Open Library of Humanities Launches

| February 2, 2013

The open access movement just got one tick stronger. The Open Library of Humanities (OLH), an initiative aiming provide support for openly accessible humanities scholarship, was launched just a little over a week ago. Founded by Dr. Martin Paul Eve and Dr. Caroline Edwards, both professors of contemporary English literature at the University of Lincoln (UK), and Stanford Media X Research Consultant Tim McCormik, the OLH hopes to bring open access into the humanities the way that it has successfully been introduced into the sciences. Judging from Twitter feeds and the list of committee members dedicated to building it up, the OLH has already garnered the interest and support of academics, librarians, programmers, and open access enthusiasts across the U.S. and Europe. Jennifer Howard of the Chronicle of Higher Education highlighted the launch earlier this week.

The idea of OLH is inspired by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), a US-based initiative that offers a forum for rigorously peer-reviewed, affordable, open access scholarship in the sciences. Started some ten years ago, PLoS now successfully runs several peer-reviewed open access journals in various disciplines within the sciences, keeps up a blog, and advocates for open access as a whole (see the PLoS mission statement).

What is open access? It means that scholarship is openly available to the end user. Open access scholarship comes in many colors (literally), but at its base, the end user is able to access studies freely on the web. This usually functions on a system in which the author–or more commonly, the institution or foundation funding the author’s research–pays a publication fee to cover the basic costs of publication. For some nitty-gritty details on what open access is and is not, see Peter Suber’s Field Guide to Misunderstandings about Open Access.

Now, why should we care about open access? The Scholarly Publication & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) offers a succinct overview of the multitude of reasons why open access works to the advantage of researchers, educational institutions, businesses, research funders, and the public. The open access movement imagines and actively works towards a system of scholarly communication in which students, researchers, and the wider public have access to research regardless of what school they attend, which journal subscriptions their library can afford, and whether or not they are affiliated with an academic or research institution at all. It shifts the emphasis in the world of scholarly publication from profit-making back to the sharing of knowledge.

Since its inception, the open access movement has had a particular focus on the fields of health and science, partly because of the speed with which researchers in these fields tend to want to publish and be able to access the most up-to-date research, and partly because of the interest of funding agencies and taxpayers in making this research open to the public.

The question posed by the founders of OHL, according to Howard’s article, was: why should open access only be for the sciences? Why shouldn’t the humanities be pushing for this as well? Their response is the creation of OHL, which exists now as a “dream and a Web site” (Howard, 2012, para. 10).

Those interested in supporting the OHL initiative can contact them via their website and consider working on one of their committees to turn the dream of openly accessible knowledge and information into a reality for scholars and the public across disciplines.