Chatting Open Access with Jesse Karlsberg


Jesse Karlsberg, Managing Editor of Southern Spaces

As part of Open Access Week 2014: Generation Open, we interviewed Jesse P. Karlsberg to discuss Open Access from a graduate student’s perspective. Jesse is a George W. Woodruff Fellow and doctoral candidate in Emory’s Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts. He is the managing editor of Southern Spaces and is editor of Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition, forthcoming from Pitts Theology Library and the Sacred Harp Publishing Company in February 2015.

What does Open Access mean to you?

I think of Open Access as a way we talk about the accessibility and free circulation of scholarship. That could mean the dissemination of finished research, publications, and things like data. This isn’t an idea original to me, but I think of Open Access as a spectrum rather than a yes or no dichotomy. I also think of it as one of several important values in the scholarly publishing world. I don’t feel that everything should be published CC-By or in the public domain. There are different approaches that make sense for different people in different contexts.

Do you feel that the idea of social justice and/or social responsibility applies to Open Access?

For me here at Emory, it is easy to go and access a piece of scholarly publishing in the humanities because I have the benefit of Emory’s large budget for subscriptions. I can log into a number of databases, and I can access a whole bunch of material. I can also go through the stacks and find older issues of a number of fairly esoteric journals. I have fantastic access to that material. But if I were at another institution that didn’t have Emory’s endowment or didn’t have Emory’s library budget… Or if I were an independent scholar, I wouldn’t have that privilege. Scholars don’t just need to talk to each other. If our work is important, probably one facet of that import is going to be its relevance outside of the ivory tower where access to non-open scholarship is limited.

I also think that we talk about Open Access generally in the context of technology. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are people who don’t have good access to the basic technology that facilitates Open Access.

As a graduate student, what motivates you to pursue Open Access initiatives? What was your original inspiration for following this path?

I became aware of Open Access by working with Southern Spaces, an Open Access journal. That made me think about my own scholarly output. I want my work to circulate, and one of the benefits of Open Access is that your work circulates more quickly as well as more widely than traditional avenues. For me, I want my work to be read, I want people to cite my work, and I want people to engage and comment on it. Those are reasons for me, all else being equal, to look for Open Access venues for my scholarship.

I have a peer-reviewed essay published in Southern Spaces from a few years ago, and it’s gotten great readership. I know there are other scholars working in the area where I publish now, and they are aware of the essay. Hopefully, they will build on it and tell me where I have it wrong.

In the fields I’m in (American music studies, folklore studies, American and southern studies), there are Open Access journals out there, but they are not necessarily the leading journals in the field. I want to get my stuff out there, but I want to get a job. And I want to get my work published in the places where the people who are doing the kind of work I’m doing will look for it. What I hope happens is that societies, like the Society for American Music or the American Studies Association, realize they have control over how people access the material that their scholarly publications disseminate.

Do they allow you to put a pre-print in an institutional repository?

We’d need to look at the author agreements. I think that one of the great things about having a scholarly communications office in the library is that I know that when I get an opportunity to publish with a venue that’s not fully open, I have great people to advise me on what I can do or at least ask the publisher about doing. I fully intend to do that. I want to send things where it makes the most sense for me professionally and then try to achieve what I can in terms of pieces of openness that I can negotiate with those venues.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that, for a graduate student, prioritizing open access above other things is sometimes a tough decision to make. We’re in a precarious position in the scholarly world, and we need to do what’s best for our prospects.

You also work in Open Access from the publisher’s side through Southern Spaces. Can you speak a little about the benefits for a journal that publishes Open Access? Is there an advantage versus traditional publishing?

A huge advantage we have at Southern Spaces compared to some other journals in our field is something we’ve already touched on – the availability and circulation of research. We compile reports on the circulation of each author’s publications each year, and we send them to authors. We want them to realize the value of publishing with us. We don’t have any publications that have received fewer than a few hundred views. Our most popular pieces have gotten tens of thousands views. When we look at our readership and compare it to the statistics seen for traditional journals, we’re massively more widely read. Our work shows up in Google searches. It’s very discoverable.

We’re really pleased that not only do we have a wide readership, but we have an engaged readership. That’s appealing to authors because it’s something they can communicate to tenure and promotion committees. Because often what these committees are looking at is not just “Did you publish in a peer-reviewed forum?” but “What impact does your work have?”

There has been discussion that, after you are established and have tenure, you have the luxury of publishing where you want.

Yeah. I look forward to that. If I didn’t have those pressures, I would choose to publish in Open Access forums.


This post originally appeared on the Emory Scholarly Communications Office’s site: 

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