To better understand the international landscape of open access monographs, Peter Potter, Publishing Director in the University Libraries at Virginia Tech, will be writing occasional posts from around the world. This latest article is about author attitudes to Open Access publishing.

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As the number of open access monographs grows, attention is turning increasingly to questions of how to measure impact and usage. Sometimes lost in these discussions are the attitudes of the most important stakeholder group in the scholarly publishing ecosystem: authors. What do those who write scholarly books actually think about open access? Why do they decide to (or not to) publish OA? And how is their experience with OA shaping the way they think about communicating their research?

While one recent survey shows that academic authors increasingly agree that scholarly monographs should be openly accessible, we still need more opportunities to hear directly from authors, especially in settings that allow for deeper exploration of their views on OA. With this in mind, organizers of the 2020 TOME stakeholders meeting (held in October via Zoom) decided to lead off the meeting with an author roundtable discussion. The roundtable featured five scholars (listed below) from diverse backgrounds (mostly humanities and social sciences) and with varying levels of engagement with open access. Not all had published an OA monograph but all had direct experience with OA publishing in one form or another. In this post, I highlight just a few of my takeaways but I also encourage everyone to watch and listen to the recorded session on the TOME website because it was highly informative and flush with valuable insights into the mindset of academic authors as they grapple with the implications of OA, not just for their individual careers but for their disciplines (and the profession) as a whole.

Top Three Takeaways

1. Authors have rather different reasons for publishing OA. The reasons may overlap but in general, they are strongly related to their disciplines and their particular ambitions for their scholarship. One author, an anthropologist, wanted his work to be accessible to the community members he studied. Another was interested in interdisciplinary impact. And most everyone, in one form or another, wanted to influence public debate. In each case, OA was seen as a viable means for reaching those ends.

2. Authors come to OA via different routes. Whereas OA has been a fact of life in STEM fields for over 20 years, it is relatively new to the humanities and social sciences. One of the historians in the group explained that OA wasn’t even on his “radar screen” when he published his first book in 2012. Also, given the importance of the monograph to tenure and promotion in HSS fields, it is not surprising that scholars have found other ways to dip their toes into OA waters. Some in the group did so through editing a journal that allowed occasional articles to be published OA. One scholar noted that he had co-edited a book of essays and they were able to negotiate an OA deal with the publisher prior to publication. These experiences were opportunities to learn first-hand about OA and to compare the experience with that of traditional publishing. All five found the experience positive enough to consider publishing a future OA monograph.

3. OA is challenging authors to rethink how they write and who they are writing for. According to one author in the group, “I’m reaching audiences that I never even imagined as my potential readers.” Not only is this heartening to them, but it also feeds into the sense of obligation that many feel to engage with significant public debates, whether they be local, national, or global. As another author aptly put it, “My goal for my research has always been to have some kind of impact or some kind of participation in what can often be very contentious public debates and also to be useful in various ways to the communities where I conducted my research.”

While OA may be late in coming to the humanities and social sciences, the experience of this group of authors suggests that it is beginning to find its place in the HSS ecosystem. OA may never be as pervasive there as it is in STEM (print is still very important), but authors want their work to matter—and they want it to matter beyond their own fields and disciplines. The more that OA is seen as a means to “reach a wider audience,” the more OA will be accepted by scholars, even in some of the more conservative humanities disciplines.

Key Quotes

The Authors

1. Edward Balleisen, Professor of History and Public Policy and Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University

2. Angus Burgin, Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University

3. Nicholas Copeland, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Virginia Tech

4. Deboleena Roy, Professor of Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University, where she is also taking on a new role as Senior Associate Dean of Faculty for Emory College of Arts and Sciences

5. Emily Wilcox, Associate Professor of Modern Chinese Studies and Associate Chair & Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan

REFERENCES

1. “The challenge is to incorporate the knowledge and insight of humanities and social sciences into research and innovation in the natural, physical and engineering sciences.” (p. 39) –2018 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation

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DOI for this blog series: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.12347939