Open access in social sciences and humanities: a librarian perspective from Germany

Librarian Ralf Depping, from the University of Cologne, talks to us about his thoughts on OA in SSH

We are responsible for the financing of open access publications, and the amount of these is steadily increasing

– Ralf Depping
Image of Ralf Depping with circular purple frame outline provided for the open access in social sciences and humanities interview.

Ralf Depping, Librarian, University of Cologne, Germany

Please introduce us to your SSH department at the University of Cologne

  • The University of Cologne (UzK) is one of the greatest universities in Germany with a student body of around 50,000. So, as you can imagine, we carry out research and teaching in many different fields.

    More than 9,000 students study social sciences subjects, and we have over 13,000 students in the humanities. There are courses for all academic degrees: bachelors, masters, doctoral, and post-doctoral. This means that the university library supports many different kinds of users, from undergraduates writing their first essay or dissertation, to academics publishing research papers and books.

Hanging ceiling lamp overlooking a bookcase full of books.

How does the library increase collaboration and cross-disciplinary relationships?

  • The library offers a huge number of services for publication and research, and even the core services support collaboration in all sorts of ways. Like many universities, we offer advice on all questions of academic publication and research data management, and this allows researchers to come to us with any question about their research. This personalized approach is important, given the breadth of research carried out at UzK.

    The library also offers repositories for publications and research data; open journal systems; hosting of scientific journals; digitization of research materials; and long-term preservation. And now, we are responsible for the financing of open-access-publications, and the amount of these is steadily increasing over time.

Can you share examples of cross-disciplinary projects happening within your institution?

  • There are some very important cross-disciplinary research activities in the UzK in the field of humanities and social sciences…

    • Established in 2014, our Global South Studies Centre researches social, economic, political, and cultural change across countries of the Global South. It covers disciplines including geography, social and cultural anthropology, history, sociolinguistics, Latin American history, and romance philology.

    • Prominence in Language is a collaborative research centre that brings together more than sixty researchers into an interdisciplinary team, aiming to provide a comprehensive characterization of prominence in language and contribute to a better understanding of language as a system between communication and cognition.

    • Part of the German Excellence Strategy ECONtribute: Markets & Public Policy, is a joint initiative of the Universities of Cologne and Bonn. It promotes two-way knowledge exchange between researchers and policymakers around the analysis of markets and public policy and includes researchers from economics and neighbouring disciplines (management, psychology, political science, and law). These cover many interdisciplinary areas such as digitalization, global financial crises, rising inequality, and political polarization.

    • The Centre for Data and Simulation Science brings together natural scientists with data specialists to explore the issues around big data, and the Cologne Centre for eHumanities (CCeH) brings together competencies in digital humanities.

    • So, as you can see, the library is supporting a large array of projects and research in many different fields and cross-disciplinary research topics. This breadth of topics is why it is important to offer a personalised approach to best support our researchers.

    Pair of hands holding out a wire of light

    Do you think OA agreements can help support OA publishing across all subjects?

    • One of the library’s roles is to support open access publishing, and we find that the willingness of scientists to publish open access varies greatly depending on the discipline. The offers of open access funding can provide support in cases where there is a general willingness to publish open access, but they cannot overcome the reluctance of some academics towards open access that can still be perceived in some cases. So, things are very much still in a process of change.

    What are transformative OA agreements?

    Libraries and publishers make transformative agreements (TAs) to cut the cost of article publishing charges (APCs) for researchers. These agreements allow open access to a range of research as well as allowing researchers to continue reading subscription content.

    Find out more...