Open Access to Bibliodiversity

Issues surrounding open digital publishing infrastructures in the humanities and social sciences 

In the era of the cloud, software as a service (SAS), big data and global digital giants, the debate surrounding European initiatives on digital research infrastructures seems unavoidable[2]. Awareness of this issue dates back to 2006… and was American-led.[3] Since then, European actors have also woken up to the issue, in particular thanks to the ESFRI roadmap,[4] which put digital technology on the agenda. In terms of the humanities and social sciences (HSS), it is apparent that the resources mobilised are modest, and disproportionate to the academic stakes. In this respect, the Strategy Report on Research Infrastructures (2010) is particularly enlightening. If we take the construction costs of European ESFRI infrastructures in all disciplines, we find that the humanities and social sciences represent only 1% of this cost.[5] And yet, the stakes – of constructing, mobilising, reusing, interconnecting, conserving, disseminating and developing data, results and publications in the HSS – are high,[6] both from an academic point of view (exploiting digital technology to enhance the cumulative nature of results) and a societal one. It is no coincidence that H2020 points to culture as playing a structural role in Europe’s development.

Construction costs of European ESFRI infrastructures in all disciplines (2010).

Construction costs of European ESFRI infrastructures in all disciplines (2010). CC BY Marin Dacos, 2014.

Bibliodiversity v. monoculture

Let’s pause and consider what is specific about Europe compared to other economically developed continents. One thing to emphasise is its cultural and linguistic diversity, summed up in a remark attributed to Umberto Eco: “The language of Europe is translation.”[7] If this linguistic diversity impedes academic communication between neighbouring countries, it is ultimately a historic opportunity that assures Europe’s distinctiveness. The European continent is a condensed version of global cultural diversity… that is to say, the diversity of the Web itself. The World Wide Web created by Tim Berners-Lee is not – as some might think – an anglophone expanse. Linguistic diversity has become a characteristic of the ever-expanding Web.[8]

Taking this principle further, the International Alliance of Independent Publishers advocates cultivating and reinforcing what is known as bibliodiversity.[9] Let’s briefly define bibliodiversity as the diversity of the publishing and cultural sectors, a notion akin to that of biodiversity in biology. In culture as in ecology, diversity is a source of ecosystems’ creativity and robustness. Bibliodiversity can be contrasted with monoculture, a term which, in French, applies to both the cultural and agricultural sectors. Bibliodiversity concentrates the heuristic potential of the diversity of languages and cultures. It does not entail a desire to construct a tower of Babel in which peoples, and more particularly researchers, are unable to communicate among themselves. Bibliodiversity could sit very easily with the use of a common spoken language, English as it happens, or more exactly Globish, that lingua franca that proves perfectly conducive to communicating ideas, but perhaps less so to thinking in a language other than one’s mother tongue.[10]

“Core journals disease”

In academia, bibliodiversity corresponds to a diversity of languages, a diversity of disciplines, a diversity of types of publication, and a diversity of publishing actors. It runs counter to a certain image of the academic sector, one that is almost exclusively monolingual (dominated by English); focused on a few disciplines (with investment concentrated on science, technology and medicine); biased in favour of one type of publication, the article (at the expense of the book, nonetheless paramount in the humanities and social sciences, and of new publishing forms that are emerging with the Web); and prone to putting its eggs in a few rare baskets, those publishing oligopolies we all know and which impose their diktats on libraries.[11] Let’s not mince our words: a monoculture centred on a single impact factor[12] flies in the face of bibliodiversity. If we are not careful, it will seriously impoverish academic endeavour and disciplinary diversity.

According to the Web of Science, the HSS do not exist

A brief look at Thomson Reuters’s Web of Science (WOS) confirms this hypothesis. If Thomson Reuters is to be believed, the WOS is a major reference, or “The world’s most trusted citation index”, notably because it includes the crème de la crème of worldwide academic literature (“covering the leading scholarly literature”). Jean-Claude Guédon, fifteen years ago, was already at pains to point out the sterilising nature of the notion of the “core journal”.[13] Let’s take a look, in 2014, at the situation of the francophone humanities and social sciences, the sector I know best. In 2013, the Web of Science included the film magazine Positif, which can be bought in newsagents and offers in-depth reporting on cinematic news, but which is in no way whatsoever an academic publication. Similarly, the WOS indexes Historia, a popular history magazine that is sold in railway stations and is a favourite of my thirteen-year-old son, but which publishes no research articles. Unfortunately, these are not isolated examples. On the contrary, 99% of France’s thousand most preeminent journals are entirely absent from the WOS, with a few (arbitrary) exceptions. Annales, a journal founded by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre in 1929, and which gave rise to the eponymous and internationally renowned Annales School,[14] is entirely overlooked by the WOS. The same goes for Études photographiques, an international reference in its field. I could go on listing these flagrant oversights. And yet, it is the WOS that presides when it comes to defining the impact factor.

