Wednesday 5 August 2020

Spotlight on Open Library of Humanities - shortlisted for the 2020 ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing

The judges have selected a shortlist of eight for this year's ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing.  The winners will be announced on 16 September at the opening of the ALPSP 2020 Virtual Conference. 

In this post, we focus on the Open Library of  Humanities, a Consortial Funding Model for Gold Open Access in the Humanities Without Publication Fees 

Tell us a bit about your organization.

The Open Library of Humanities (OLH) is a charitable organisation dedicated to publishing world-leading open access humanities scholarship with no author-facing article processing charges. Launched in 2015, our free-to-read, free-to-publish model was set up to revolutionise the field of open access publishing. Five years on, our sustainable business model has attracted nearly 300 supporting institutions, with further revenue generated through hosting on our in-house open source publishing platform Janeway, enabling us to establish a thriving platform of 28 peer-reviewed open access journals. Our mission is to support and extend open access to scholarship in the humanities - for free, for everyone, for ever.

logo OLH Open Library of Humanities

What is the project/product that you submitted for the Awards?

The Open Library of Humanities (OLH) is a scholar-led, gold open-access publisher with no author-facing charges and was launched by Martin Eve and Caroline Edwards in 2015. With initial funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the platform covers its costs by payments from an international library consortium, rather than any kind of author fee. We are part of a growing global community of not-for-profit publishers that explore different business models and innovative approaches to open publishing. OLH was established to challenge the costly, limited routes to open access publication in the humanities, and find a sustainable business model to enable academic journals to publish peer-reviewed research without charges to author or reader - making world-leading research accessible to anyone. 
Tell us a little about how it works and the team behind it

The model proposed by the OLH is one where publication costs do not fall on the institution or researchers but are instead financed collaboratively through an international library consortium. Each member pays an annual fee according to the country and size of the institution, reducing and distributing the costs of publication across our members, with an economy of scale that improves as more institutions join. Our idea is that research organisations and libraries make a relatively small contribution that covers the costs of running a publication platform on which peer-reviewed scholarly journals can then be published as open access. All contributing libraries and individuals are given a place on the OLH Library Board, which will consult with the OLH Academic Board in the future admission of journals and other governance and budgetary decisions. 

The Open Library of Humanities is co-directed by Professor Martin Paul Eve and Dr Caroline Edwards, both at Birkbeck, University of London. We also have two full-time Senior Publishing Technology Developers, Andy Byers and Mauro Sanchez, who lead the development of our Janeway Platform and the OLH website. Dr Rose Harris-Birtill serves as Managing Editor across the Open Library of Humanities platform of 28 Open Access scholarly journals, and Editor of its flagship journal OLH. Paula Clemente Vega is the Marketing Officer for the Open Library of Humanities where she is in charge of increasing the visibility of the OLH through outreach, content marketing and advocacy. 

In what ways do you think it demonstrates innovation?

The OLH has been internationally recognised as an important development in open access for the humanities and for its innovative business model. The platform was initially funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and now, five years after its launch, entirely covers its costs by payments from its international library consortium. The international consortium of libraries comprises nearly 300 institutions including Harvard, Cambridge, Yale, Princeton, and many others. With this model, the OLH has expanded from 7 journals in 2015 to 28 journals in 2020, has four full-time staff, funds two external commercial university presses (Ubiquity Press and Liverpool University Press) to convert their journals to open access, and has developed and launched in 2017 Janeway, its own field-leading innovative open source publishing platform developed fully in-house. 

Part of the OLH model that makes it so appealing lies in our journal ‘flipping’ programme, where we have sought to convert existing subscription titles to an open access model without fees. One of our most popular incorporations was the high-profile transfer in 2015 of the editorial board of Elsevier’s journal Lingua to a new title, Glossa, published by Ubiquity Press but funded by OLH and LingOA.  

We are delighted that OLH won a Coko Foundation Open Publishing Award in 2019 and we were pleased, recently, to be able to publish an article in Liber Quarterly on what we have learned from the first half-decade of running the Open Library of Humanities. In just five years, we have established a platform of 28 peer-reviewed academic journals, whose scholarly articles have received over 360,000 downloads worldwide. Last year, in 2019, we published a total of 532 articles (74 more articles than in 2018) – without charging any APCs. We have worked hard to change the field of open access publishing by encouraging other organisations to use our model as the basis of their own Open Access publishing frameworks. Other businesses have also adopted our novel economic model, resulting in over $4 million of worldwide revenue generation; according to Jisc Collections, library crowd-publishing company Reveal Digital has based its UK financial model on OLH, and has raised $4,258,681 to date. We may be a small digital publisher, but as these sizable achievements show, our vision goes far beyond one company.

What are your plans for the future?

We have demonstrated that a model for high-quality open access publishing without article processing charges is possible and also sustainable in the long-term. During these first five years, the Open Library of Humanities has made thousands of articles open access under our no-author-fee system funded by our member libraries. We have shown that academic libraries are willing to pay for open infrastructure as part of their mission, and that scholars in the humanities do not oppose to high-quality peer-reviewed open access when there are no financial barriers along the way.

When Martin Eve and Caroline Edwards began to devise the project, one of the first things that they did was to ask academic libraries if they would continue to pay for the subscriptions if they became open access, and the answer was and continues to be a resounding ‘yes’. This has allowed us to celebrate five years and became financially independent. What we need now is for other publishing houses and academic societies to experiment with this model and adapt it to their respective needs and realities. The main beneficiaries of a greater diffusion of consortial models like ours will always be, in any case, researchers and universities and their increasingly tight budgets. 

There have been several exciting new developments in the recent months. Earlier this year, the Open Library of Humanities launched the OLH Open Access Award 2020, a fund dedicated to promoting the benefits and impact of open access to humanities scholars and disciplines and to knowledge worldwide. Our open access awards were awarded to two organisations in recognition for their exceptional open access scholarly projects: the National Library of Kosovo and the Open Access Digital Theological Library.

We’ve also invested in improvements for our Janeway scholarly publishing platform to ensure accessibility for a wider range of people with disabilities, as well as making our software compatible with major publishing software systems to make it easier for journals to join us. 

Our OLH EmpowOA programme, an initiative we launched in 2018 to support scholars and librarians working in the humanities, keeps growing with the addition of multilingual advocacy resources and the publication of new Open Insights interviews and blog posts from a rich variety of scholars and librarians within the humanities and open access communities. We have also recently started hosting live chats with our academic editors, you can watch our latest webinars here.


You can hear from all of this year's finalists at the ALPSP Awards Lightning Session on Tuesday 8 September.  Visit the ALPSP website to register and for full details of the ALPSP Virtual Conference and Awards 2020.
The 2020 ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing are sponsored by PLS.

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