Open Access and the humanities: On our travels round the UK

This post is part of our Open Access Week blog series to highlight great work in Open Access communities around the world. It is written by Alma Swan, Director of Key Perspectives Ltd, Director of Advocacy forSPARC Europe, and Convenor for Enabling Open Scholarship.

Large amounts of public money are spent on obtaining access to published research results, amounting to billions of dollars per year.

Large amounts of public money are spent on obtaining access to published research results, amounting to billions of dollars per year.

Whither the humanities in a world moving inexorably to open values in research? There has been much discussion and debate on this issue of late. It has tended to focus on two matters – the sustainability of humanities journals and the problem(s) of the monograph. Neither of these things is a novel topic for consideration or discussion, but nor have solutions been found that are satisfactory to all the key stakeholders, so the debate goes on.

While it does, some significant developments have been happening, not behind the scenes as such but in a quiet way nevertheless. New publishers are emerging in the humanities that are offering different ways of doing things and demonstrating that Open Access and the humanities are not mutually exclusive.

These publishers are scholar-led or are academy-based (university presses or similar). Their mission is to offer dissemination channels that are Open, viable and sustainable. They don’t frighten the horses in terms of trying to change too much, too fast: they have left the traditional models of peer review practice and the traditional shape and form of outputs in place. But they are quietly and competently providing Open Access to humanities research. What’s more, they understand the concerns, fears and some bewilderment of humanities scholars trying to sort out what the imperative for Open Access means to them and how to go about playing their part. They understand because they are of and from the humanities community themselves.

The debate about OA within this community has been particularly vociferous in the UK in the wake of the contentious Finch Report and the policy of the UK’s Research Councils. Fortuitously, the UK is blessed with some great innovators in the humanities, and many of the new publishing operations are also UK-based. This offers a great opportunity to show off these some new initiatives and help to reassure UK humanities authors at the same time. So SPARC Europe, with funding support from the Open Society Foundations, is now endeavouring to bring these new publishers together with members of the UK’s humanities community.

We are hosting a Roadshow comprising six separate events in different cities round England and Scotland. At each event there are short presentations by representatives of the new publishers and from a humanities scholar who can give the research practitioner perspective on Open Access. After the presentations, the publishers are available in a small exhibition area to display their publications and talk about their publishing programmes, their business models and their plans for the future.

The publishers taking part in the Roadshow are Open Book Publishers, Open Library of the Humanities, Open Humanities Press and Ubiquity Press. In addition, the two innovative initiatives OAPEN and Knowledge Unlatched are also participating. The stories from these organisations are interesting and compelling, and present a new vision of the future of publishing in the humanities.

Humanities scholars from all higher education institutions in the locality of each event are warmly invited to come along to the local Roadshow session. The cities we are visiting are Leeds, Manchester, London, Coventry, Glasgow and St Andrews. The full programme is available here.

We will assess the impact of these events and may send the Roadshow out again to new venues next year if they prove to be successful. If you cannot attend but would like further information on the publishing programmes described here, or would like to suggest other venues the Roadshow might visit, please contact me at