"Covering the leading scholarly litterature"

« Covering the leading scholarly litterature »

The slogan “Covering the leading scholarly literature” is therefore bogus. This is not for want of requesting, politely and repeatedly, that Thomson add France’s leading journals to its index. In its dealings with non-English speakers, the WOS’s attitude smacks of arrogance, scorn and – some would claim – geographical, linguistic and disciplinary protectionism.

Is Historia a top level french research journal ?

Is Historia a top level french research journal ? 


Les Annales are not listed in WOS...

Les Annales are not listed in WOS…

The core of the HSS is thus absent from the WOS. Consequently, research organisations that, whether by resignation, inertia or lack of resources, have grown accustomed to using the impact factor as a fundamental – if not unique – evaluative mechanism, have become inclined to think that the humanities and social sciences do not exist. (I won’t dwell here on the other problem raised by the impact factor,[15] i.e. the definition of an indicator measuring journal impact, which is transferred by an artificial transitivity to the article, and then to the author of the article.) This problem has been identified and is widely recognised.

Will the humanities and social sciences opt for public appeal?

It is difficult to say whether the lack of HSS publications in the WOS explains the marginality of humanities and social-science budgets in European infrastructures, or whether it is lack of investment over the last few decades that explains the inability of the HSS to break the glass ceiling that is the academic sector’s all-powerful indicator.

The necessary social turn

The humanities and social sciences have doubtless not understood the magnitude of the social turn taken by research funding, something other disciplines fully grasped a long time ago. The latter have been able to make extremely abstract questions about the infinitely small or the infinitely large both appealing and more or less comprehensible. The dazzling examples that are NASA and CERN, both of which have made the public aware of and interested in their research, should raise questions about the manner in which the humanities and social sciences position themselves with regards to social issues, and about the potential import of their research for our contemporaries. It seems far easier to explain the importance of  studying the workings of societies involved in the “Arab spring”,[16] social attitudes to ageing,[17]  processes of social exclusion,[18] and the sociohistorical processes governing the creation and evolution of languages,[19] than it is to explain the Higgs boson… And yet, there remains a lingering modesty, or sometimes even snobbery, within the humanities and social sciences, preventing them from reaching out to the public or taking the time to explain their research and results beyond a select circle of colleagues.

The humanities and social sciences are a global success (but they don’t always know it)

In reality, whole swathes of the humanities and social sciences have stepped out of their ivory tower and successfully presented their research to the general public. The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), and Hypotheses, an platform for research blogs,[20] demonstrate that it is possible to reach out to the public – not only in English, but in a multilingual environment too.

Digital public library of America homepage

Digital public library of America homepage


Hypotheses homepage

Hypotheses homepage

The homepages of the DPLA and Hypotheses. Both make a special effort to editorialise content, i.e. by showcasing a handful of items selected from among thousands of resources, and enhancing content through eyecatching titles, design and images.

Hervé Théry’s maps showing the geographic distribution of content disseminated on the France-based OpenEdition portal – which still includes a majority of content in French – indicate that its readership is not limited to France or even to the French-speaking world. A similar trend would probably emerge if we studied the geographical location of readers of Redalyc,[21] Scielo,[22] or Persée.[23] Webometrics’s ranking of academic portals also points to the significance of humanities and social-science portals.[24]

OpenEdition  visits from the World - 2013

OpenEdition visits from the World – 2013


OpenEdition visits from Europe in 2013

OpenEdition visits from Europe in 2013


In absolute terms, the number of visits and visitors to the major humanities and social-science portals demonstrates that this kind of content is of interest far beyond the confines of academia. OpenEdition’s consolidated figures (minus the “noise” of search engine bots) indicate massive and rapidly rising consultation rates. The 37.5 million visits per year to OpenEdition correspond to 20 million unique visitors, no doubt researchers, lecturers and students, but also journalists, professionals, pupils and citizens… Who said that the humanities and social sciences appeal only to that endangered species: the cloistered Sorbonne scholar?

