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Demonstrating the success of Open Access books for the humanities and social sciences


A blog post by PhD student Mike Taylor, written in celebration of Open Access Week.

Over the last few years, one of the leading criticisms of the open access (OA) movement is that it seems to prioritise research in the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) at the expense of the arts, humanities and social sciences.

To some extent, this is a valid criticism, although it can be partially justified by understanding that STEM research is by far the larger proportion of research outputs, particularly in English. So where we have seen research into the benefits of OA publishing – in terms of increased downloads, citations or social impact (as measured by 'altmetrics') - it’s largely focused on the research within STEM areas and within the academic journal.  

The arts, humanities and social sciences have a very different profile from that of the STEM fields; the languages and media are more diverse, their outputs have impact over a longer period of time, citations are slower to appear, and they often prefer to publish research in book form. 

As part of my PhD research, supervised by Professor Thelwall, I’ve been looking at how research findings are propagated through society, and what variables are important to the distribution and diffusion of research findings. 

A key variable to help us understand how propagation happens is OA status, and my latest paper (just published in Scientometrics journal) shows that OA books and chapters get significantly higher levels of attention than their non-OA equivalents, across a broad range of internet attention; including news, blogs, Twitter and policy documents. 

This information may prove to be important for two reasons: 

  1. It can act as a motivation to justify investing in OA books – as it will increase social use, and we can measure this effect.
  2. We can think about how we can apply research into altmetrics as a way of measuring the effectiveness of our engagement strategies.

I make no apology for being a book advocate, it was my love of books that shaped my career, and led me to get a job in one of the world's largest academic book publishers, so being able to work with Professor Thelwall, and use data from my current employer to support the development of the academic book is very exciting! 


Image: The proportion of books in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities with attention on Twitter, comparing OA versus non-OA books 

This blog post is one of the pieces shared on the Library News page as part of Open Access week.

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