Committing to Open Access

Recently I was asked by the editors of a journal whose mission and scholarship I support and respect to review a book by a scholar I very much admire.

In the past, I would have accepted the invitation without a second thought and proceeded to read the book and develop a review.

Over the past few years, however, as my work has focused on questions of public scholarship and digital communication, I have developed a deep commitment to open access publication. This has led me to adopt the practice of inquiring about the possibility of open access publication whenever I am asked to contribute to a volume or write for a journal.

In this particular case, my inquiries into open access publication were dismissed out of hand. This particular journal simply did not have the capacity to publish a book review or anything else in an open access format.

I declined the invitation.

At this stage of my career, I am fortunate to be in a position to advocate for the conditions under which I want my work to appear. Younger scholars who need to place articles and book projects in reputable journals and presses in order to earn tenure or promotion can ill afford to turn down opportunities for publication even when the conditions under which their work is published severely limit its accessibility to a wide public.

Yet if more senior scholars refuse to collude in the closed publication practices that over privilege the financial interests of publishers, new opportunities may be opened for our younger colleagues to publish their work in more widely accessible ways.

There is no denying that the current situation of academic publishing is fluid and rapidly changing as new affordances of digital publishing challenge publishers to find ways to monetize the important work they facilitate. Yet even as we endeavor to identify ways to sustain well-edited, conscientiously reviewed, and professionally designed publications, it is important for those of us who believe that academic scholarship should be as accessible to as wide a public as possible to insist upon the openness for which we advocate.

This becomes yet more urgent for those of us whose work is supported by universities with explicit public missions.

It is incumbent upon us to ensure that the scholarship supported in part at least by the public is itself accessible to the public.

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