OpenEdition. Number of annual visits by the million

OpenEdition. Number of annual visits by the million 

Attenuating the “Matthew effect” through open access

It’s up to us, and us alone, to convince university, national and European authorities that publishing is at the very heart of the relationship between HSS research and society. Publishing is the missing link in the chain, affected by the decades-long drop in book sales and yet still very much alive thanks to the Web in general and open access in particular. To maximise the efficiency of research funding, it is clear that research results must be disseminated in open access. If that raises obvious questions in terms of funding mechanisms for digital publishing, the gain in terms of impact is such that the question now is not whether we should commit to open access, or even when, but how, and how quickly.[25]

Open access is both a way to reach out to a wider public and a historic opportunity to end the “Matthew effect”,[26] a process by which the strongest get stronger and the weak weaker. In economics, measures are taken to combat this process, which is not conducive to balanced competition. That is the rationale for the existence of antitrust laws. In academia, open access can be seen as an opportunity to foster a new geographical balance of power and the emergence of new actors. Are not the top five worldwide portals, according to Webometric’s Ranking Web of Repositories, based outside Anglo-America? In rank order, they are are Brazil (Scielo), Spain (Dialnet), France (HAL), Scandinavia (DiVA) and France ( It is highly likely that historically powerful actors, overrepresented in the WOS and underrepresented in the world of open access, will follow suit and establish a foothold within this new competition. Europe would be wise to wake up to the fact that this gives it important leverage with which to promote its research. And that it must stop prevaricating, because the window of opportunity – during which it can position itself for the long term – will not last forever.

Top Portals by Webometrics - Ranking Web of Repositories

Top Portals by Webometrics – Ranking Web of Repositories

Being convincing

Open access is not enough to cultivate a stronger relationship between science and society. We must strive to make our disciplines appealing and comprehensible. That does not mean simplifying and impoverishing our research by stripping it of its technical sophistication, vocabulary and scientific rigour. We can, however, take inspiration from highly abstract and technical disciplines such as those pursued at NASA and CERN, both of which have adopted a clear and deep-rooted policy commitment to communicating their results to the public. This takes careful planning.

Adopting a similar policy in the HSS will require genuine European infrastructures for digital publishing, ones that exploit the already sizeable volume of content available, something which in itself acts as a gateway to better understanding the complexity of the world we live in. This conclusion simply extends the Manifesto for the Digital Humanities (2010), which called for the creation of digital infrastructures (“We call for the creation of scalable digital infrastructures responding to real needs. These digital infrastructures will be built iteratively, based upon methods and approaches that prove successful in research communities.”[27]).

Digital humanities manifesto. In various languages.

Digital humanities manifesto. In various languages.

The Manifesto for the Digital Humanities (2010), written at THATCamp Paris, has been translated into many languages.

Public investments in this area are a prerequisite, but they are not the whole story. We must immediately begin improving access to – and public understanding and perception of – the contribution made by the humanities and social sciences. In this area, solutions abound,[28] and vary depending on the objects of study, target publics and timescales involved. Geographic information systems and cartography are assets allowing us to produce new synthetic and easily digestible knowledge forms. The digital humanities as a whole have been experimenting for a few years now with more accessible visualisation and writing tools. Geographers have shown the way by developing an expertise in cartographic language. More generally, content editorialisation will be at the heart of each and every one of these strategies, allowing information to transcend disciplinary boundaries and ensuring that, in the HSS, the relationship between science and society is more like a marriage than a divorce.[29]

[1] CNRS, Aix-Marseille University, EHESS, Avignon University, CLEO UMS 3287, 13284 Marseille, France.

[2] This text has been translated from the French by Helen Tomlinson.

[3] Our Cultural Commonwealth. The Report of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences. New York: American Council of Learned Societies, 2006, 51 p.

[4] European Roadmap for Research Infrastructures. Report 2006. Luxemburg: European Commission, 2006.

[5] Strategy Report on Research Infrastructures – Roadmap 2010. Luxemburg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2011.

