OA in the humanities

January 18, 2006 at 5:05 pm | Posted in Open Access, Preprints | Leave a comment

OA as instrumental good, Open and Shut, December 22, 2005: “Historically, Open Access (OA) has been viewed as primarily an issue for researchers in the sciences. Today, however, there is a growing debate about its relevance to the humanities. So when last week the Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics (PSWP) site was launched it seemed an ideal opportunity to discuss OA in the context of the humanities with Josiah Ober, the professor of classics at Princeton who, in collaboration with Stanford’s Walter Scheidel, created PSWP.” Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: Certainly OA today is mainly viewed as a science issue. Why do you think that is so, and do you think that in the long term OA has less, the same, or perhaps even more relevance to the humanities than to the sciences?

A: Humanities scholarship is a small area compared to natural science scholarship. Humanities work tends to be comparatively low-cost (few big labs or big grants) and individually authored. OA’s immediate benefits are perhaps harder to measure in the humanities than in the sciences. OA for humanities is still something of a ‘green field.’

Q: You are perhaps aware of the growing trend for science research funders to request/require that their grantees make their papers available on the Web (not least the National Institutes of Health’s policy on Enhancing Public Access to Archived Publications Resulting from NIH-Funded Research). Can you see a logic for funders in the humanities adopting a similar approach, or is funding in the humanities sufficiently different that such an approach may not be appropriate?

A: Humanities funding is mostly personal grants for leave time to individuals, and humanists still tend to publish a lot of books. So I would guess that this sort of requirement would be unlikely in the near term.

Q: Certainly there are calls for this in the UK. The draft proposal from Research Councils UK (Access to Research Outputs), for instance, proposes mandating all publicly-funded researchers, including those in the humanities, to self-archive their papers on the Web. It’s not yet clear what the final RCUK policy will be, but do you think this is how the future will look: that in the way that researchers have been required to ‘publish or perish’ they will find themselves also being required to ensure that their papers are freely available to all on the Web?

A: My guess is that it will increasingly be the case that material that is not web accessible will be less likely to be consulted or cited, and that this will in turn result in a lot of pressure on authors and publishers to find ways to make academic work web accessible.

Q: Finally, do you think that OA is ‘inevitable and optimal’ as OA advocates often put it? If so, what are the compelling reasons for arguing that that is the case in the area of the humanities in general, and in classics in particular?

A: Inevitable is a strong word and one I tend to avoid when speaking of social phenomena, like politics, economics, or OA. I think that there will be strong pressure for more OA over time, as students and scholars become more and more used to doing their research online. Optimal must of course depend on implementation.

So I’d say that OA is a very good bet, and stands to be a lot closer to optimal than any prior information regime I know of.

Humanists, whose work can be made readily accessible across disciplinary lines (in a way that is more difficult for highly mathematical fields), are likely to benefit disproportionately from OA — and should, therefore, have every reason to support it.”

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