University presses, open access, and public engagement

It’s been all baby [almost] all the time around here, and I’m ok with that, but right now I’m at Digital Humanities 2012 in Hamburg and totally jazzed. Do take a look at the #dh2012 hashtag on Twitter if you like this sort of thing.

Someone on my library’s internal mailing list pointed to the recent NYTimes article “Plan to Close University of Missouri Press Stirs Anger.” In particular, the following bit:

Scholars argue that university presses are vital for academic discourse. They publish erudite texts that commercial presses do not, giving scholars a forum to share and further research. Professors often rely on them to publish the works they need for tenure and promotion. But they are usually money-losing operations. The presses at the University of Chicago, Oxford and Cambridge are the only ones widely believed to be profitable.

I started writing a response to that, which meandered around a bit and became a blog post. Here it is.

That quote above is a fantastic argument FOR open access. All three of these presses have quite liberal OA policies for articles published in their journals (the following are default policies, which may vary by journal):

– Cambridge UP allows immediate sharing of preprints* and postprints*, AND allows dissemination of publisher’s version after a quite reasonable 12mo embargo;
– Oxford UP allows immediate sharing of preprints, and puts a 12mo embargo on postprints;
– Chicago UP allows immediate sharing of preprints, puts a 12mo embargo on postprints and publisher’s version, and actually encourages institutional repositories to use the publisher’s version.

Most other academic [journal] publishers, including both large-commercial and small university-based, for the most part don’t allow IR deposit of the publisher’s version, not by default anyway. Talking with them about, say, political science or anthropology articles from the 1980s often prompts them to rethink this policy: the revenue they’re likely to get from those articles is miniscule at best.

This is only to say: and the havoc that the digital world has played with scholarly publishing, and the concept of open access, doesn’t actually have much to do with the viability of a given university press. Higher-administrative support does, and innovative thinking does (with regard to both journals and monographs; for the latter, see MIT Press and Penn Press). It’s extremely disappointing that the administration of the University of Missouri seems to be giving up. I wish we were holding on more strongly to venues for dissemination of academic research.

Then again, there’s an awful lot of dry, bad academic publishing going on. Certainly the books/articles with broader public appeal are the more likely to survive. And that may be a good thing. I’m writing this from the annual Digital Humanities conference. Yesterday I found out that the rules have changed for academics in the UK: they now practically have a mandate to engage the public in their research. The mandatory review process that they go through every few years will be specifically looking at their level of public engagement. In addition, I hesitate to add, to the academic integrity of their work.

This is mindblowing. Can you imagine what would happen if this were a dimension of tenure review here in the States?


*I keep needing to remind myself: preprint is author’s original version, as submitted; postprint is a misnomer, it’s the author’s final accepted manuscript, after post-peer-review corrections but before final layout and copyediting.

2 Responses to “University presses, open access, and public engagement”

  1. KF Says:

    Hi, Vika. While I’m completely with you on the ways that scholarship might better engage the public (obviously), I want to be careful about endorsing the UK REF’s version of such engagement, until I see a bit more of how it plays out in practice. Some folks (sorry for not having links on me, but the Times Higher Education has been good on this) are concerned that the notion of “real-world impact” is being interpreted in the REF as the ease with which one’s research can be transformed into marketable products or public policy. I would love to see more scholars think about how their work might reach a broader public, absolutely, but I fear the results that might come from attempts to codify public engagement — and in particular, I worry about how the non-utilitarian humanities might suffer.

  2. vika Says:

    That’s a great point, thanks, Kathleen. It was mentioned yesterday in the context of this presentation on a public-engagement project in a London museum. So, yeah, my excitement is a bit Polyanna, isn’t it? I hope engagement doesn’t end up being transformed in practice into marketability; but you’re right, it may well.

    (On the other hand, at the very least it’ll be an exercise for humanities scholars in articulating their passions to the public, which is bound to produce more buzz than exists now. This, in turn, might garner more support for the humanities. Inveterate dreamer, me.)