[6] For more information, see Dacos, Marin. “Cyberclio. Vers une Cyberinfrastructure au cœur de la discipline historique”. In L’histoire contemporaine à l’ère numérique / Contemporary History in the Digital Age, Clavert, Frédéric and Noiret, Serge (ed.), 29‑43. Brussels, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien: Peter Lang, 2013.

[8] Le Crosnier, Hervé, and Vannini, Laurent (ed.), “Net.lang. Réussir le cyber-espace multilingue”. 477. Caen: C&F éditions, s. d. Le Crosnier, Hervé, et Vannini, Laurent, (ed.), “Net.lang. Towards the Multilingual Cyberspace”. 477. Caen: C&F éditions, s. d.

[10] Dacos, Marin. “La stratégie du Sauna finlandais. Les frontières de Digital Humanities. Essai de géographie politique d’une communauté scientifique”, May 2013, 13.

[12] Campbell P (2008), “Escape from the impact factor”. Ethics Sci Environ Polit 8:5-7. doi:10.3354/esep00078

[13] Guédon, Jean-Claude. “In Oldenburg’s Long Shadow: Librarians, Research Scientists, Publishers, and the Control… ”. In ARL membership meeting proceedings. Toronto: Association of Research Libraries, 2001.

[14] Burguière André, L’École des Annales. Une histoire intellectuelle, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2006. Burke Peter, The French Historical Revolution. The Annales School 1929-89, Polity Press, Key Contemporary Thinkers, Stanford University Press, March 1991. (ISBN 0-8047-1837-7). Dosse François, L’Histoire en miettes: des Annales à la « nouvelle histoire », La Découverte, 1987.

[16] Éric Gobe, “Un printemps arabe ?”, L’Année du Maghreb [Online], VIII | 2012, uploaded on 9 October 2012, consulted on 22 March 2014. URL:; DOI: 10.4000/anneemaghreb.1370

[17] Thibauld Moulaert and Jean-Philippe Viriot Durandal, “De la notion au référentiel international de politique publique. Le savant, l’expert et le politique dans la construction du vieillissement actif”, Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques [Online], 44-1 | 2013, uploaded on 20 September 2013, consulted on 22 Mars 2014. URL:; DOI: 10.4000/rsa.904. Ingrid Voléry and Monique Legrand, “L’autonomie au grand-âge: corporéisation du vieillissement et distinctions de sexe”, SociologieS [Online], Dossiers, Genre et vieillissement, uploaded on 15 November 2012, consulted on 22 Mars 2014. URL:

[18] Michel Messu, “Les politiques publiques de lutte contre la pauvreté. Variation sur l’approche française”, Forum Sociológico [Online], 20 | 2010, uploaded on 5 September 2012, consulted on 22 March 2014. URL:; DOI: 10.4000/sociologico.152

[19] Hombert, Jean-Marie. Aux origines des langues et du langage. Paris: Fayard, 2005.

[20] Disclaimer. I am the director of the Centre for Open Electronic Publishing, which develops the OpenEdition portal, itself comprising four platforms (including Hypotheses). The other three platforms are, Calenda and OpenEdition Books.

[25] See Suber, Peter. Open Access. MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2012. Swan, Alma. Policy guidelines for the development and promotion of open access. Paris: UNESCO, 2012. Willinsky, John. The access principle: the case for open access to research and scholarship. Cambridge  Mass.: MIT Press, 2006. Bailey, Jr., Charles W., 2010. Transforming Scholarly Publishing through Open Access: A Bibliography. Digital Scholarship.

[26] Robert K. Merton, “The Matthew Effet”,Science, vol. 159, no 3810, 1968, pp. 56-63. See also Margaret W. Rossiter, “L’effet Matthieu Mathilda en sciences”, Les cahiers du CEDREF [Online], 11 | 2003, uploaded 16 Feburary 2010, consulted 22 March 2014. URL:

[28] See for example,

[29] See Marin Dacos, “Vers des médias numériques en sciences humaines et sociales: une contribution à l’épanouissement de la place des sciences humaines et sociales dans les sociétés contemporaines”, Tracés. Revue de Sciences humaines [Online], #12 | 2012, uploaded 29 October 2014, consulted on 22 March 2014. URL:; DOI: 10.4000/traces.5534.

Marin Dacos

Director of OpenEdition Directeur d'OpenEdition

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Marin Dacos

Director of OpenEdition Directeur d'OpenEdition

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