Open Insights: Choosing the Open Library of Humanities journal (OLHJ) as the Publisher for your Special Collection

Posted by Dr Katherine Parker-Hay on 14 September 2022

Choosing OLHJ as the Publisher for your Special Collection 

An Open Insights blog post by Katherine Parker-Hay

Katherine Parker-Hay is an Editorial Officer for the Open Library of Humanities where she oversees editorial processes and production. She has a PhD from the University of Sussex and has been involved with various research projects seeking to make universities more equitable and accessible. She has also worked with the NHS, designing creative writing programmes to tackle anxiety and depression. Here she discusses the unique culture of OLH and some of the associated advantages of collaborating with us to publish a Special Collection. 

As the new Editorial Officer for the Open Library of Humanities, over the last six months I have been familiarising myself with our eclectic Special Collections so that I can help to decide which new collections to commission and what shape our growing portfolio might take in the future. 

Special Collections are collections of articles published within the Open Library of Humanities journal (OLHJ) that are dedicated to focussed research topics in the humanities. We work closely with Special Collection Editors who invite and oversee the submission of these articles, then write an introduction for their collection. Drafting a call for Special Collection applications, I naturally considered which scholars we were hoping to reach and why they might choose us as their publisher. However, the depth with which I mused over this question of audience was no doubt informed by some lingering biases. The phrase ‘mega-journal’ still sits uncomfortably with me; as a researcher in the humanities, during the course of my doctorate I had been thoroughly ensconced in a culture of academic specialisation and disciplinary silos. 

However, spending time with our collections, I have come to question this culture and have seen first-hand some of the benefits of publishing with a truly interdisciplinary journal and open access platform. Below I set out some of the advantages of editing a special collection with The Open Library of Humanities: 

A home for cross-disciplinary approaches

With a remit that spans the humanities, OLHJ provides a home for genuinely cross-disciplinary approaches and our broad readership means that the articles we publish have, by design, impact beyond disciplinary boarders. We have a record of publishing quirky collections that necessitate an interdisciplinary approach. Examples range from ‘The Working-Class Avant-Garde’, to ‘Representing Classical Music in the Twenty-First Century’, and more recently ‘The Politics and History of Menstruation: Contextualising the Scottish campaign to End Period Poverty’. Topics, in other words, that do not neatly fit within disciplinary boundaries and therefore require a cross-humanities response. While we have a growing reputation for cultural and literary studies, we are also keen to hear from disciplines that are currently underrepresented on our platform, such as Philosophy, Archaeology, Sociology, Theology and Human Geography: OLHJ aspires to reflect the broad spectrum and cross-pollination of humanities scholarship in the 21st century. 

With our mission for expanding open access and innovating publishing norms, it is perhaps unsurprising that we are also home to collections that explore the future of the university and scholarly communications, or advocate for public-facing knowledge exchange. For example, we are currently working with editors to publish a collection on how the public curates the medieval past, which will include perspectives from practitioners in museum studies, game development and the heritage sector. As an open access publisher, with an interest in broadening and critiquing scholarly communications, OLHJ provides a natural home for projects that challenge traditional boundaries of knowledge production.  

Rapid publishing model  

Articles for Special Collections at OLHJ are published on a ‘rolling basis’— as soon as they are ready. This reduces the delay in the time it takes to make research publicly available: unlike a typical journal collection, articles are not held back because of delays to others in the pool. A Special Collection Editor at OLHJ will typically work with around six articles per collection but, instead of clustering the workload around a single release date, tasks are spread out according to when an individual article can be progressed. This ‘rapid’ publishing model reflects our twin ambitions of realising the potential of solely online publishing and making humanities research available to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. 

Phrases like ‘rapid’ and ‘as quickly as possible’ are likely to raise heckles considering the pressure under which humanities scholars are currently working, where everything needs to be more excellent and have happened yesterday. However, as OLH co-founder Professor Martin Paul Eve argues in his book Open Access and the Humanities, for all the political advantages of a slow humanities model, of which there are many, it is not clear how a slow publication process after peer review is advantageous to either researchers or their readers (p. 149). At OLH, we are keenly aware that thoughtful research takes time but are less convinced that the production process itself should cause undue delays in making the results of humanities research available. 

