Frequently Asked Questions
To ask a question and see it answered here, please do send us an email.
What makes OLH unique in an increasingly competitive environment?
We feel that our mission to support and sustain open access to peer-reviewed scholarship in the humanities is different to that of our competitors:
- We are academic-led - our founders, directors, and editorial staff are active humanities researchers with PhDs.
- We are strictly not-for-profit, a value that is protected long-term by our charitable status at Birkbeck, University of London. We have no shareholders and are governed by our membership network of librarians, scholars, and open access activists.
- We own our own publishing platform, Janeway, which we actively develop in-house using open source code. Anyone using Janeway must similarly release their own code under an open source "copyleft" license for the benefit of the wider scholarly community.
- We fund diamond open access for our journals through our Library Partnership Subsidy business model, with more than 345 university and public libraries worldwide joining us in our mission to extend open access.
- We publish innovative research from leading scholars. Our journal application and migration process has a high rejection rate due to the rigorous nature of our external review process in assessing the academic quality of journals applying to join the Open Library of Humanities.
The articles published in our journals hold the respect of their various academic communities. Many of the journals that we publish have award-winning articles in their back catalogues. Other articles published in our journals have received international press coverage.
Our platform has many forms of endorsement:
- Hundreds of institutions and libraries financially support and thereby endorse our platform.
- National funders such as the FWF (the Austrian National Science Fund) or NWO (The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) have committed to supporting the OLH financially.
- The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation have given us two grants to implement the platform and model, and one Arcadia Fund grant in 2021 to support the innovative research and work of the Open Library of Humanities.
- David Armitage, Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History, Harvard University said: “The Open Library of the Humanities is a transformative venture on the leading edge of open-access initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic. As ambitious as it is well-planned, it presents a cogent vision of the future with well-designed pathways to its realisation. There is hardly a more important project in train for scholarship in the humanities today.”
- Peter Suber, Director of the Office of Scholarly Communications at Harvard said: “I support the Open Library of Humanities and am proud to serve on its Academic Steering & Advocacy Committee. OLH isn't the first project devoted to OA in the humanities, but its approach is unusually promising and marked by careful planning, wide consultation, and the recruitment of experienced people. [...] OLH has the potential to transform the dissemination of scholarly research in the humanities, and I hope it finds the support it needs to implement its vision.”
- Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Head of Scholarly Communications, at the Modern Language Association of America said: “The Open Library of the Humanities promises crucial changes in the debate surrounding open access publishing, by bringing together a robust, standards- based technical platform with rigorous scholarly oversight, innovative editorial practices, and an emphasis on community outreach.”
- Helgard Krause, Director at the University of Wales Press, said: “UWP is delighted to partner with OLH to move IJWWE to an OA model on the established and reputable OLH platform; the wider access facilitated by OA is especially welcome in this key area of research and scholarship about Wales.”
- The faculty of MIT's linguistics department, including renowned Professor Noam Chomsky, wrote in support of the foundation of Glossa by the previous editorial board of the Elsevier journal, Lingua (as did many other departments).
What are the benefits of OLH consortium membership?
OLH is an extremely cost-effective solution for open access in the humanities disciplines. For less than a single Article Processing Charge’s (APC) worth of funding at for-profit entities, we publish and support 31 journals, all of which are diamond open access with open licenses, and we never charge authors fees.
This setup comes with the twinned benefits of freedom to read but also freedom to publish. Authors in the humanities have often expressed scepticism about open access when it involves APCs. Our model avoids this, thus making the open dissemination of work in these disciplines possible.
Library members are also entitled to vote on the admission of new journals, thereby having a community stake in the platform’s expansion.
Why should I pay when anyone can publish with you?
Put simply: because OLH cannot exist without such support. We rely on library memberships to continue our work. If the international library community decides not to support us, we will close down.
On the positive side, however, supporting OLH is an extremely cost-effective way to demonstrate a commitment to open access.
Can you provide me with usage data for a member institution?
We don't currently produce any institution specific statistics, as OLH is a completely open access publisher we have no paywalls or requirements for login that would allow us to accurately capture this information. More information is available regarding the context for this decision.
We are currently developing alternative forms of assessment, including a comprehensive tally of articles produced by the scholars of affiliate institutions.
How can I encourage scholars at my institution to engage with OLH journals?
A crucial way of providing a case for OLH membership is use of the resource by your scholars. We encourage you to
- Recommend our 31 diamond open access journals as publication outlets to your PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and staff.
- Encourage your staff to propose themed collections for the OLH flagship journal or our other titles, and provide an APC-free publishing outlet for your conferences and library events.
- Identify departments, faculties, centres etc. within your institution that match an OLH journal or collection (for example, ASIANetwork Exchange and an Asian Studies department) and make their leadership aware of OLH.
- Encourage the use of OLH articles in curricula, and make your membership work for you.
By using the resources that you have helped to create to enrich your pedagogy and research, OLH can provide a tangible Return on Investment, and create an APC-free outlet for humanities publication for your staff.
How can I make a space in my limited subscription budget for an OLH subsidy, and why should I do so?
OLH memberships cost less than a single Article Processing Charge at other publishers. In absolute and relative terms, we are extremely good value.
Of course, library budgets are under pressure, but by deciding to dedicate a small portion of your funding to supporting OLH you can ensure the continued viability of the platform while also encouraging scholars to publish in ways that are cost-effective for libraries.
What metrics can I use to articulate the Return On Investment (ROI) for OLH membership?
OLH can be justified from either the supply (authorship) or demand (readership) side. We hope to have a fully searchable list of authors and their institutions up in the near future. We also publish yearly reports on readership and cost statistics.
