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Open Access depends on us professors!

“Open Access depends on us professors!”
Prof. Dr. Rolf-Ulrich Kunze
Name: Prof Dr Rolf-Ulrich Kunze
Position: Professor of History
Expertise: Modern and Contemporary History
Institution: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Philosophy
Country: Germany
More info: Home Page LinkedIn

ORCID ID: 0123-4567-8901

An interview with Prof Dr Rolf-Ulrich Kunze on 25 November 2015

What got you originally interested in Open Access (OA)?

My publisher, Regine Tobias from KIT Scientific Publishing (KSP), first made me aware of Open Access publishing opportunities. At the beginning, it was simply the cost issue that got me interested in Open Access. At that point, I was surprised to learn that up to a third of public grant money for research projects in the Humanities needs to be used to cover the costs of publication raised by commercial publishers.

As an author, I see commercial publishers as a bottleneck. My time is very much spent on writing books, covered by the public purse or taxpayer. Research costs are significantly lower in the Humanities compared to the Technical and Hard Sciences, and we are indeed a lot less well off with few staff, no labs, etc. Monographs I have published so far cost about six to ten thousand Euros. Since I have to pay publishers such high fees to publish, they already make a profit even without selling a single copy of that book. Looking at the academic discourse as a whole, this is disastrous. If we have public funding of science, there has to be some kind of a democratic control, and I miss the democratic concept of checks and balances here.

In addition, if I want to reach certain groups within my community, I sometimes need to publish with certain publishers, so I don’t actually have a choice as to where I publish. Some publishing houses even have yet to jump aboard the e-publishing train, and still, these commercial publishers continue to have a monopoly due to conventions set and followed by the scientific community. Therefore, as authors we are often tied.

“Commercial publishers continue to have a monopoly due to conventions set and followed by the scientific community.”

These concerns have motivated me to look for other models. As a result, I got in touch with our institutional publisher, KIT Scientific Publishing, and we realised that for my research questions, such as the material culture of technology or historical reflections on technology in general, no book series existed. So we wanted to launch a new kind of series. My institution helped me here by introducing me to Creative Commons licensing, which has helped me realise works that contained a wide range of illustration, which I could not have otherwise completed with other publishers. The use of illustrations is of utmost importance for the subject of the cultural history of technology, since the perception and acceptance of technology depends very much on pictures and media. As a result, I was able to start writing a whole new genre using Open Access publishing and licensing options to create new types of publication. This has been terrific and has resulted in eight monographs so far.

Our publishing department also introduced me to a typesetter who relieved me of one of my biggest concerns, namely that my research could end up as a boring PDF-document on the Internet. Despite publishing it electronically, he showed me that the reading experience on screen can be optimised so that we are still looking at a book fit for reading on both screen and in print. This is not even true for all publishers. I am also grateful for KIT’s Open Access e-journal, “Journal of New Frontiers in Spatial Concepts,” which accepts articles in both German and English. The layout resembles that of the blog of a renowned national newspaper in Germany, which, to my mind, could not have been realised so easily by a commercial publisher.

What Open Access activities are you currently involved in?

I regularly publish Open Access monographs with KIT Scientific Publishing – eight so far. These are available electronically and via print-on-demand. I am also Editor-in-chief of the Open Access “Journal of New Frontiers in Spatial Concepts”. By providing Open Access to its articles, it ensures the widest possible dissemination worldwide, i.e. all papers can be downloaded, as we understand research as a public good. All articles are indexed by major databases. This in turn gives authors higher visibility and therefore higher chances of getting cited. In addition, I often contribute to the interactive H-Soz-Kult portal, the German equivalent to the American H-Net.

Why, in your opinion, do we need Open Access to research?

This is a political question. Publishing electronically and providing Open Access to research has become a necessity, simply because this is the new reality where today’s scholarly communications market and its conventions have changed. For example, scientific discourse takes place very much online today and the Humanities should not exclude itself. Open Access offers a lot of new opportunities for young researchers. Also, free access to research leads to much broader and more interactive scientific discussion – one that has become more international, too.

“Free access to research leads to much broader and more interactive scientific discussion”

In addition, although my way of scientific communication still works by publishing books, new Internet channels exist. These provide me with opportunities to reach new groups, and that is newer territory. This brings new conventions and markets to me and my peers. My son has made me aware of that, explaining to me what he thought “science“ was, via a YouTube video. Therefore, whether I like it or not, these types of media are means of scientific communication, and perhaps something I need to consider when disseminating my work. By publishing my works Open Access, I can reach out to a wholly different community, which I can see from download statistics for both my Open Access monographs and for the articles in the Open Access journal: Journal of New Frontiers in Spatial Concepts of KSP. For me, this new community is more international and English-speaking. I now receive very different feedback on my books and different requests compared to before. For example, I receive invitations to very relevant conferences that are new to me. Therefore, the decisive advantage of Open Access publishing is the opportunity to interact more with broader groups. Since having my monographs hosted on the local server, they appear among the first three hits of Google.

