The year 2013 is turning into a banner one for support for open access to research and data that are funded by federal dollars – our tax dollars. Strong evidence of this is the spate of recent communications from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)including this one, calling for “published results of federally funded research” to be made “freely available to the public within one year of publication and requiring researchers to better account for and manage the digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research.”

While it may seem as if science research is getting all the glory, consider this recent development. Last week, at a planning meeting that focused on scholarly publications and featured brief comments from figures representing the sciences, social sciences, and the humanities, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communications at the Modern Language Association (MLA), delivered a powerful statement. Briefly tracing the trajectory of scholarly communications, from scholarly societies as their genesis, to scholarly journals as their chief platform for sharing knowledge, to the Web as the most game-changing environment for scholarly communications yet, Fitzpatrick laid bare the formidable challenges infusing scholarly publishing today. She closed with a call for the humanities to have a more public voice, using the example of the MLA as a scholarly organization evolving toward “a set of new professional practices and standards for such open, publicly accessible communication – new modes of editing, new forms of peer review.”

With the goal of creating the “broadest possible public understanding of the importance of such work for our collective future,” Fitzpatrick has effectively positioned the MLA as a game changer for scholarly societies in the humanities. She explicitly voiced the MLA’s support for the NEH in the latter’s efforts to help realize the OSTP’s “public access directive.” From this vantage point especially, the humanities continue to be a bold, new world.

Note: You can view Fitzpatrick giving her statement at this site. (To get to her speech directly, just scroll down to her name, underneath the streaming video.)

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