Untangling Academic Publishing Launch

Blog written by Dr Aileen Fyfe

untanglingpublishingbooks.jpgAcademics should take back control of the communication of research, according to a briefing paper launched on May 25 by a team led by St Andrews researchers. ‘Untangling Academic Publishing: A history of the relationship between commercial interests, academic prestige and the circulation of research’ examines the recent historical changes in academic publishing, and highlights the disconnect between traditional scholarly ideals of circulation and the current commercially-motivated system. It argues for the importance of considering academic work cultures – particularly the emphasis on publishing in certain prestigious venues – when trying to drive changing practices.

The paper was launched with a talk at the British Academy by Dr Aileen Fyfe, lead author, and reader in Modern History. She outlined the huge change in models of academic publishing that took place around 1950, and asked why similarly large changes had yet to take place despite known problems such as the constraints on library funding, and the arrival of online publishing.  Aileen argued that learned societies and universities – as organisations representing communities of academics, and with an intrinsic commitment to promoting research and scholarship – ought to take the lead in creating cost-efficient, prestige-bearing venues for online communication of research.

untanglingphoto.jpgDavid Sweeney, Executive Chair Designate of Research England, responded to the talk, saying it had raised many key points about the value of academic publishing and its relationship to academic prestige culture. He welcomed the briefing paper as a ‘constructive and thoughtful’ contribution to the debate about the future of academic publishing. He praised it as ‘pleasingly free – almost! – from polemic’, noting that this is all too rare in an area where there are strong feelings on both sides. Some common ground is needed if we are genuinely to work together to seek a future arrangement that offers value for all.

The launch was supported by a number of articles written by Aileen and her team. In ‘Who should speak for academics over the future of publishing?‘ she called upon scholars to take back control over the peer review process, and she advocated for the return of non-commercial academic publishing in ‘Commercial publishing has had its day, and societies must adapt‘. Professor Stephen Curry also encouraged a return to information shared freely, instead of continuing to adhere to the expensive subscription models.

Since the launch, there has been an outpouring of responses to the report from across the globe. The Times Higher Education recommended that “academics should resist signing over the copyright of their research to a “profit-oriented” academic publisher if they can secure a licence to publish themselves” while Ernesto Priego described the report as “documenting the need for academics to enhance the fairer dissemination of their research work and to reclaim and redistribute ownership of academic content from for-profit publishers. ” Shawn Martin unpicked the differences between UK and US academic publishing history, and Veruscript was especially interested in returning the control of publishing to the academic community. Kat Steiner highlighted the problems of accessibility, stating that “academics shouldn’t just sign over their copyright” – even the British Library Science Blog concluded that “it is time to look again at whether learned societies should be taking more of a role in research dissemination and maybe financially supporting it, with particular criticism of those learned societies who contract out production of their publications to commercial publishers and do not pay attention to those publishers’ policies and behaviour.”

 

About standrewshistory
With over forty full time members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from S cotland to Byzantium and the Americas to the Middle East and South Asia.Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching and tutorials allowing for in depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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