For instance, a recent report noted that “The 909 articles published or supported solely by the Open Library of Humanities were read by more people than a UK national-level pilot giving on-site access to vast quantities of subscription material across all disciplines.” Further, “Across our 200 supporting institutions, then, we estimate that the approximate average paid was $1,000. This works out at just $55 per journal per institution. Alternatively, this is $1.10 per institution per article. If we flip this around and focus on unique users who visited article pages, this is just $0.008 per institution per reader. And this gets cheaper as more institutions join.”
How can I use OLH resources to get the most out of membership for my university?
One of the best ways to maximize the impact of an OLH membership is to make sure that faculty are aware that they can publish with us, without any charges, across our range of journals. Further, encouraging faculty to place OLH articles on reading lists and to use our peer-reviewed material in their teaching practice ensures a research-led pedagogy.
Why should we invest in an OLH membership rather than paying APCs for open access content for our scholars?
Hybrid open-access has consistently been shown to be more expensive than pure gold open access. However, even paying APCs can work out to be more expensive than consortial memberships such as the OLH model. This is due to the distribution of funds throughout the library system.
This problem can be demonstrated through a parable: Imagine that there are 100 people in a room. They have $10 each. The academic speaker will give them a talk but the venue wants $50 to cover its costs (and any profit/surplus). There are 40 such talks per year. There is final indefinitely large group of people (let us call them “the general public”) who might want to hear the talk but who can’t afford to pay anything.
Subscription logic: each person pays $0.50 and gets access to the talk. If a person does not pay, s/he/they may not hear the talk. This logic is implemented to introduce a classical economic system. With the funding available, each person can choose to attend this talk or another. However, each of the 40 talks is different and doesn’t cover the same material. The attendees do not really know whether a talk will be useful to them in advance. They can attend 50% of the talks. This model spreads costs but limits access; 50% of the talks could be attended by 100% of the attendees but nobody from the “general public” group gets to hear the talks. Further, it is unlikely that all 100 participants will attend the same 40 talks, so knowledge of the talks’ contents is diffuse. Some believe this is the best way of ensuring the venue is compensated and remains open for talks because it incentivizes people to pay. The speaker doesn’t necessarily get the largest possible audience from this model.
Article Processing Charge (APC) logic: the speaker will pay the venue’s cost of $50 and let anybody hear the talk for no charge. This makes sense to the academic as her only motivation is to be heard (she is one of the lucky ones who has an academic post). The problem is, she only has $10 herself. This model concentrates costs (sometimes impossibly so) but allows the theoretically widest access. In this particular case, though, an idealised logic led to no access since no single individual can afford the total cost. APCs have a problem of the current distribution of resources.
Consortial OA funding logic: 5 people attend each talk. They each spend their full allowance of $10 on that single talk. However, they let everybody else attend any talk for which they have paid, in expectation of reciprocity and for the public good. They record the talk and let others view this for no charge. This model spreads costs and allows broader access than the subscription model; 50% of the talks could be heard by not only 100% of the attendees but also by the group who can’t afford to pay. This is the logical choice for those present but some are worried that they may pay while others might not return the favour.
There are also arguments that the $50 venue fee is extortionate, since it appears that 35% of it ($17.50) is pure profit for the venue organisation, which is in fine financial health. Some point out that were this closer to 6% ($3.00) the organisation would still be fine and could pay all its staff but each talk would only cost around $35. At that rate, it would be possible to host approximately 29 of the planned talks and, with the distribution in the different models, allow other groups to have access.
How are membership subsidy fees spent by the OLH?
The OLH employs staff for technical, editorial, managerial, financial, and legal purposes. Revenue is spent on these staff costs, but also on external partners’ fees (for instance: CrossRef, CLOCKSS, typesetting fees, platform maintenance fees, university press subsidies for our partners).
I am personally enthusiastic about OLH but my institution has budgetary limitations that make a commitment difficult. Are you able to offer flexible banding?
OLH memberships are banded according to FTE size, making the platform affordable to a range of institutions. If you or your institution are really struggling to commit to our levels of membership, please get in touch.
How can I reduce my membership fee while still supporting the OLH?
The OLH offers a referral scheme among members. Every time that an existing member refers a new institution to sign up, they can receive a discount on their next year’s membership as a thank you from us.
What resources do you offer to librarians in order to support their open access initiatives?
We encourage you to take advantage of the following resources:
- Read our contributions to Open Access debate, including the Open Insights blog series. For an example, see an interview with Ernesto Priego of the Comics Grid journal, and the resulting Twitter chat.
- Write for us. We would love to hear a proposal for a library studies of information studies essay in our mega-journal, or support a themed collection of essays.
- Use our growing range of tools and resources, which will emerge over the coming month. This FAQ is the first of many.
- Ask us a question on Twitter, Facebook, or via our website. We will answer it publicly on this FAQ.
Who are your stakeholders?
We operate on a strictly not-for-profit basis and are not beholden to stakeholders/profit. The Open Library of Humanities (OLH) is part of Birkbeck, University of London, an exempt charity under the terms of the Charities Act 2011. The College is a higher education institution incorporated by Royal Charter (England/Wales), number RC000048, and does not have a 'registered charity number'. The Open Library of Humanities and its logo are registered trademarks. The aims of the OLH are the advancement of education for the public benefit through open-access publishing.
How long do OLH memberships last?
OLH memberships are for one-year periods and there is no obligation to renew. By contrast, if you wish to subscribe for multiple years up front, we can discuss this on a case-by-case basis.