Open Library of Humanities Update, Part 2: More about disciplinary curation; a first Religious Studies content initiative; and partnering with libraries for sustainable funding

Open Library of Humanities
In Part 1 of this Open Library of Humanities Update, I reported that the article submissions platform, built in partnership with Ubiquity Press, has been launched and is now accepting submissions. I also introduced the Religious Studies and Theology Section editors. In Part 2, I want to indicate how disciplinary content published on OLH will be curated; announce a first Religious Studies call for papers initiative (an example of content curation); and describe OLH’s sustainable funding model.

Curated disciplinary content and traditional journals in a multidisciplinary environment

The Open Library of Humanities (OLH) has its own ISSN (International Standard Serial Number)—2056-6700—but it’s not a periodical or journal in the traditional sense. OLH is not a single society, association, or departmental title with a general or specific disciplinary focus that publishes articles ‘periodically’ in self-contained ‘issues’. Rather, it is a journal publishing platform that aims to involve a broad multidisciplinary constituency across the humanities. As I mentioned in Part 1, the megajournal platform model is designed to scale publishing capacity while bringing economic cost advantages. As a multidisciplinary gathering place, it can also stimulate interdisciplinary conversation and research.

Scholars used to the more traditional journal model may be concerned to know how their published research will be discovered/able in this multidisciplinary environment. I asked OLH co-director, Dr. Martin Paul Eve, if this might put some authors off.

The new megajournal is a space for those who want to submit to the platform for the broader benefits it may bestow (access, speed of publication, etc.). You are right that it is harder to attract submissions here because of the breadth. If a space is for everyone, there is a temptation for everyone to assume that it is not for them. We have a large number of pledged articles, though, and these are coming in. We are also in the process of crafting specifically shaped CFPs [calls for papers] for special collections in the areas of our editors’ expertise within the megajournal.

Jonathan Harwell, one of the Religious Studies and Theology Section editors also responded to this question.

The OLH platform is open for submissions from academics across the humanities, and some disciplinary sections have received more submissions than others at this point. With this in mind, our calls for papers are actively targeting those sections that have not received as many submissions yet. Since each Section Editor has a distinct disciplinary interest, it isn’t as if articles are being sent into a single pool for curation and peer review. Rather, the articles are delivered to specific editors according to the disciplinary emphasis. Scholars who find their homes in distinct disciplines within the humanities, as well as those doing interdisciplinary research, now have a major opportunity to submit their work to a broad megajournal that houses a cross-section of papers curated by editors in relevant disciplines.

So, again, OLH will be fully browsable/searchable like any robust modern web-based publishing platform. I imagine it will also be regularly crawled for search engine discoverability. But Section Editors will bring disciplinary focus through curation of published content. This could take the form of “overlay journals” or special collections (more on this in a moment).

Dr. Eve told me that the megajournal platform will also be used to host existing disciplinary journals that choose to convert to open access from a subscription model. These journals can maintain brand independence while utilizing OLH’s technical infrastructure.

Journals that come on board the OLH are a different matter and the focus on ‘overlay’ is perhaps misplaced. The idea here is that they can maintain their full autonomy of brand and peer review practice. They can accept submissions, run special issues, choose to operate on a rolling or issue-based publication schedule, etc. We will underwrite their costs and take on their technical platform. Therefore, if there are existing journals who would like to discuss this, we are interested in hearing from them. We are basically a publisher who can help run an OA journal without author fees.

The journals are ‘overlay journals’ in one specific sense, though. If the editors wish, we are developing the functionality to allow them to build a table of contents, in a separate space in their current ‘issue’, that points to articles elsewhere in the ecosystem. It’s a little like a retweet on Twitter. If an editor sees an article somewhere else in the OLH, and thinks it will be of value to their readers, we’d like them to be able to craft a custom ToC that demonstrates this. In this way, editors are valued for their curatorial role while articles may benefit from increased readerships.

First OLH Religious Studies curated content initiative: Call for papers: “Religious Subcultures in Unexpected Places” Special Collection

As I reported in Part 1, the formal launch of OLH is slated “between May and Summer” with an estimated 120 published articles (based on scholar pledges). The potential for usefully curating content with a disciplinary focus will be demonstrated at launch through a number of targeted disciplinary “special collections.” These special collections will be like thematic or special topics issues in traditional journals.

