History Brownbag: The Historical Profession, Open Access & Scholarly Communication

Recently the AHA (American Historical Association) released a Statement on Policies Regarding the Embargoing of Completed History PhD Dissertations. This position sparked quite a bit of discussion, on ETDs and embargoes as well as on larger issue around Open Access, Scholarly Communication, and tenure.

Below we have gathered selected quotes from a variety of responses, with the intention of giving an introduction to this conversation before the Department of History Brownbag Series talk on 9/25/13 .

In addition to this blog entry, we also request that you please take a moment to read this overview on Open Access and the Historical Profession

Topics for this brown bag are as follows:

  • Scholarly Communication
  • Open access
  • ETDs & Embargoes

Transformations in Scholarly Communication

“The problem is that the apparent economic imperatives of the academic publishing industry run directly counter to a central value of our profession: the open dissemination of historical knowledge.”

The percentage of university funds allocated to academic libraries shrank for the 14th straight year in 2009, dipping below 2 percent for the first time, according to updated figures from the Association of Research Libraries.”

“Just because the existing scholarly publishing system has served the academy fairly well in the past does not mean that it has an intrinsic right to continue to exist in perpetuity. It should not, and must not, become a barrier to our aspirations and our innovations. If the day has come when the scholarly publishing system impedes scholarship, teaching, and learning it should—indeed must—be replaced by a new and more responsive system. As Don Waters of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation famously reminded us, “It’s the scholarship stupid.”We need to remember what’s really important here, and what our ultimate goals are.”

Cliff Lynch as cited in Scholarly Monograph Publishing in the 21st Century: The Future More Than Ever Should Be an Open Book

Prioritizing the print book in the Historical Profession

Library budgets are decreasing, as serial publication costs are increasing exponentially. In order to cover their expenditures on serials, many libraries are cutting their book budgets, which in turn causes University Presses to cut their acquisition budgets or to look for texts that will have crossover appeal.

“One university press director commented,  “Some manuscripts, even if published electronically as dissertations, are appealing regardless of their electronic availability because the audience for them  in print form is substantial enough that  it does not matter. There is a substantial market for certain works of Civil War history, for instance, that is quite broad. The lay readership for Civil War history,  for instance, wants to have the book and would not likely know or have access to the text in dissertation (electronic) form. Even if they knew, they would likely still want the book.”

“On the side of the library, Duke University’s Scholarly Communication Officer Kevin Smith twice addresses the misinformed claim that academic libraries, the primary market for academic monographs, are purchasing less books based on the open availability of dissertations. He points out the AHA’s lack of substantial evidence to support their claims, and argues that more likely, less books are being purchased due to shrinking budgets, and the need to support broad curricular resources not specific academic niches.”

“Since 1996, history was—by one measure—the only field where university presses produced more than 40 percent of all new titles.”

via History and the Future of Scholarly Publishing. This entry was written in 2003 about how the field’s reliance on academic presses “could become a critical problem in the coming years, if many junior faculty members can’t publish their first books.” The issues the author pointed out have only become more pressing in the intervening years, and this article makes no mention of ETD or Open Access.

via ARL Statistics 2010-11

“The Historical Profession, the Book, Embargoes, and Open Access”

“…the book has in many ways become an end to itself.  Rather than creating research outputs that are best suited to content and audience, academic historians must produce a particular kind of object.  The effects of this are not inconsequential.  Promotion and tenure committees within academic institutions have little impetus to reconsider the markers and measures of academic quality.  As such, non-traditional research outputs –  including those produced in open access formats, such as blogs, data sets, and websites — are not only devalued, but most promotion and tenure committees have poor measures in place to assess them.  It is this, rather than any threat to publishing prospects, that threatens the success of junior scholars who might be eager to produce scholarship in the open access environment.  Likewise, the open access movement has much in common with the aims of Public History, a field in which openness and accessibility play a prominent role and in which research outputs diverge from traditional academia.  Prioritizing the book over other forms of scholarship reinforces a division between those who produce work for other scholars and those who produce work for and with the public when, in fact, both academic historians and public historians should be producing work for and with other scholars and the public.”


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