Relevance is therefore very much achieved by using the right servers for depositing publications. Despite paying publishers for Internet marketing activities, I don’t believe that I could achieve this kind of visibility with my traditional commercial, non-open access publishers. Of course, if I pay my traditional commercial publisher 7,000 Euros for a print publication, this publisher might not be highly motivated to implement measures to increase the online accessibility and visibility of the book.
Furthermore, what frustrates me enormously is that my titles disappear relatively quickly from the catalogues of traditional print publishers – that is, after three to five years. This isn’t the case with online Open Access publishers I have used.

Can Open Access have a positive effect on research careers?

Definitely. There is no research career without Open Access today! Today’s young researchers have very different possibilities open to them. For instance, by presenting their research output online, Open Access, they are much more visible – and more easily so – to the community and can engage in discourse from the start. Academic discourse as a whole benefits from this heightened interactivity.

In H-Soz-Kult I can, for example, recommend reviews and reports that are only there as a result of such new academic discourse. Conferences of historians have also changed. They are neither no longer only visited by elderly men who evaluate a dozen or so young, frightened historians. Instead, papers are submitted Open Access online for review. It is through portals such as H-Soz-Kult, where the discussion starts earlier and where authors get known earlier. This process of medialisation plays an important role here, and interactivity and speed are the decisive paradigms in the process. Today, one can post questions in a forum and in return receive a bigger stock of solutions from a global community. Students can, today, also help themselves more effectively rather than being dependent on one tutor, and this is also necessary, since career paths are changing.

What can scholars and/or administration do to promote openness to research?

Scholars and research administrators need to shift their mindsets. People shouldn’t contribute to German “Kulturpessimismus” (cultural pessimism) – we are good at that! It is especially scholars in the Humanities who need to change their minds. They need to learn about the opportunities and advantages offered to them by Open Access publishing.Specifically, for example, we can license our work using Creative Commons licenses. This is an alternative way of protecting our work, and shouldn’t be seen as an erosion of scientific standards and culture. The only reason left for licensing work under more restrictive terms is if you want to contribute to a long-standing book series or have a long-standing personal connection to an editor or publishing house.

Who do you engage with to spread the OA message, and how?

I am in constant contact with my publisher here who is actively spreading the OA message to the research community, and I appreciate her continuous engagement in promoting Open Access. Apart from that, as a historian, my research speaks to a more general audience. It is therefore not unusual that we are asked to speak at certain events or that a journalist from a public broadcasting company contacts me and asks for an interview, for example. Since my works are published by an Open Access publisher such as KIT Scientific Publishing, I can use this opportunity to present my work to a broader audience.

What are the challenges?

What is challenging is knowing how to use Open Access without losing control over my content. For example, many colleagues put their lectures online. However, I am very sceptical about this, since speaking freely in a lecture is completely different to publishing in written form. For example, paraphrasing other people’s thoughts or adequately citing other people’s ideas while speaking is one thing, and another when sharing it Open Access with possible copyright problems to contend with.

“The community can engage in discourse from the start.”

Some colleagues are not yet aware of these issues. In the area of Humanities, one challenge is to help dissipate fears and reservations regarding Open Access. For example, some researchers fear handing over ideas and never being acknowledged for them, which is just not true. Others need to learn that our medial public – as a social construct – is changing. Historical scholarship is a good example: in the 1990s when I was a student and wanted to read a conference proceedings volume, this could mean quite a lengthy wait – some being published a year after the actual conference and sometimes never.

Today, however, it is nearly common practice that the proceedings volume is already available online while the conference is taking place. We need to acknowledge the value in interactivity and speed of publication that is wholly different with the Internet, and embrace it; but this is a challenge as it is a relatively new practice. Another fear that needs alleviating concerns those who might say that the quality of readily-available Open Access publications is inferior to old-fashioned printed books. I would say that the academic discourse is precisely for discussing such standards and for adhering to certain quality.

What still needs to be done to get more Open Access to research?

It depends on us Professors! We need to talk about Open Access and, more importantly, we need to practice what we preach. We may also have to voice our concerns with regard to the business practices of commercial publishers. Recently, for example, certain monopolist commercial publishers were challenged by some of the Netherlands’ prominent authors. This is not necessarily a general call to resistance, but we simply should not blindly accept everything from our academic publishers.


Copyright: Maike van Wasen, KIT Scientific Publishing. Creative Commons CC-BY Licence.

Tags: Creative Commons, Humanities, Internet channels, OA journal, OA publishing, Open Access, YouTube, academic discourse, acknowledgement, advocacy, articles, benefits, business models, career development, change, choice, collaboration, commercial publishers, commercial publishing, copyright, costs, democracy, dissemination, downloads, editorial work, fair, fear, ideas, illustrations, interactivity, international, licences, licensing, mindset change, monographs, monopoly, multimedia, opportunities, outreach, papers, peers, print-on-demand, proceedings, public funding, public good, public responsibility, quality, scholarly communication, scientific discourse, screen reading, speed, traditional publishers, university publisher, visibility

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