More abstract arguments aside, it has become clear to me just in practical terms that this model is advantageous in allowing editorial work to be spread out into more manageable segments. Articles filter through one by one, and editorial tasks arise in smaller chunks. This incremental movement feels efficient: the progress rewarding. Against the stagnation of academic time (where articles can be published months or even years after submission in an exhausting struggle to coordinate time), these small wins can provide a welcome dopamine hit. Though of course we cannot alone solve the issue of academic overwork, perhaps counterintuitively, by virtue of spreading the workload out, our rapid model seems to represent in practice not more but less of a burden to it. 

Tailored support

Rapid publication is made possible because, as a Special Collection Editor, you will be assisted through the process by OLH’s editorial team, of which I am a member. The editorial team works in a full-time capacity to oversee the review and production processes for each article. They, in turn, work with the in-house tech team who design and update the publication workflow system, Janeway. Less bound by the stressors of the academic timetable than some, we are available during normal working hours throughout the year to answer editorial and technology queries, and take each published article through a thorough in-house copyedit before publication. And yet, OLH remains proudly academic-led: each member of our editorial team is a qualified academic with a PhD in the humanities and therefore has personal experience of peer reviewed, academic publishing. 

The OLH editorial team works directly with the tech team, which is one of the most exciting things about OLH’s culture, because we can bring our humanities expertise to bear on how the system’s workflow develops. Indeed, OLH has a bit of start-up culture about it, with some of the associated energy and optimism: in this case, a vision of developing tech to challenge, improve and make academic publishing more equitable. The euphoria bubble that can characterise ambitious tech start-ups is, however, held in check by our team’s sensitivity to and direct experience of the ethics and values of humanities scholarship. 

With the Janeway system still actively under development, the team is keen to gather feedback from the Special Collection Editors with whom we work on how the system could be improved from their perspective as humanities experts. These ideas are fed back and incorporated into future iterations of the submission platform. OLH provides a personalised service where, if you would like, you can feel part of a larger project: supporting and extending quality and equitable open access scholarship in the humanities, by mobilising the latest technological advances in journal publishing.

Supporting a sustainable and innovative model of open access publishing 

At OLH, we are keen to balance the latest advances in online journal publishing against the requirements of scholarly standards and traditions. For example, rapid publishing technically means that there is no upper limit to the number of articles within a collection, and collections can be opened indefinitely to continue the conversation. However, we have been thoughtful about how to balance this technical capacity against the coherence that a print collection would afford. We therefore invite our editors to supply an introduction to round off and ‘close’ the collection when all the projected articles have been published. Yet, if the rationale is there, collections can be reopened at any stage through, for example, supplementary calls for papers. 

We hope this decision balances dynamism with the pleasure of encountering a lucid and timely ‘intervention in the field’. This compromise is indicative of the broader philosophy of OLH: we ask questions about how and why traditional academic publication functions as it does, to consider the benefits and costs of replicating current practices. As Martin Paul Eve notes in Open Access and the Humanities, ‘OA does not require any of these innovations; it merely provides a historical juncture where it may be possible to implement them should we so desire’ (p. 148). 

While our small team may sometimes fall at different points on the traditionalism/ innovation spectrum, we align over the importance of creating a model of open access publishing that is sensitive to the challenges and needs of humanities scholarship. You may choose to publish with OLH because doing so supports sustainable open access publishing through the Library-Partnership Subsidy Model. With charitable status, the Open Library of Humanities can avoid charging author-facing fees and therefore removes the barrier of cost not only to readers but to authors. We believe that this is essential for making open access equitable: we recognise that it is unusual for humanities scholars to have access to project funds, and even less likely for early career researchers. 

It occurred to me after joining OLH the extent to which politically informed humanities scholars often put enormous thought into the ethics and politics of knowledge production, yet the question of whether this politics follows through to the for-profit venues in which their critiques are eventually published goes underdiscussed. Scholars who are keen to question current models of academic labour are among those we most hope to reach: if your research is politically motivated, powered by critique, or underpinned by values of equity and broadening access, you may find that the Open Library of Humanities provides an especially good home for a future collection. 

The OLH is currently open to receiving applications for guest edited Special Collections. If you are interested in applying to edit a collection on a topic that is relevant to your own research, please complete the OLH Special Collection Application Form and email it to our OLHJ Managing Editor, Dr Simon Everett.