Three and a Half Thoughts on Open Access Publishing

This afternoon, I’m moderating a panel titled “Remodeling Academic Publishing: New Tools, New Challenges, and a New Culture” at something called the Grand Challenges Symposium with the Dean of the Libraries, Stephanie Walker, my colleagues David Haeselin (English) and Eric Burin (History).

To kick things off, I’ve asked each participant to prepare 3-5 minutes on some aspect of academic publishing ranging from their experiences to considerations of archiving, advocating, and curating academic publishing.

For my part, and speaking as a historian and archaeologist, as a publisher at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, and as editor of North Dakota Quarterly. I have three and half things to say, in my five minutes. Here they are:

1. Publishing in an Ecosystem. For the publishing enterprise to remain vital and dynamic and to continue to serve the needs of students, faculty, and researchers, we must cultivate the diversity of the ecosystem. This means that there isn’t a single solution or model that will ensure the dissemination and engagement with academic knowledge. Massive commercial publishers, small regional presses, academic publishers, buddy presses, and open access operations all fill niches in this ecosystem and provide opportunities for writers and readers to do what they do.

2. The push for OER, Open Education Resources, is strange. For OER publishing to make a significant impact in academia, universities need to support both their adoption and production. The former is an easy sell, we can save students money by using free books. The latter is a more difficult enterprise, because it involves inverting the prevailing trend in public higher education toward outsourcing key function to the private sector because the market produces both efficiencies and profits that benefit everyone. My feeling is that once folks recognize that OER is free “as in puppies” rather than “free as in beer,” the enthusiasm will wane.

3. Open Access Academic Publishing also involves a change in academic culture. Scholars tend to regard publishing as quite separate from the creative work of research and writing, and the publishing industry has tended to reinforce this. A completed manuscript is sent off to the publisher and it comes back a book which is then sold, reviewed, and celebrated. There are, of course, alternatives to this rather hands-off approach to publishing including closer cooperation between authors and publishers or even the blurring of lines between writing, production, review, and dissemination. After all, authors already collaborate with publishers as reviewers, they can also work as typesetters, copy-editors, cover-designers, marketers, and distributors without compromising the academic or intellectual integrity of publishing. 

And finally, and this is a coda, the changes in the culture of academic publishing can happen on the grass roots level. We don’t have to wait for administrative fiat or the authority of our academic and professional organizations. We can just do stuff and see if it makes our world better. 



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