One such special collection is being planned by Religious Studies and Theology Section editor, Jonathan Harwell. He has just released a call for papers called “Religious Subcultures in Unexpected Places.”

Other Section Editors in religious studies and theology have a range of specific interests. My own emphasis is where those studies intersect with anthropology. That is the focus of this special collection. We’re aiming to publish 4-6 peer-reviewed articles. I’d appreciate your assistance in spreading the word regarding this call for papers.

Follow the link for more information.

How will OLH be sustainably funded? Library Partnership Subsidies

OLH received initial funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to kickstart the project and build out the technical infrastructure in partnership with Ubiquity Press. As has been mentioned, OLH will operate as a not-for-profit entity and will capitalize on the scalability of its web-based online platform to reduce costs. But how will it be funded sustainably if it is neither relying on subscription revenue—as most traditional academic journals do—nor planning on imposing author-facing charges—known as “article processing charges” or APCs, as many open access journals, particularly in the sciences, do?

For Martin Eve, the question of sustainability at OLH is first contextualized within a strong philosophy of commitment to access in humanities scholarly communications:

It seems clear to me that the market model for scholarly communications is failing us. Libraries and scholars share, worldwide, the same goal: for high-quality, peer-reviewed research to be published so that the broadest audience can get access. The subscription mode, though, has led to an access gap and budgetary crisis based on well-documented hyperinflationary price hikes. By contrast, other proposals to fund gold open access seem only to replicate this inequality on the author side: no pay, no say. The philosophy of the OLH model is that we will all get better value if we pool our resources to achieve our shared aim. In this way, there is no local concentration of costs, there is no exclusion based on authors being unable to pay and libraries of all sizes can make a meaningful contribution, relative to their own financial stature, for these disciplines, which lag behind the sciences on open access.

The innovative funding approach OLH has settled on is captured in Eve’s phrase “libraries of all sizes can make a meaningful contribution.” Currently, academic libraries are major purchasers of journal literature on behalf of their institution’s students, faculty, and researchers, typically through subscriptions on a title-by-title or bundled basis. Every library has to pay to assure ongoing access through a quasi-monopolistic system immune to normal pricing pressures. Ironically, the access that libraries are paying for is often to the very research produced by the scholars at their own institutions. In this system, libraries become mere purchasing agents facing continually reduced purchasing power as their budgets flatten, decline, or otherwise fail to keep pace with publisher inflation.

OLH is proposing a meaningful role for libraries to directly support the work of humanities scholarship at their institutions and beyond while helping to assure access for users at their institutions and beyond. The OLH Library Partnership Subsidies (LPS) [PDF] is a cooperative program that aims to leverage the modest on-going contributions of numerous libraries to reduce the cost of publishing open access articles on the OLH platform without requiring authors to bear any cost of publication. The more libraries that participate the lower the per article cost, facilitating greater publishing capacity.

In this illustration (from the LPS flyer), the cost to publish 250 articles per year on the OLH platform is estimated at $185,000 (or $740/article). But distributed across an increasing number of participating libraries, the cost per article borne by each participant falls significantly. The contribution required by each library also falls.

LPS cost illustrationWith this approach, the role libraries play shifts from purchasing agent to a direct funder of research communication. OLH envisions a further role for participating libraries as members of a Library Board, consulting in OLH governance decisions, including the inclusion of new disciplinary overlay journals.

Recently, OLH announced a partnership with the library consortium organization LYRASIS to serve as exclusive agent for signing up OLH library partners in North America (membership in LYRASIS is not required to participate). Yearly participation rates have been set in the United States for the following tiers:

  • $1,000 for 10,000+ FTE institutions
  • $750 for 5,000-9,999 FTE institutions
  • $500 for 0-5,000 FTE institutions

This looks like excellent value. To translate my own interest in this innovative project into productive support, I just signed up my library as a partner.

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Posted in Economics & Business Models, Open Access, Open Access Journals, Peer Review, Publishing Platforms, Scholarly Associations, Scholarly Journals
One comment on “Open Library of Humanities Update, Part 2: More about disciplinary curation; a first Religious Studies content initiative; and partnering with libraries for sustainable funding
  1. […] Part 2 of this post I want to indicate how disciplinary content published on OLH will be curated; […]

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