THE SHORT VERSION
We believe that the fruits of scholarly basic research, produced by the academic work of scholars and supported by a traditional infrastructure of university employment and university libraries, should be made freely available to the widest possible audience rather than be controlled by those who extract profit from restricting access to intellectual property that they did not produce. We also believe that digital publication allows scholars to share more of the data they have carefully acquired than the traditional print format.
The open-access digital model will be good for the advance of education and scholarship and good for university budgets. Academic institutions need to acknowledge the validity of peer-reviewed digital publication and support it financially.
THE LONG VERSION
This open-access publishing project responds to several trends that have been widely commented on for some time. University library budgets have been under great pressure from:
- periodic economic recessions that cause major cuts in library acquisition budgets;
- steep increases in costs of science scholarship caused by a burgeoning of new fields and publications and the concentration of control of scientific publications in a few commercial companies, with a ripple effect on what funding is left to purchase the monographs published in social sciences and humanities;
- the need to shift acquisition dollars increasingly from hard-copy books and journals to subscriptions to, or single purchase of, the ever-growing range of electronic content.
As part of the same economic crises and shifts, university presses have lost subsidies, and some have gone out of existence. Surviving university presses have increasingly disfavored monographs with an anticipated small audience and sometimes encouraged authors to write books of broader scope and shallower content and analysis in order to reach a wider readership, and some presses have also diverted scholars’ efforts into editing and contributing to companions, handbooks, encyclopedias, and dictionaries. This all means that the basic research of classical studies (the study and publication of new material—papyri, inscriptions, archaeological finds; explorations of technical subjects such as metrics, grammar, and linguistics on the basis of new tools and corpora) is having more difficulty in obtaining dissemination in traditional form.
Threats to the widest dissemination of new scholarship
Two other trends have a potentially negative impact on the maintenance of the scholarly discipline of classical studies, which represents a collaborative international effort more than five centuries old (or by another count, twenty-four or more centuries old). On the one hand, presses are treating their publications as assets that they will be able to aggregate into digital corpora for which they may be able to bring in a long-term stream of substantial subscription income:
- such subscriptions extract budgetary resources from universities on a more or less permanent basis (as opposed to the one-time cost of a hard-copy book);
- they may require, as part of an inseparable package, support of content that selectors would not have chosen (what might be called the cable television model of service);
- they also have more restrictive conditions of usage (a member of the public can consult a printed book at a state university library, but normally cannot have access to subscribed digital information).
On the other hand, older scholarship (items unhampered by the unfortunate effects of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act) is becoming increasingly available without cost to anyone with an internet connection. Much of this older material is still valuable, but some of it is inferior because of lack of awareness of newer evidence and because of outmoded methods and theories. Since multiple never-ending subscriptions will not be sustainable for many libraries, newer scholarship may become inaccessible to many scholars and students, and students and the general public will tend to rely by default on the free, older material. Thus, at a time when the profession of Classics needs, for its health and survival, to reach out with its best scholarship to as many as possible without regard to place or wealth, we risk reaccentuating the gap between haves and have-nots and allowing outdated scholarship to hold the field for many users.
Inflexible processes and frozen format
Some presses now invest much less in copy-editing and proofreading than in the past. Some have inflexible production systems that do not allow the author sufficient control over accuracy. Others exact a price penalty for the inclusion of Greek font in a publication, or simply discourage use of Greek at all. Some authors take enormous pains to enter accurate Greek and other complex formatting only to find that a press has processed the digital files in such as way as to corrupt the Greek and undo the author’s careful work.
In some cases the format of the printed book in fact inhibits the flow of scholarly information, limiting the number of illustrations or the amount of Greek or the number of footnotes. Scholars’ hard-won datasets are often kept private and liable to loss because it is not economical to print them. The fixity of the printed book is, moreover, unsuited to corpora of texts or objects that are constantly growing and being re-edited or re-studied.
The academic culture
Open-access publication has been adopted in a number of disciplines and is more and more being accepted in journal publication in all fields. But in most humanistic fields, including Classics, peer-reviewed long-form publications in the print format are still widely recognized as a standard expectation in the profession and in the personnel processes of academic institutions. The process of changing this cultural assumption has proven to be rather slow. There needs to be a transitional period in which the quality and peer review associated with print formats are demonstrated in a hybrid series (with both digital and Print On Demand elements). This series is intended to advance that goal.