Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Preprints and Open Access Revisited"

The following article appeared in APA Newsletter, volume 32, Number 3 (June 2009), and is reformatted here, with the permission of the author, in html with added hyperlinks.

Preprints and Open Access Revisited

This is a revised reprint (rather than a preprint!) of my February 2009 President’s Letter. Many in the APA membership seem to have missed the February Newsletter, due to the change-over to electronic distribution. Since I regard the issue of preprints and open access to be of great importance to the future of the organization, I offer it again. My apologies to those who read this Letter last winter. To those missed it the first time around, I hereby reiterate my previous invitation to the members of the APA to make their scholarly work-in-progress public as preprints on the newly formed Classical Research Network (CRN). Instructions about how to find and submit papers on the CRN will be found below. But first I will try to answer the obvious question: “Why should classicists bother with preprints?” Preprints are not peer reviewed publications. But they can be an important stage on the way to peer-reviewed publication and there is considerable value in making one’s scholarship public in advance of final publication.

Scholarship is, of course, all about making the results of research available to a community of scholars. In the first 120 years after the foundation of APA (in 1869) classical scholarship was made public primarily in the form of printed books and periodicals: peer-reviewed journals, monographs, and in occasional collections of essays and Festschriften. But the situation changed with the coming of the internet. Bryn Mawr Classical Review, which proudly claims the title of the second-oldest online journal in the humanities, began publishing online in 1990. Since then, the quantity of scholarship available online has exploded: e-journals; back issues of hard-copy journals on JSTOR and other archive sites; e-books from ebrary and Amazon.com; online bibliographies (notably APh and DCB); web pages (of organizations, academic departments, and individuals); blogs and more offer the potential for making research publicly available.

The “preprint” or “working papers” series seems to me to offer a promising, and still under-utilized venue for making classical scholarship public. Unlike many forms of internet publication, the preprint series is a time-tested form of scholarly communication. Working papers have long been a standard feature of how scholarly work is carried out in academic departments of social and natural sciences–indeed, some preprint series date back to before the internet era. The popularity of the form is due to several unique advantages that it offers to scholars: Preprints reduce to near-zero the time lag between the completion of an article that is “ready to circulate,” even if not yet “ready to publish,” and its appearance in public. Authors can gain feedback on a paper before it is submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. The chronological priority of a new idea is established once a paper is “datestamped” by appearing in a series. And, not least, readers (including people lacking access to research libraries) gain access to up-to-date academic scholarship.

Despite these advantages, the humanities were slow to follow the lead of the social and natural sciences. It was not until 2005 that the Classics Departments of Princeton and Stanford Universities launched their experimental preprint series, The Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics (http://www.princeton.edu/~pswpc). The series is open access–anyone with an internet connection and a reasonably up-to-date browser can access all site content and download papers without charge. Copyright for each paper is held by the author(s); there is no editorial content review (once again: preprints are not peer-reviewed publications). Posting is limited to the faculty and students of the hosting institutions.

The PSWPC experiment seems to have been successful, at least if success is measured in terms of authors (currently ca. 40 faculty and graduate students), papers (ca. 150–if one counts re-editions), and readers (or at least viewers and downloaders). Our experience in the first year of the series, along with some preliminary readership statistics, are in reported in J. Ober, W. Scheidel, B. Shaw, and D. Sanclemente, “Toward Open Access in Ancient Studies. The Princeton-Stanford Working Papers in Classics,” Hesperia 76 (2007): 229-42 (http://dx.doi.org/10.2972/hesp.76.1.229 - open access). The series was reviewed in March 2008 by David Pritchard in Literary and Linguistic Computing (http://llc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/fqn005v1 - ironically, only the abstract of this review-article is open access) [the texts of this article is available at http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/2226 -CJ-]

When we launched the PSWPC site, we hoped that other Classics Departments would set up their own parallel series. The University of Wales Lampeter has indeed done so (http://www.lamp.ac.uk/ric/working_papers.html), but there are non-trivial costs involved with setting up and maintaining a departmental preprint site.

Happily, thanks to the hard work of a team of scholars at the University of Texas (notably Lesley Dean-Jones in the Classics Department and Bernard Black in the Law School) there is now an open access and very well organized Classics preprint series available to all Classicists: the Classics Research Network (http://www.ssrn.com/crn/index.html). The CRN is part of the Humanities Research Network, which is in turn a part of the large and well established Social Science Research Network (the SSRN currently includes over 200,000 papers and gets ca. 7 million downloads per year).

The Classics Research Network is open access: papers posted on the site are uploaded by authors without charge and searched, browsed, and downloaded by readers without charge. Authors retain the copyright and retain the right to post their work on other sites.

To browse the existing papers on the Classic Research Network:
  • Enter into your browser: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/displayjournalbrowse.cfm, which will bring up a list of Networks. Find, at the bottom of the list, “Humanities Research Network.”
  • Click the square box in front of Humanities Research Network, which will bring up a list of Humanities Networks. You will find, at the top of the list, “HRN Classical Research Network.” Click the title to see a list of all the papers on the CRN, or the box in front of the title to browse specific CRN Subject Matter eJournals (e.g. History, Literature, Classical Tradition). [or go directly to HRN Classical Research Network]
To register to submit a paper on the Classics Research Network, go to www.ssrn.com and click on “submit.” The procedure for submitting papers to the CRN is quite straight forward and works quickly as soon as you complete registration. By registering, you will set up an individual “author page,” which will include direct links to all your posted papers. For example, my own page is http://ssrn.com/author= 336081. As you become more familiar with the network you will find that its utility grows. You may choose to receive e-mail notification when other scholars post papers in research areas of interest to you. You may submit both preprints (Working Paper Series) and, if you have not given away electronic rights, previously published papers (Accepted Papers Series). After you submit a paper, you may revise it as often as you wish.

I realize that for some classicists posting preprints on an open access web site will initially seem strange, perhaps even dangerous. I believe the risks are minimal and that they are, in any event, much outweighed by the risks associated with failing to make our scholarship public in a timely way. The highly experienced SSRN administrators, who handle tens of thousands of preprints annually, report that publishers ordinarily have no objection to authors having posted their papers with a preprint series. They also report that incidents of posted papers being misappropriated are almost unknown; the few known cases of misappropriation have been addressed swiftly and to the author’s satisfaction. This relative lack of complications for authors is confirmed by my own years of experience with the Princeton-Stanford Working Papers in Classics.

I encourage APA members to submit their papers to the Classical Research Network. My sincere hope is that that the SSRN’s Classics Research Network will soon become a standard place where all those who care about classical studies can freely post their scholarly efforts, and freely obtain access to current research.

Josiah Ober

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