panel itself.
Your post makes me wonder whether it is digital publishing or OA that has resulted in the recent explosion of scientific literature, which is very hard to cope with (especially for peer reviewers), as this recent essay in Nature argues: http://www.nature.com/news/open-access-is-tiring-out-peer-reviewers-1.16403.
I think it is fair to suggest that the explosion in scientific literature is stretching reviewers thin and expanded access certainly contributes to our collective sense of feeling overwhelmed. That said, I think the author of the Nature article’s claim that Open Access is to blame is misleading. As several commenters point out, the author conflates online with OA, which is inaccurate, but more troubling, the author describes the funding model for OA journals as predatory – exploiting authors by charging fees then failing to provide basic editorial services. While predatory publishers do exist, they are as prevalent in commercial publishing as in OA publishing. I would be the first to agree that the current funding model for OA needs to change, but there are many examples of high quality peer-reviewed OA journals that serve the academy and the broader scientific community quite well.