The Academic Exchange: Explain how you might use an Open Access repository for scholarship.
Jonathan Prude: Let's say, for example, I am writing an article due to a journal in a couple of months. Maybe, if that particular journal permitted me, I would put it in the repository and get some comments--pre-publication, pre-peer review. Another model would be that I've submitted an article and it's been accepted, but maybe there's a two-year lag before publication. So I put it out there--maybe I want to tweak it, maybe not. Maybe I just want it out there. Or maybe the journal would allow me, after it's in print, to put it in this venue, so that more and different kinds of people would see it.
We're talking about creating a new kind of space--an electronic opening for people to put article-length pieces of their work out there so that others can respond and the authors can take on new kinds of reactions. It's a little like walking up and down the hall of this building and dropping off drafts of articles and getting reactions and learning what people think. You're on an electronic hallway. But of course it's more than that because this electronic hallway would be university-wide. I think at best there could be the possibility of really new kinds, new levels, new intensities of cross-ventilation and possibly new kinds
AE: How skeptical were you at first?
JP: For some of the same reasons that I think some in the humanities and possibly social sciences are still skeptical, I was initially skeptical when I came on the library policy committee five or six years ago. By the time I became chair, which ended this year, I had become a supporter of moving in this direction.
There were several reasons for my initial concern. One, will this prevent me from publishing in the dominant sovereign journals of my field? I think that is utterly manageable. Different journals are developing different policies, and since participating in the Open Access repository is entirely voluntary, you can opt out. Then I think some people worry that someone might appropriate their insights and weave them into their work and not give credit. And there's likewise the problem of whether to assess work posted in the repository for tenure and promotion. Again, I think a solution can be found.
But I think there's also another concern in play--and it relates to the heightened cooperation I just mentioned. If my work is embedded in newly dense interactions between myself and my Emory colleagues, then the line between what I've done and a more collaborative enterprise is growing softer. Scientists are more used to this way of working than we humanists. Indeed, I think we tend to view it as a loss of autonomy, as threatening. I myself have felt this way. And even now I've by no means surrendered a desire to be the author of the book I'm working on. Questioning that individual-creator mindset can feel like devaluing what we've understood it means to be a humanist scholar. But here, too, I've come to feel the problem is not overwhelming. The anxiety that humanist scholars may feel about losing autonomy will take time to resolve. But there's at least the potential for marvelous new shared creativities.
AE: What about the idea of having multiple versions of work publicly available?
JP: The professional and intellectual costs are minimal--inconvenient, confusing in the short run--but so was the telephone. In the long run, it might well change how we think of finality in a piece of scholarship. And that's troubling but also kind of interesting and exciting. You have different folio editions of the Bard. You have work that's continuing to unfold.
AE: So you were persuaded not so much by the problem of an unsustainable economic model, but by a new way of working?
JP: It's a doorway to a new way of doing knowledge. But it is surely tied to economics. As a member of a university community, I'm very concerned about the skyrocketing cost of books and especially of serials confronting research libraries. At its best, a university library, whether conceived as buildings or databases, is a switching point, a venue of utterly unpredictable percolation, that permits magical things to happen. I imagine an Open Access repository to be part of that percolating--and in that sense, yes, part of the conversation universities are starting to have with publishers.
But the repository also has implications for the relationship between authors and publishers. We're clearly at a time of transition in the meaning of “publication.” It's been a marvelous revelation to me that people in my field--history--at the point of writing something down, automatically possess copyright. We actively, but unthinkingly, grant it to a publisher. As a historian, I will say that practice of granting copyright was likely implemented at a certain moment for certain reasons in the nineteenth century. And now it can be unimplemented. We need to take back that right--or at least surrender it more thoughtfully. That kind of education about what it means to be an author in the twenty-first century is woven into the repository project. And this is another kind of extraordinary possibility offered by this venture.