There are many complicated debates about open-access, peer review, and the economics of publishing. It’s complicated, and many ideas have been proposed. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to summarize two of them. The conservative position is that pre-publication peer-review is essential to good scholarly work. It’s fair to say that this is the default position of most scholars and scholarly institutions. The radical position is that scholars should “liberate” their scholarship and publish only in open-access venues. As you would expect, these two ideas frequently antagonistic. Most of the concrete proposals are essentially competitive, as in attempts to replace existing journals with open-access journals or to move peer review to post-publication.
But there is no reason that the scholarly value of pre-publication peer-review and the scholarly value of open access need to conflict. What the academy needs is a solution that is realistic, and recognizes that the entrenched system of corporate publication and tenure review is unlikely to go away, or at least unlikely to change quickly. And it needs a solution that is optimistic because it tries to take advantage of the internet’s low marginal costs and rapid distribution that makes open access publication possible.
Our colleagues in physics, mathematics, computer sciences, and the like already have such a solution in the arXiv e-print server. arXiv hosts pre-prints (or “e-prints”) of articles that will be published in peer review journals. Scholars upload these documents which are then freely available to the world much sooner than they will be available in gated journals. (There are many descriptors for levels of open access: let’s call this “good enough” open access.) For those who need them, the peer-reviewed version of the articles will still be available in the traditional venues.
I propose a session that will bring together people who are interested in bringing about a pre-print server for the humanities. Make no mistake: the problem is not technological, it is institutional. What is needed to change academic publishing is the will to put such a solution in place—in a word, leadership. These are the kinds of people at THATCamp Leadership who could help such a session:
- scholars who could explain what they would hope to gain from a pre-print server,
- leaders of professional organizations (AHA, OAH, MLA, ACLS, etc.) who could make the idea palatable to scholars in their disciplines,
- grant writers and university administrators—especially in libraries—who would be willing to underwrite such an experimental project, and
- coder-scholars who would be able to build a prototype, or at least to discuss what would go into a prototype.
The goal of the session will be to produce a brief document that will describe the essentials of a humanities pre-print server. And hopefully the session will forge connections between the people who can make this idea happen.