Talking about Open Access


In her article “Giving it Away: Sharing and the Future of Scholarly Communication,” Kathleen Fitzpatrick posits that open-access represents everything that the humanities stands for: “scholarship is written to be read and to influence more new writing.” Open-access articles, then, are not just free to read, but free to use (with proper citation) to build your own arguments.

The ideal of open-access publishing was not only to grant authors a broader readership to their articles, but also to grant readers access to scholarship to which they would otherwise never be exposed. Fitzpatrick calls for a universal open-access model for the humanities, primarily for the smaller publishing houses to remain relevant and in the game.

She notes that “study after study shows that open-access literature . . . is more cited than is work published in traditional closed venues.” This makes complete sense to me, that students and scholars are more likely to seek out, read, use, and cite free versions of scholarly articles. We are lucky to have the St. John’s library at our disposal, and with that comes many “free” academic journals. But there are researchers with no university backing who are unable, for whatever reason, to access scholarly information.


Another positive effect of open-access publishing is that it widens the audience. Undergraduate institutions that may not pay for access to large journals would now be able to use scholarly articles to teach students how to conduct proper research and build an argument.

Fitzpatrick gives reasons why humanists might be reluctant to make their articles open-access. One reason is that humanists worry about their research not being taken seriously. “The world at times fails to understand what we do, and, because subject matter seems as though it ought to be comprehensible, . . . isn’t inclined to wrestle with the difficulties that our work presents.” So perhaps there is a fear of rejection associated with open-access publishing? Humanists can argue, Fitzpatrick claims, that their work is not for the general public, but only for a small number of professionals who “get it.”

Moreover, scholars often gauge their success by the exclusivity of the journal in which they are published. Open-access removes this determinate, which challenges the nature of publishing itself. And as well all know—and as we’ve discussed in class—change is not comfortable or welcome.

In response to this, Fitzpatrick encourages humanists to become more visible, which can lead to an increase in funds and to a better understanding of the field as a whole: “The more that well-researched, thoughtful scholarship on contemporary cultural issues is available . . . , the richer the discourse in those publications will become—increasing, not incidentally, the visibility of institutions of higher education, and their importance to the culture at large.”

Fitzpatrick calls for a reimagination of how we share information in the humanities, as she calls for us to “give it away.” She explains that we have a duty to share our knowledge and allow others to build upon it as scholarship continues to increase. We are giving to those younger researchers, just as they will give to those who come after them.

This all sounds wonderful, if a bit saccharine. But Fitzpatrick is really relying on humanists to be “good people” (to quote another David Foster Wallace story, as Fitzpatrick quotes Infinite Jest). She is betting on the fact that humanists want everyone to share in their serendipity and to help make the humanities a better field.

What do you all think? Is open-access the future of humanities? Is there a better alternative?

Work Cited

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. “Giving It Away: Sharing and the Future of Scholarly Communication.” Planned Obsolescence, 12 Jan. 2012,

2 thoughts on “Talking about Open Access

  1. I wish all thoughtful articles had such entertaining visuals. I’m rather cynical about human nature and suspect of any business model that relies on consumers to do the right thing. I remember 10 years ago what a big deal people were making of Radiohead’s In Rainbows sales because the band offered the album up for free on line and allowed listeners to download it by donation. It was supposed to be this beacon leading the music industry into a new era and proving once and for all that consumers were actually fair and good and would compensate artists without being forced to do so. Then came streaming services like Spotify and that argument changed. But we also are moving more and more into a sharing economy with places like Yoga to the People able to survive and even thrive. Perhaps we’ll never be able to predict how things in academic publishing will trend and will only be able to make sense of it all in retrospect!


  2. I loved Kathleen’s take on open access scholarly research (and yours obv.). I recently came across a quote that said: Academics write to have written, not be read. This struck me as a vital component to the future of scholarly writing. It is so obvious that nearly all of the peer reviewed journal articles are there because the professor needed to keep their job. So few of what I read in academics appeals to enough of an audience. The articles read as if written for the editorial board of the journal, and sense this board is composed of like-minded people, the articles all begin to blur with respect to voice and audience. I think it is time to let the market decide what is worth reading and researching. The insular nature of academic publishing is doing harm to public relations. Closed society are always feared and voted against, open access publishing is a way to cross the bridge between the ivory tower and main street.


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