Open access – for all?

Ok, I don’t get it. There is a lot of discussion going on about open-access at the moment – partly, as I understood it, because people want to be able to read work; and partly because people want others to be able to read their work.

So, are authors actually willing to follow through on this? I can accept that with research assessment criteria, in many different national higher education systems, being as they are there is an unwillingness to publish journal articles in lesser-ranked, but open-access, journals. I do not get a sense that, as a whole, academics are deserting their discipline’s flagship journals which are published by Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Wiley-Blackwell, etc. Fair enough; the game needs to be played. Realistically a lot would need to change before a tenure committee sees these as equal; or before a department REF panel thinks that’s a safe bet submission.

But other kinds of publications? Book reviews, commentaries, responses, etc.?

We started the Society and Space open site as a partner to the print journal and the publisher’s site. We’ve published some interesting things on there already (see here for some highlights), and it will be the place book reviews will appear (excepting a few in the last issue of this year and ones tied to future theme issues).

You would think that a quick – material goes up usually within a day or two of being delivered in final form – and open-access venue would be appealing. And certainly, some people have already taken advantage of it and we have more to come. But there has also been a very curious resistance. People have complained about ‘being relegated to the blog’ or suggested that they are ‘old-fashioned’ and want their book review in print. If commentaries or book reviews were serious lines on a cv for the bean-counters of research assessment, then perhaps I could understand this – though I would still claim that they are in Society and Space, just a different part of the publication. If it were simply early career people, worried that this wouldn’t be valued in the same way as something in print then it might make sense – but it’s coming from people who are already established. (To be clear: I do not mean to diminish the importance of these types of pieces; just to recognise how they are seen within the knowledge economy of higher education publishing.)

So do people really prefer their book review to appear several months down the line, in a print outlet that is not accessible to everyone? Do they want their incisive and up-to-date commentary on contemporary events to be available, open-access, tomorrow, or do they want it to go through a production process and appear in print some time down the line? Do they want this work, where there is a choice, to be available world-wide, to people in institutions that don’t have access to subscriptions, or who are not affiliated to institutions at all?

One of the things that pushed me to move on book reviews going onto the new journal website was my publication of a review of Foucault’s most recent lecture course on the Berfrois site. The way that this was accessed, and then shared on twitter and facebook, means this is almost certainly the most widely read book review I’ve ever published. Then the piece I wrote on ‘Territory without Borders’ for the Harvard International Review – which is an attempt at a more popular and much briefer outline of some ideas I am exploring in book form – was also freely available. I’ve added a page to this site with links to all the pieces I know of that are available without subscription – it’s one of the most popular parts of this site. I asked Sage to allow me to make available the introduction to a major work – the only part of that collection that is not otherwise available. The ‘virtual theme issue’ on Urban Disorder and Policing we put together for the Society and Space site – open access to papers from the archive on a topical theme for a limited time – is easily the most accessed page on that site. More such issues are being planned by my colleagues and will likely prove just as popular.

So there is, even within the limited scope of just looking at my work and the Society and Space site in its early days, an enthusiasm for access being free. We’ve provided the space, and we are actively looking for content. But there seems to be a curious resistance to it.

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1 Response to Open access – for all?

  1. Pingback: Online vs paper publication « Refracted input

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