ACLS today announced its inaugural ACLS Open Access Book Prize for authors and Arcadia Open Access Publishing Award for publishers at the organization’s Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. ACLS is launching these prizes to expand free and open access to scholarly books in the humanities – removing obstacles to ensure that students, instructors, librarians, and anyone in the world can access important research and information on literature, history, music, art, and other related fields. The awards are made possible by a generous grant from Arcadia.

Expanding access to high-quality academic research books that focus on the human experience – past, present, and future – can help democratize and improve education. Open access publishing brings scholarly material to all people regardless of race, gender, or class, including teachers and students who cannot afford to purchase books and do not have access to major research libraries. This is especially important as the rising costs of education and expansion of student debt has caused society to lose faith in higher education.

Open access books are freely available online to anyone, anywhere in the world. While teachers, scholars, and students are the main users, an ongoing survey conducted since 2020 by the University of Michigan Press shows that open access books have a varied readership. Respondents to the survey report using open access books to find reliable information for their professional development, community engagement, and understanding of world events. As one reader notes, “I am interested in learning about the lives of others. There can be no equity without understanding. Books are one way of learning without contributing to the burden of others.”

Dr. Alondra Nelson, who published the influential White House memo “Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research” last year as Deputy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, joined ACLS in announcing the new prizes at the organization’s Annual Meeting.

“Open access books allow us to imagine a world of diverse ideas and inclusive public discourse, especially at a time when books educating the public on those very topics are being banned,” said Dr. Nelson. “We can imagine a future of expanded access to scholarship for policymakers, activists, advocates, journalists, legislators, teachers, and students at under-funded institutions, and the public at large. With the ACLS Open Access Book Prize and Arcadia Open Access Publishing Award, we have taken a bold step on this future path toward encouraging the production and distribution of knowledge for the public good.”

“We are excited to offer such a significant open access honor, especially in the humanities and interpretive social sciences, whose insights are of interest to so many people around the world,” said ACLS President Joy Connolly. “This prize and award join the growing movement to inspire more authors and publishers to publish open access books and help change the way we circulate scholarship, which improves our understanding of one another, builds bridges across differences, and stimulates our imaginations.”

In addition to expanding access to information for educational equity, open access publishing contributes to the public good by helping to combat rampant online misinformation, particularly among artificial intelligence tools. With open access publishing, large language models can more easily find carefully researched, vetted, and peer-reviewed content.

In its initial competition, the first-of-its-kind $20,000 ACLS Open Access Book Prize, among the largest for scholarly books, will be awarded to two authors of open access monographs published between 2017 and 2022. The publishers of the winning titles will receive the Arcadia Open Access Publishing Award in the amount of $30,000 to support forthcoming books that would not otherwise be published open access.

Arcadia is a charitable foundation that works to protect nature, preserve cultural heritage and promote open access to knowledge. Since 2002 Arcadia has awarded more than $1 billion to organizations around the world.