On the Permanence of Open Access, by Ed Folsom

Today’s Open Access Week guest post comes from Ed Folsom, Professor in the English department at the University of Iowa. He is the co-Editor of the Walt Whitman Archive, “an electronic research and teaching tool that sets out to make Whitman’s vast work, for the first time, easily and conveniently accessible to scholars, students, and general readers.” It is published by the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln under a Creative Commons License. Learn more here about open access and Open Access Week at the University of Iowa.

On the Permanence of Open Access

Ed Folsom

Why even talk about Open Access at this point? It is here to stay, has grown tenfold in the past decade, and is so obviously the way scholarship will be distributed and read in the future that all the reservations about it simply continue to dissolve as the months roll by. Journals that remain print only are becoming among the least read, and journals that are Open Access watch their readership increase exponentially. The concerns that continue to get expressed are almost all financial in nature, but online finances are changing as quickly as the technology: things have had a way of sorting themselves out remarkably well in a very short period of time. What seemed like major drawbacks five years ago are almost forgotten today. Whatever vestiges remain of the valuing of print and paper over online publication are quickly disappearing, too, as more and more universities are rewriting tenure and promotion guidelines to reward online scholarship. As fewer and fewer of us pick up print copies of journals and turn instead to the electronic copies of journals, we are producing a scholarly world only dimly anticipated a decade ago, a world where particular articles become the product sought (rather than complete issues of journals). Open Access allows articles in different journals to promptly engage each other, as social networks become scholarly networks, passing the most exciting new scholarship on via email, Twitter, Facebook. It may not be a great time to be looking for a job in the humanities, but it’s an amazing time to be a scholar of the humanities


Ed Folsom is Roy J. Carver Professor of English at the University of Iowa. His teaching and research have focused on nineteenth- and twentieth-century American poetry and culture, and he is particularly interested in the ways American poets have talked back to Walt Whitman over the years, and how Whitman tapped into American culture in surprising ways to construct a radical new kind of writing. In addition to running the Walt Whitman Archive, he has published many articles and books on Whitman’s relationship to art, culture, and technology. These include Walt Whitman: The Measure of His Song (Holy Cow! Press), Re-Scripting Walt Whitman: An Introduction to His Life and Work (Wiley-Blackwell), and Walt Whitman’s Native Representations (Cambridge University Press).