Path through woods
Photo by Ethan Dow on Unsplash

In 2022 ACLS began to meet with a group of book publishers, librarians, and scholars to help facilitate the development of a subscribe-to-open pilot project called Path to Open. The intention of the pilot is to define and test a community-wide effort that will aggregate a significant number of frontlist monographs from university presses, distribute them for three years on a subscription basis, and then open them to the world at the end of the embargo period. This group has reached out to JSTOR as a collaborator and host for the pilot. The primary goal of the effort is to test and hone a revenue model that is financially sustainable for publishers and libraries while making scholars’ works significantly more accessible.  

Scholars write books and want them to be read. Scholars and others want to read these books. But the established structures through which humanities monographs are published and obtained do not maximize their use, and challenges to the current economic model represent a serious threat to bibliodiversity. Meanwhile, various efforts that have released monographs via open access consistently show that the usage and reach of digital editions increase exponentially when paywalls are removed.  Books that are widely read and cited increase the prestige of the works, with positive effects for both authors and their institutions. Opening scholarship to historically underserved geographies and readers encourages greater equity in the dissemination of knowledge. Path to Open aims to test whether a significant collaboration among university press publishers and the library community, facilitated by JSTOR’s expansive reach, can model a helpful rebalancing of the system with the potential to significantly improve the outcomes for all constituents in the ecosystem.

For more than 100 years, ACLS has supported the work of academic societies and carried out a range of fellowship and re-granting programs. ACLS has sought to support the creation and circulation of knowledge that advances understanding of humanity and human endeavors. James Shulman (ACLS Vice President) and Sarah McKee (Program Manager, Publishing Initiatives) are working with publishers and librarians to design the Path to Open pilot, and they are eager to hear from interested parties across the scholarly community. While books are not (and shouldn’t be) the only mode of disseminating humanistic scholarship, they have long been and will continue to be central to the creation of new knowledge. If the system that fosters new books is constrained, then the capacity to support new areas of scholarship, and particularly to promote historically under-supported fields, will diminish.

For all of these reasons, ACLS sees the support of new models that increase accessibility of scholarship as a key area of institutional change, alongside other such efforts, including The Intention Foundry, The Design Workshop for a New Academy, The Leadership Institute for a New Academy, and the Commission on Fostering and Sustaining Diverse Digital Scholarship.

Making Path to Open available to libraries will begin in early 2023, and we look forward to working with our colleagues across all of the constituencies—publishers, libraries, and scholars—that are committed to humanistic scholarship and the support of a healthy humanities infrastructure.