Max Planck Institute Librarin, Urs Schoepflin, on OA and the future of humanities research

Librarian from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), Urs Schoepflin, gave a talk on the IU campus on Monday, 10/22/2012. The talk was titled “Challenges for the Humanities: Scholarly Work and Publishing in the Digital Age.” Schoepflin presented the MPWIG’s European Cultural Heritage Online (ECHO), an Open Access Infrastructure to bring Essential Cultural Heritage Online. His talk was part of the History and Philosophy of Science Colloquium Series at IU.

ECHO is a framework for bringing Humanities research and scholarship online; it hosts primary materials, enables peer review, empaneled an editorial board, and brings forth finished works online, for download, and POD. I think they’ve completed 5 books already. Schoepflin discussed the history of the project, the creation of the pilot platform, and the likely road ahead. One thing that stood out: researchers and librarians at the MPWIG largely eschewed the assistance of IT professionals in its creation; they opted instead to have Humanities researchers with specific aptitudes for technology define and build what was needed to best facilitate research for the online community. They held to simpler-is-better model and made sure everything could work through a browser.

It is a fascinating infrastructural and professional approach; many institutes are participating; materials are of the highest quality. It is truly part of a new era in research. Schoepflin summed it up—specifically referencing the part about Humanities researchers learning online programming tools—by saying simply: This is the future of Humanities research.

He’s right. I had to think about it; but, he is right. What’s most right about what he said is the fact that the researchers and librarians are doing it for themselves; they learned the IT tools to build a contemporary research solution. That didn't happen in the past. It's seems it will in the future.

We’ve seen this in other industries; e.g, marketers and graphic design software. The web is informational software. It is only natural for workers to source their own skills and solutions. I’m not versed enough in OA platforms to know how common this is yet or when exactly we reached its advent; but, it’s in the past.

Schoepflin is right about OA being the future of Humanities research in the larger sense as well; it’s unlikely that we would see a future without OA in it. OA is a wonderful thing. What does this mean for scholarly communications on the whole? Could we see a world of all OA all the time an only OA all the time, everywhere?

Unlikely, as we live in a commercial society, and if we did, the resulting communication/s would be less robust, and a great deal of value would be left on the table for consumers, institutions, and publishers. However, we will see more OA, as it does certain things well.

E.g., Social Media & Marketing (that other kind of Communications): Social Media has become a huge focus of Marketing. It’s better than traditional media for certain things. Mainstream advertising was dominant to universal (an exclusive mode of communication). Social media and online advertising has bucked the old trends. Now we live in a world with both.

But, we still have mainstream marketing; its role has simply changed and refocused—in concert with the new platforms’ messaging. I.e., traditional, mainstream marketing remains part of the marketing/cultural discourse or the “marketing mix,” alongside the new, online marketing, and in many ways, the one “plays off of” the other.

Similarly, OA is changing old models. Publishing/communications programs will naturally look to make the most of OA. But, if we look at Marketing (with a capital M) responding to Social Media, we see the presence and actions of the one, "new" channel increased and altered the prospects for the other; value was ultimately found in fielding a coordinated approach that capitalized on the strengths, reach, and efficacy of each.

The scholarly communications/publishing market will seek an advantageous and complimentary equilibrium point or strategic "mix" in a similar way, if not to a similar degree.