Daily Archives: February 26, 2008

Open Access to History @ Columbia UP

Who knew? Columbia made a previously subscription-only history book project open access. Maybe Harvard’s news, and the press it generated, led them to tell us about it. From today’s Chron (subscription required, no pun intended):

Without much fanfare, Columbia University Press has radically restructured Gutenberg-e, its high-profile experiment with digital history monographs, from a subscription-only series to an open-access model. The 36 titles will also be available—in somewhat different form, and enhanced with related scholarship—through Humanities E-Book, a subscription-only collection of digital versions of humanities monographs administered by the American Council of Learned Societies, or ACLS.

The Columbia press has been quietly making the monographs freely available since late fall, but the association announced the news on its blog only this month. Gutenberg-e’s switch to open access highlights some of the financial and logistical difficulties that can hamper attempts to establish a viable e-monograph series in the humanities—not that many have yet tried.

Turns out making enhanced digital versions cost quite a bit of money, and those expenses were not made up for by savings in traditional printing and shipping. Scholars, too, preferred to shop their projects for publication as books. Permissions and marketing also have different challenges – securing permission to reproduce an image or passage in a book is much easier than for digital distribution.

There will still be an enhanced subscription-based version of the books. I don’t know the details of this, but I’m growing a little weary of libraries paying for special versions while the great unwashed who aren’t affiliated with an institution that can afford it are stuck with a free budget version. Why the duplication of effort? We’re deliberately creating our own digital divide. But that’s the subject of another post.