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Huge cash injection for open-access humanities project


The Open Library of Humanities has received a grant of nearly £500,000 to continue building a publishing platform that makes outputs freely available, while sparing authors from paying publishing fees.

The funding of $741,000 (£475,000) will last three years and comes from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, which last year gave the project $90,000 (£53,788) as seed funding. The grant is a major boost to the project, which is due to launch its publishing platform in September, which will present a radical open-access alternative to traditional academic publishing for the humanities.

“It’s absolutely wonderful that we can now expand the project to its full potential,” says Martin Paul Eve, the lecturer in literature, technology and publishing who co-founded the OLH with Caroline Edwards, lecturer in modern and contemporary literature. Both academics are based at Birkbeck, University of London.

The OLH will host individual research articles and entire journals that want to adopt an open-access model. The platform is radical because it shifts power away from publishers on to libraries while retaining academic editorial control, and because it removes what its founders call the “exclusionary pay-to-read system” in academic publishing.

The business model involves libraries paying a fee towards the costs of running the platform—meaning no article-processing charges for authors or subscription costs for libraries. Libraries will also sit on the governance board of the journal, with the power to change the fee depending on demand. The fee level depends on how many libraries are involved and how many articles they want to see published: 500 libraries would mean a fee of $700 each.

“We’ve had loads of libraries sign up and it looks like it’s on track,” says Eve, who used some of the earlier Mellon funding to tour North America and win the backing of academic libraries in the United States and Canada. In total 85 libraries are involved to date. “We’d like 350 libraries by end of year three,” says Eve, who has also recently added UK institutions to the list, most recently the University of Manchester and the University of Aberdeen.

The three-year Mellon grant will be used to build the online platform, to build and integrate translation software, and attract more journals to migrate onto the OLH.

Edwards said in a statement: “The beauty of the OLH is that journals can move from their current platforms to find a new, open home under our model…Journals can keep their own review policies and editorial control. As this is all done with no cost to authors, it is hardly surprising that, even at this early stage, we have already had a surge of interest from journals that wish to move away from a subscription model to benefit from open dissemination.”

The majority of the OLH’s library members have signed up for one year, so Eve notes that another priority is to make sure that they renew their membership once the platform has launched.

“It’s the difficult second-album phase,” Eve says. “We launch in September and I hope people are pleased with where we’ve managed to get to at that point but that’s really only the start.”