Does One Size Fit All? Small Societies, Humanities Journals, and the Risk and Promise of Open Access Conversion

This is the third in a series of posts about each of the teams that will be attending SCI 2016, and their projects. This one was submitted by Meredith Goldsmith.

Photo of stacking small stones in the desertWhat are the goals of your working group and how do they fit the theme of this year’s Institute?

If our team has a theme, it would be “Size matters.” Our team proposes to explore existing models of open access transitions to consider how they might be scaled to meet the needs of small societies in humanities disciplines.  We recognize that smaller scholarly organizations, especially in the humanities, face particular practical and theoretical challenges around the transition to open-access publishing. The challenges are rooted in the culture of small organizations and their publications. First, small humanities societies are often fully dependent on membership fees to publish their journals. Editors and society staff support their journals as a labor of love, struggling to produce a quality product in the face of rising costs and little or no institutional support.

Our group includes two editors of small society journals, one of whom is a former society president. Although small scholarly societies recognize the cost of adhering to an increasingly expensive print‐only business model, they are often resistant to assume the risk of changing their production model, leaving such organizations and their publications “frozen in place,” as Rebecca Kennison and Kristen Ratan have argued. Finally, the incentives of the promotion and tenure system, especially in small institutions where the open access movement is just beginning to gain traction, have kept scholars in small humanities societies stuck in different ways. Despite or because of the rapid proliferation of new media and new publications, humanist scholars must debate where and how to disseminate their work in new ways.

Small organizations rooted in print publication will need to draw upon a range of different examples and to reconcile competing imperatives. By bringing stakeholders together from a broad range of perspectives — scholarly editors, publishers, and digital scholarship professionals — our working group aims to develop a more nuanced perspective on OA transitions than has been advanced in recent scholarship. Editors of small journals and their boards must take into account cost and prestige and scholarly values and product quality and peer review, among other considerations. When faced with what seem like untenable choices, it is no wonder that those working for small scholarly organizations have felt as if our options are, to put it generously, limited. It is our hope that this working group, drawing upon published scholarship, existing models, and our own creative explorations, can develop a model that draws upon our multiple perspectives, even if it does not entirely reconcile them. And we are particularly optimistic about the opportunity to bring the expertise we bring from different sides of the field—that of teachers, scholars, publishers, and editors, and professionals working to bridge print and digital media.

Who is on your team, and what are you hoping they will contribute to the project?

We are particularly excited about the opportunity to bring together editors, publishers, open access platform developers, and digital scholarship specialists. We believe that Triangle SCI will offers an unparalleled opportunity to unite around our common goals–the dissemination and advancement of new scholarly knowledge. If small scholarly societies—and their journals—are going to survive, we will need not only to develop creative solutions, but to listen carefully to all those with stakes in the political economies of academic publishing.

  • Meredith Goldsmith is a professor of English at Ursinus College, the editor of the Edith Wharton Review, and the past President of the Edith Wharton Society. She is also the founder of the Library of the Future Group at Ursinus.
  • Patrick Alexander is the director of Pennsylvania State University Press, which publishes approximately 50 books in the arts and humanities annually, as well as 41 scholarly journals. Since his arrival at the Press in 2007, its publication of scholarly journals has quadrupled.
  • Rebecca Kennison is a principal at the non-profit organization K|N Consultants and co-founder of the Open Access Network (OAN).
  • Kristen Ratan is the co-founder of the non-profit Collaborative Knowledge Foundation (CKF), whose mission is to build open-source solutions for scholarly knowledge production that foster collaboration, integrity, and speed. Before co-founding the CKF, Kristen was most recently the publisher at the Public Library of Science (PLOS), where she leveraged new technologies, policies, and best practices to transform scholarly communication.
  • Eric Bain-Selbo is the editor of Sunshine law, a Penn State UP journal, and the executive director of the Society for Values in Higher Education. is the Department Head of Philosophy and Religion at Western Kentucky University and Co-Founder of the WKU Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility.
  • Cheryl Ball is associate professor of digital publishing studies at West Virginia University and the editor of the on-line journal Kairos: Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. She recently received a million-dollar Mellon grant to develop Vega, a new platform for on-line, open access publishing (http://vegapublish.com/).
  • John McLeod is Director of the Office of Scholarly Publishing Services (OSPS) at the University of North Carolina Press which provides the UNC system with access to a range of sustainable, mission-driven publishing models and solutions. McLeod has twenty years of publishing experience in areas such as sales and marketing, digital publishing, and intellectual property and copyright.

Photo of wood block type

What do you look forward to most from SCI, and what do you hope to accomplish through the Institute? What are your plans for next steps after the Institute this fall?

We are particularly excited about the opportunity to get out of our silos—print v digital, academics v publishing professionals, and so on–and to draw upon and further cultivate our interdependencies. We are eager to explore non-traditional means of disseminating our findings, especially as we seek to reach a range of audiences: faculty and administrators, scholars in small societies, and publishers. We are considering creating a webinar in which deans share their perspective on open-access publishing; and a white paper for the Oberlin Group and/or Lever Press, among others.

One thought on “Does One Size Fit All? Small Societies, Humanities Journals, and the Risk and Promise of Open Access Conversion

  1. You might want to take a look at the Societies and Open Access Research (SOAR) project, which catalogs society-published OA journals. It currently lists 1,033 societies publishing 1,000 full (non-hybrid) OA journals.
    http://bit.ly/hoap-soar

    Insofar as you focus on *converting* non-OA journals to OA, you might also want to take a look at the Harvard journal-flipping project. It commissioned a literature review by David Solomon, Bo-Christer Björk, and Mikael Laakso, whose preliminary draft has been open for public comment for several months now. The public comment period ended this week, but the draft will remain online until the final version is published this summer. Of course it will be OA.
    https://osc.hul.harvard.edu/programs/journal-flipping/

    Disclosure: I’m associated with both projects. Good luck with your research!

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