Monday, 6 January 2014
There's open access and then there's open access
I remain sceptical about the open-access publishing phenomenon in academia, especially for historians. It's not that I'm against more people reading and having access to the work of historians. I'm just not convinced that this is the way to go about it. I doubt that the subscription costs to academic journals are the reason more people aren't reading them.
If we want more people to read academic history we have to write it differently. And having to give it away raises all kinds of problems - it's fine for tenured academics, but what of those who want to write for a broad audience? If we have to give it away, how valuable is the information we're finding anyway? If no one wants to buy it, giving it away just reduces its value.
Then there's the point that history isn't like a science. For one there aren't the hefty subscription fees for high profile journals, the things that bankrupt university libraries. And even more importantly, historians ought not to work like scientists, to always build upon the work of others, refining processes to make them better. History can only ever work this way in part. The greater danger of this approach is that we all end up sounding alike, stuck in narrower and narrower debates.
Historians ought to only ever speak to each other half the time. Just as often, there's the bigger audience, the community and the nation.
But to end on a positive note I see today there's a good development in an area of open access I can definitely get behind: opening up historical document online for all to see. I've written recently about the good news that the official records of Canada's parliament are all up online. Now it's the turn of Quebec's house of assembly to get their records up. You can access the material here.