Kathleen McIlvenna, Institute of Historical Research, University of London (first published on The History Student blog)

Last Friday I went to the ‘Finch Report, Open Access and the Historical Community’ event organised by the Institute of Historical Research and the Royal Historical Society at Senate House.

I found it enlightening as well as a tad frustrating, but also hopeful. I’m not going to try and wade through all the arguments for and against Open Access or the processes and methods of rolling out Open Access across the discipline. As mentioned by many speakers at the event the blogosphere has been bursting with viewpoints and explanations. Here I wanted to touch on some areas I found interesting that I wanted to attempt to share in as straight forward and simple a way as possible.

Mark Llewellyn, from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, made a very valid point that communication regarding Open Access has not been as good as it should be. I think this is a serious problem as the move to open access will have massive implications for PhD students (not to mention the rest of academia) and has the potential to completely change how we work as academics. It also needs to be discussed outside of academia, as it’s the spending of public money that is at the core of this, and the point is to widen the reach of academia and current learning to the world beyond the academy; though the communication doesn’t have to only come from the policy makers and implementers and I feel it is our job as practitioners to also spread the word, hence this blog.

I hope you find it useful, and please do let me know if you think I’ve got anything wrong or if you’d like to share your feelings on the topic.

So, what did I find enlightening?
The existence of the event at all I think is very positive, it was well attended and had a great collection of speakers representing all aspects of the argument from journals and learned societies, to the research councils, publishers, funders like Wellcome and also History Lab plus, an organisation representing the interests of early career researchers. I thought the encouragement and interaction on twitter during the colloquium was great – I think social media channels like twitter have been invaluable in spreading the word amongst students.

It was good to hear from the publishers on the subject, and they are very well placed to discuss the differences in publishing for the arts and humanities disciplines compared to the STM disciplines. They also hold the relationships with the libraries and it was interesting to learn that the relationship between an article’s half-life (length of time until an article will have been read by half of its life time readership) could affect the likelihood of a library subscription. Philip Carpenter from Wiley gave the average half-life of a humanities article as 36 months, whereas a Chemistry article was 18 months – why pay for access to a journal, if it’s not likely to be read in the next year?

With this in mind, and with the realisation that most of the discussions pointed towards humanities going towards the green route over gold, it suggests that embargo lengths should be considered with half-lives in mind.

What did I find frustrating?
There are so many areas that appear unresolved and the concern at the speed things are moving was mentioned several times. The biggest issues appeared to be the tied up in the relationship between the REF (Research Excellence Framework), APCs (Article Processing Charge) and funding.

The Wellcome were strong advocates of project funding including the cost of the APC, detailing that it was only 1.5% of their funding costs. However there appeared to be strong feeling in the room that it wasn’t completely clear where other funding was supposed to come from – RCUK (Research Councils UK) were giving universities some, and the possible administration surrounding the delegation of this funding is worrying for many. The question still stands of who would pay for APCs on behalf of students, early career and independent scholars. They could just publish the traditional way, they publish for free and their work sits behind a paywall, but the problem is that to be considered under REF, work would have to be Open Access. Increasingly REF is not only important in assessing the work and impact of universities but is important for academic careers. Kimm Curran from History Lab Plus underlined the significance of this for early career researchers, the majority of whom (if they have a job) are often working part-time contracts. Wages are low and contracts short which could result in a decision over basic living costs or REF-applicable publication.

Alongside this is the questionable fate of humanities’ many journals and learned societies, many of which rely on publication profits to survive and fulfil a role in providing training, conference funding, book reviews and a variety of publications. Malcolm Chase, Chair of the Social History Society asked if societies would have to consider their offer for subscribing members if the publication became open access. Chase also brought up a concern over monographs and collections of essays, these are currently not under considered in proposals from Open Access, but if REF requirements stipulated items under consideration had to be Open Access it is a question of if this could remain that way.

Finally, what left me hopeful?
Though I didn’t feel like anything had been resolved at the late closing of the colloquium, I felt the history community had made some progress in promoting the peculiarities and value of the humanities peer review system. A short select committee in the House of Lords looking into Open Access, published on 22 February 2013, had acknowledged the lack of clarity in the current policy and the Research Councils are responding with a consultation document tomorrow. (See below for links)

As well as making concerns heard, useful questions were being asked, regarding monographs, and the type of licences work would have if open access, and also some clarity on the requirements of REF.

Research is being conducted in many relevant areas to help with some of these; Caren Milloy spoke on a project looking at open access of humanities and social science monographs gathering useful data on the area and holding a conference in July. I also realised my ignorance regarding the many Creative Commons licences available and realised we all need to brush up on these as they will become increasingly important.

Then, looking to postgraduates and early career academics, could they, amongst others (if not all), publish in alternative forums to journals to be open access and REF considerable? Could these be solely online journals or university repositories such as SAS-Space? However, journals and societies do provide other roles within academia, and publishers too play a role whether that is just marketing and the platform of publication, so this also needs to be considered.

Ultimately I was hopeful because as a community history practitioners do want open access and do want to share their discoveries and thoughts with the world. We also want to be able to welcome others to join our debates and discussions and so it feels the conversation needs to be widen.

The UK produces 6% of the global research output and we are part of a global academic community. It was a relief to hear from Peter Mandler, President of the Royal Historical Society, that discussions were being held with representatives from other disciplines, and I was glad a review of the situation is going to be made in 2014 by the RCUK. However, I came to the conclusion that these conversations need to be continued and expanded with considered policy and practice decided before blanket implementation.

Just some of the many web pages out there:

The IHR have storified the event here: http://storify.com/ihr_history/open-access-for-historians-1

The Finch Report [opens PDF]: http://www.researchinfonet.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Finch-Group-report-FINAL-VERSION.pdf

Open Access Implementation Group: http://open-access.org.uk/

Council for the Defence of British Universities stance on Open Access with other interesting links:http://cdbu.org.uk/campaigns/open-access/

Research Excellence Framework: http://www.ref.ac.uk/

Research Councils UK’s policy on Open Access: http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/research/Pages/outputs.aspx

RCUK’s revised guidance to be published 6 March 2013:http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/media/news/2013news/Pages/130228.aspx

Lords Select Committee Report on Open Access (with links to report and summary):http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/science-and-technology-committee/news/open-access-report-published/

Open Access Publishing in European Network project page – this is looking at open access of monographs:http://project.oapen.org/

Great piece on Open Access in Journal of Victorian Culture Online this explores the issues in much more depth than I have: http://myblogs.informa.com/jvc/2012/11/21/open-access-and-the-future-of-academic-journals/

Royal Historical Society standpoint on Open Access, a letter to members in January 2013 [opens a PDF]:http://www.royalhistoricalsociety.org/RHSPresidentE-letterJanuary2013.pdf

An interesting blog on the Open Access issue from a STM background – should we get rid of the middle-man publishers? http://telescoper.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/missing-the-point-on-open-access/