On March 19, 2015, I attended Open Humanities and Digital Scholarship: Access, Innovation, and Support at Northeastern University. Keynote speaker Martin Eve spoke about open access (OA), the dysfunctional economics of scholarly communication, humanities scholarship, and the Open Library of the Humanities (OLH).
The history of OA lies primarily in the sciences, which differs from the humanities in several significant ways. Part of the OA mandate for the sciences lies in the reality that one of the consequences of locking groundbreaking research behind a paywall means that those that stand to benefit from said research are denied access. This can, in some instances, mean the difference between life and death.
But what about the humanities? Do the humanities have an OA mandate, and if so, does it carry the same urgency as that of the sciences?
Currently, the public is denied access to humanities scholarship. Eve, co-Director of OLH and a Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Lincoln, mentions three elements of our current situation:
- We have an increasingly educated populace
- Academic institutions have missions to benefit society
- The academy, especially the humanities, become increasingly irrelevant as the public is barred from accessing scholarship
These three things add up to one big mess. How exactly can institutions of higher education fulfill their missions if the work being done within them is being locked away? How can the academy reverse the trend toward irrelevancy? Is OA the answer, or at least a part of the answer? What can we do, as librarians and scholars, to help?