Open Access in Digital Humanities

DH6033: Conceptual Introduction to Digital Humanities

Name: Gillian Morrissey                                              Student Number: 117110038

In the pursuit of the development of knowledge, academic scholars need regular and easy access to relevent, independent and scholarly literature. By it’s very nature and functionality this literature is seen as interdisciplinary. It is also defined as expensive, of a global nature and has digital applications. Increasingly it is more difficult to access specific sites using licence restrictions. These restrictions do not just apply to members of the public who face problematic stone walling in securing knowledge. it is indiscriminate in nature, as even scholars at the most prestigious universities find accessing certain literature problematic. As a result of their status, they have some access, while the poorest in society have little or no access at all.

The prevalance of Google and other internet sites have seen certain types of sites opened up under the pressures to create an open community with unlimited access. This was not a societal inclusion issue, internet sites and other forums of information provision would not charge for access to specific sites, but users would be bombarded with adverts for products and services they didn’t want or need which were related to specific searches. So, in that respect open access was not entirely open or free without obligation. There is no suggestion that fundamental changes will be made to the traditional scholarly communications system. Alterations made are done with the objective of transforming its limited availabilty of site technology in the digital environment.

A major problem in the last few years has been the adoption of a core definition of what open access actually meanas in theoretical/practical terms. There is no universally accepted definition as such. The difficulty is that the concept is an evolving one. It is also subjective and means different things to different people. In 2001, The Budapest Open Initiative defined open access as:

Literature should be freely available online. It should be given to the world without expectation of payment. It should include peer – reviewed journal articles as well as reviewed work that may be put online for purposes of commentary by colleagues on research findings”

Great emphasis was placed on the element of free availability on the internet permitting users to read, download and print without financial, legal and technical barriers. The only restriction is that the work be cited and acknowledged. To facilitate this theoretical definition of open access principles on a practical level, two mediums of preservation were established. The first and most logical of these was the self archiving by scholars of their own work. Once this is done, archives can be created online. Secondly, scholars need to have the technical knowledge/facilities to update their original work in order for it to be shared quickley to the widest audience. Access must therefore be free and open. Both these principles apply to scholarly digital documents.

Open access guarantees that price barriers are removed and as such documents are royalty free. The only stipulation is that the intellectual property rights are recorded and adhered to. Cost is also a key consideration. Putting digital documentation online is relatively inexpensive. Using this method, there are also considerable savings in publishing using traditional methods such as distribution, storage and savings to the environment as a result of less trees being cut down tp produce more paper. However, it should be noted that just because digital documents are open and freely accessible – this does not automatically mean the copyright owner has given explicit consent for these documents to be reproduced. Those who download these documents should not presume the documents have been intended for the use/publication in the public domain. Although some critics argue that the very fact these documents are on a public website means they are open and accessible to everybody who wants them.

The Budapest Open Initiative was superceded by The Bethesda Statement in 2003. This meeting was held at The Howard Hugues Medical Institute in Maryland. It extended the definition of open access. The commitee at the meeting endorsed and extended the findings made at Budapest. It built on the original meeting as it issued an acknowledgement that any work can be translated into another lanhuage without permisssion from the author. It also issued a requirement that open access documents be deposited in digital reposities, as opposed to digital archives. This was interpreted as a broad requirement which was not neccessary for those who just wanted open and free access.

The two aforementioned meetings to clarify the definition of open access were followed by a thirs meeting – The Berlin 3 Open Access in the Sciiences and Humanities in 2005. An analysis of all the documents collectively illustrates the necessity of removing price barriers and permission barriers to ensure all documents are free and open to scholars online.

However, some barriers remain intact. Open access is rooted in copyright law. Once copyright owners permit users to freely access their works, copyright laws do not have to change to acoomodate this. The opus remains with the author to declare whether their work will be made available freely or whether it can only be published under the restrictions of subscription pre – requisites. This is illustrated in publications such as medical journals where access is open only to professionals within that speciality. Since 2005, there have been numerous other statements made on open access in the digital domain.

Commentators/writers such as Peter Suber have argued that open access will inevitably extend its scope of coverage in three phrases which will include royalty producing literature and copyright reform. Currently, a number of scholarly publications including thesis productions remain under licence.

The proliferation of the internet and the amount of scholarly collaborative mediums on social media heralded a revolution in academia. Yet, this has produced both opportunities and challenges for academics and students alike. The issue of accessing information  in a digital format is problematic, despite the theoretical concept that access is both free and open. Open access is a vital component in the collaboration of information and the dissemination of academic work. Many works on digital format remain of limited accessability due to the constraints of subscription/licenced sites. This contradicts the notion of free and open accessability. Various declarations of the definition of open access have bben used and there is no denying the fact that accessability is a reality in 2018. There is a way to go before it is complete and unrestricted to all in academia

Gillian Morrissey, 2018









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