The long reign of the weighty academic tome is nearing its end, predicts sociologist and social historian Professor Ruth Finnegan.
My latest book, Why do we quote? The culture and history of quotation, is published by the innovative Cambridge-based academic publishers, Open Book Publishers. It exploits digital publishing technology to make the full text accessible free online. This free text is complemented by purchasable pdf downloads or, for the many readers who prefer this, by high-quality and reasonably priced print-on-demand paperback and hardback editions.
It seems to me that open access represents the future for academic publication. It is now starting to be increasingly used for journal publications, especially in the sciences, but it is much less usual for full academic monographs, especially in the social sciences and humanities. It is certainly a form of free knowledge-dissemination to all, making use of the new opportunities afforded by the web, and is very much in keeping with the open and democratising spirit of the Open University.
And marks a striking contrast to the conventional mode of academic monograph publishing. This is in hard copy, often at a price approaching £80, with publishers expecting only to sell around 200 copies – which will inevitably only bought by the small proportion of research libraries and individuals who can afford them.
The result is the restriction of knowledge to a small minority of scholars. This perhaps suits the publishers (and the academic promotion system) but does little for the free dissemination of new research, and is something we at the Open University should rightly deplore. It also seems wrong that research, often publicly funded, should not be publicly available, free, to all who wish to read about it.
And then there’s the global dimension. Over the years I have so often had email plaints from scholars in Africa (one of my research areas) longing to have access to copies of key texts, but unable for logistical or cost reasons to have access to them.
There is interesting discussion of some of the issues involved in articles by Rupert Gatti and Robert Darnton (Director of the Harvard University Library), and a brief but pertinent account of the Open Book Publishers’ vision on their website. In common with a number of others, these authors suggest that with our new technological opportunities open access may be the emerging form of publishing, leading to a brighter future for the open and more equitable distribution of knowledge.
I would be interested to know if other readers have experience of using this form of more accessible internet publication, especially in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
Ruth Finnegan 8 June 2011 firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor Ruth Finnegan is Emeritus and Visiting Research Professor in the Social Science faculty of the Open University. She was the first member of the OU academic staff to be elected a Fellow of the British Academy, in 1996.
Image: kate e. did