Concerned that the vast majority of humanities books are not available to the general public, the National Endowment for the Humanities has partnered with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create the Humanities Open Book Program.
This unique program makes grants to academic presses and other institutions that publish books in the humanities for the purpose of digitizing out-of-print books and making them freely available.
The University of Arizona is the recipient of a $73,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, which will support the UA Press' Open Arizona Initiative in digitizing two dozen out-of-print books that highlight the experiences of indigenous and Latino groups and individuals in the Southwest.
The books were chosen to build on the UA Press' long history of publishing books that preserve the region's history and culture, and will include works touching on topics such as the impact of government policy on indigenous communities and the experiences of Mexican-American communities throughout the 20th century. Funding from the grant will not only underwrite high-quality digitization but also support creation of a custom website to make the books easy to find and download.
"We are really seeking to take these works and re-engage them into the critical and topical conversations in our community," said Kathryn Conrad, director of the UA Press. "The Press has been publishing about the diverse cultures of the region since our founding in 1959. This project is just a continuation of work we have been committed to, and known for, as long as we have been publishing."
The Press will pursue a number of innovative strategies to bring the Open Arizona books to the attention of a wide range of readers. One important audience will be instructors. Distributing these books with a Creative Commons license allows teachers to assign readings without concern for students' ability to afford them, thereby promoting greater use of the books in academic settings.
Another important audience is researchers. To pique the interest of the research community, the Press will commission companion essays to provide contemporary context for each text. Online distribution will include e-book sites such as Reading Arizona, as well as the website interface option, to ensure that members of the general public who don't have access to e-readers can nevertheless read the books on a desktop computer in a public library.
Public events also are being planned to promote use of the books and engage in community dialogue around race and ethnicity in the Southwest.
"With issues like immigration and diversity in today's news headlines, especially along the Southwest border, I can think of no better time to make this important scholarship widely and freely available to the public," said Shan Sutton, dean of UA Libraries.
"I hope that by promoting a deeper understanding of how our shared history influences our world today, we can be a catalyst for broader recognition of how diverse communities and cultures are a foundation of the American experience."