Glyn Moody has published a fascinating essay on the history of Open Access publishing and the present challenges it faces. It’s really worth reading.
The article focuses primarily on the natural sciences, rather than on the humanities (acknowledged by him in the comments, which are worth reading too). A key point of the OA movement is academics trying to find ways to circumvent the parasitic private companies that “earn” their huge profits by extorting vast sums from either the academics or the readers – or both.
Most academics, I think, write because we want to be read. I don’t write anything just so that it is published but inaccessible. I want people to read my work, not for self-aggrandisement, but because I am excited by what I research and write, and I would like others to share in that excitement. Also, if people read what I write, they can engage with and comment on it – if they like it, that’s great, but if they want to criticise it and help me improve my arguments, that’s even better. All this can only happen if people can easily access it. This is why, since 2012, I will only work with OA journals.
Moody’s article notes that websites like Sci-Hub are growing in popularity, even amongst people with institutional access. It’s obvious why this is – it’s very simple and straightforward, and it mostly just works, whereas needing special logins and authentications and so on via libraries is a hassle. Of course, not having institutional access to libraries makes things like Sci-Hub even more attractive. I find the Sci-Hub Twitter account a useful thing to have bookmarked to keep up with the changing domains it uses, which at present appear to be:
- scihub22266oqcxt.onion (this only works over Tor, that I would recommend you use for accessing Sci-Hub anyway; see my earlier posting on research and security and follow the link there).
The other similar site I find fantastically useful is bookfi.net, a repository of e-books (again, I’d recommend using this over Tor). In the humanities monographs are perhaps more important than journal articles, and this site has, it claims, more than 2,230,000 e-books available – more than many university libraries can offer! Of course, it’s not necessarily as systematically organised as a university library, but it is very easy to use. I am pleased to see that at least one of my books is there (go on, read it, and let me know what you think: it’s now 10 years old and my thinking has developed, but I’m still keen on comments!). Personally, I prefer printed books, as many people do, and I continue to spend far more money than I should on books (and I consequently suffer a serious shelf-deficit in my house…), but there are times when an e-book will suffice, and in terms of furthering knowledge, I’d rather my work was read in some form.
Personally, a key aspect to my interest in having other people read my work is that it is mostly about European missionaries in the Middle East. Many people in the Middle East have been affected in some way by European Protestant missionaries: parents or grandparents went to missionary schools, they ‘converted’ and grew up in Protestant churches and communities, they attended missionary-inspired universities (the American Universities in Beirut and Cairo, for example), and so on. I would be particularly delighted if such folk engaged with what I have written and countered my own white, male, Euro-centric views (saying this simply points to a realistic reflection of my positionality), offering their own comments and reflections from the postcolonial context. The furtherance of knowledge, that is what I want! Open Access is about that, and it should be encouraged.
Journals aside, the next step is meaningful publication of OA monographs. I am working on a book on transnational history at the moment, and I would love that to simply be freely available and therefore read widely. I will, in due course, hope to identify some appropriate venue for this – there’ll be more information on that here as and when the book nears completion.