In September, LSE held a one-day workshop organized by Dr Andrea Pia (LSE Anthropology), and funded by the LSE Department of Anthropology through the Research Infrastructure and Investment Fund, to share and discuss models for open access journal publishing in anthropology, with participants invited from a range of institutions and backgrounds. Presentations by a number of OA journal editors were followed by speakers from open access publishers and platforms, and from institutional libraries.
Journal editors introduced the structure of their publication outlets, their OA models and intended audience. They also reflected on the challenges they face in running an OA publication and the measures they put in place to overcome those challenges.
Among the journals presented were Made in China, Water Alternatives, British Journal of Chinese Studies, Allegralab, Entanglements, Journal of Political Ecology, ANUAC and Roadsides. The majority of the journals presented were standalone OA journals, run independently by the editors and their editorial boards, and several common themes emerged: the lack of funding available – either no funding, little funding, or funding in the form of short-term grants; and the amount of unpaid work involved by the editors and their associates (the term ‘labour of love’ was mentioned in many of the presentations). Some found securing submissions a challenge, and were hampered in their efforts by their lack of impact factor, which deterred many potential authors. Models such as the geography journal ACME were highlighted as an example of a journal that actively refuses to participate in impact factor systems, and for many present in the room IF was not considered significant.
On a more positive note, the independence of many of these journals was felt to offer the freedom to experiment, either in terms of the nature and subject matter of the content itself or in terms of the affordances of online publishing, which allows for audio-visual components and unlimited images. Some of the presentations focussed not only on open access and the limitations of commercial publishing models, but also the limitations of academia in which creativity and passion – the very reasons many of the speakers entered academia – can be stifled by policy and evaluation. For mid- or late-career academics, the journals and their alternative models were seen by some as a publishing option where they had the freedom to publish what they wanted, an option that many early career researchers, often in precarious academic positions, would not feel able to participate in due to the pressure to publish in established outlets. So despite the challenges, this form of publishing was seen as a positive by many, engendering community spirit and the positive outcomes of collective endeavour.
The publishers and platforms who gave presentations – UCL Press, LSE Press, Libraria and Knowledge Unlatched – offered an alternative view, where larger-scale OA initiatives were supported at institutional level or through crowd-funded alternatives such as global library subscriptions, to enable open access publishing to happen on a bigger scale. While the benefits of these models were clear in terms of the support that they can offer academics with open access publishing and the higher volume of outputs they can deliver, many researchers at the meeting questioned whether scale was necessary or even desirable and emphasised the importance to them of freedom and independence in their endeavours.
Academic-led open access publishing forms an important part of the OA ecosystem, encouraging culture change and experimentation. For many academics, it clearly also contributes to a sense of personal satisfaction and the ability to pursue one’s passion and beliefs, although greater access to funding to undertake these kinds of publications would clearly be welcome.
Lara Speicher, Head of Publishing, UCL Press