Open Access Week (#oaweek) in DH 1

What does Open Access Week have to do with the digital humanities?

For those unfamiliar with the event, it is an annual, global celebration of open access (OA) that began in 2007 and is billed as:

[A]n opportunity for the academic and research community to continue to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they’ve learned with colleagues, and to help inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research.

Open access has been a central tenet of scholarly communication reform since the 1990s, and entails cost-free access for end users to read content, usually journals and other secondary source materials. In a nutshell, the OA movement arose partly in response to the financial implications of the rising costs of serials in the 1990s, especially in the sciences. These costs continue to rise: serials subscription costs have consistently increased at a rate above the Consumer Price Index (as well as the Higher Education Price Index) for decades (Budd, The Changing Academic Library: Operations, Culture, Environments,¬†2005, p. 187). The causes of price increases are myriad, but the continuous squeeze on library budgets has forced libraries to respond. Many libraries have quietly canceled serials subscriptions while others have launched boycotts in an effort to draw wider attention to situation libraries are facing, such as the University of California’s attempted boycott of Nature in 2010 and SUNY Potsdam’s boycott of the American Chemical Society’s journals in 2013.

Yet this focus on the serials cost crunch by OA advocates is most relevant in the sciences, where journal prices have sometimes reached astronomical levels. And though cost is hardly the only argument to be made in favor of OA, the argument’s prominence among librarians risks neglecting the different concerns and emphases that are found in the humanities. Scholarly Communications Librarian Micah Vandegrift called attention to this imbalance on Twitter:



What, then, does OA Week bring for the humanities‚ÄĒand, by extension, the digital humanities? In many ways, the transformation of scholarly communication is integral to the digital humanities endeavor. Whether through advocating for openness, suggesting models for evaluation and peer review, or advancing reforms to those standard tools of scholarly communication and dissemination (journal articles, monographs, and conferences), digital humanists are actively shaping new practices for communicating research to each other and to the public. Lisa Spiro, in offering a set of core values for the digital humanities, notes:

The digital humanities community embraces openness because of both self-interest and ethical aspirations. In order to create digital scholarship, researchers typically need access to data, tools, and dissemination platforms.

Ultimately, openness promotes the larger goal of the humanities ‚Äúto democratize knowledge to reach out to ‚Äėpublics,‚Äô share academic discoveries, and invite an array of audiences to participate in knowledge production‚Ä̬†(Draxler et al.).

While we won’t attempt a larger argument for OA in the humanities here, we do want to highlight some of the activities that took place during OA Week in the digital humanities. And, please, if we’ve missed anything, let us know in the comments!


OA Week Round-up

[pullquote]Digital humanists are actively shaping new practices for communicating research to each other and to the public.[/pullquote]

  • As part of a kickoff event for OA Week, SPARC (The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) and the World Bank hosted a panel on “Open Access: Redefining Impact.” Panelists included dhers Brett Bobley (National Endowment for the Humanities) and Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Modern Language Association). The panel was livecast and liveblogged; archives of the video and blog are freely available.
  • Georgia Tech’s OA Week events included a panel discussion aimed specifically at the humanities. Featuring Ian Bogost, TyAnna Herrington, and Robin Wharton, and moderated by Stewart Varner and Brian Croxall of Emory University, the event was livestreamed and used the hashtag #GTOpenAccess. “Information Now: Open Access and the Public Good,” a¬†podcast produced by Tech librarians Wendy Hagenmaier, Fred Rascoe, and Lizzy Rolando for OA Week includes interviews with Dan Cohen and Peter Suber. On Nov. 1, the “Lost in the Stacks” radio show at Georgia Tech was devoted to “Open Access and the Digital Humanities” and the podcast is now available.
  • In honor of OA Week, Indiana University Libraries’ Digital Collections Services made TEI and plain text files available under a CC BY-NC 3.0 license. Michelle Dalmau introduced the text: “Motivated by a recent mock keynote debate, ‘A Matter of Scale,’ presented by Matt Jockers and Julia Flanders as part of the¬†Boston Area Days of Digital Humanities Conference¬†and the imperative that librarians involved with many things ‘digital’ learn not only how to build tools, in this case for textual analysis, but leverage existing tools to support teaching and research endeavors rooted in the text, I present TEI (P4 & P5) and plain text files of several e-text collections published by the Indiana University (IU) Libraries.” The group invites users of the texts to a wiki to share their usage of the texts.
  • In response to Dalmau’s emailing the TEI listserv to announce¬†the availability of texts, Peter Robinson circulated an article by Paul Klimpel¬†on “Consequences, risks and side-effects of the license module ‘non-commercial use only — NC,'” published through Wikimedia Germany,, and Creative Commons Germany. This post sparked a string of messages around the application of Creative Commons licenses and the potential for coercion.
  • Digital humanists responded to a recent post by Daniel Allington on forms of OA and the arguments for them in context of the recent UK mandate for the gold OA model. In a comment on Allington’s post, Ted Underwood writes that OA allowed him to “‘break into’ the conversation in scholarly fields (like computer science) where pervasive green OA has already made the boundary between expert and lay knowledge rather permeable.” Ben Brumfield argues that open access serves public users and should not be displaced by versions of scholarly work packaged specifically for public consumption: “[Alice] Bell’s ‘meaningful open access’ is not a substitute for open access, as in many cases an effectively popularized version of scholarship will eliminate any public uses not envisioned by the popularizer.”
  • Sarah Werner, Digital Media Strategist at the Folger Shakespeare Library, wrote about her experience negotiating the terms of her publishing contract to retain copyright and the ability to self-archive in “More Lessons on Negotiating a Contributor’s Contract.”
  • In her column at Inside Higher Ed, Barbara Fister tackled the sticky subject of OA for books (and book chapters) in “Open Access, Tenure, and the Common Good.”


Finally, to keep up with all things open access, we highly recommend Open Access Now, a PressForward publication modeled on Digital Humanities Now, that aggregates articles and news items of interest to the scholarly publishing community.


**Editors’ Note: Revised November 2, 2013, to specify the context of Daniel Allington’s post.

Updated November 12, 2013, to include Georgia Tech’s “Open Access and the Digital Humanities” podcast.

The Editors

The Editors of dh+lib, Zach Coble, Sarah Potvin, and Roxanne Shirazi.

One comment on “Open Access Week (#oaweek) in DH

  1. Amanda Rust Oct 31,2013 4:36 pm

    Our wonderful Scholarly Communication Librarian, with the help of the aforementioned wonderful Julia Flanders, put together a panel specifically on “Open Access in the Digital Humanities” (scroll down a bit). (“Our” = the Northeastern University Libraries.) The NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks tweeted it out.

    I also helped organize a week of Wikipedia edit-a-thons in archives and special collections around Boston, for what we called “Open Access to Mass History“. On the one hand, we were not dealing with born-digital or even digitized material, but I see this as a form of public humanities work towards open access to special collections, in that without digital traces researchers will not even know these special collections exist. I also think it’s part of opening up the wealth of information in archival finding aids, and a form of digital public scholarship in synthesizing both the finding aid and other primary sources into a good encyclopedia article. (Which is really hard!) We have grandiose plans to make this a yearly thing — our only complaint is that October is so supremely busy. Plus you might be competing with postseason baseball.

    Great post, and thanks for starting the conversation!

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