This seventh entry into the year-long FORCE11 Blogs series on scholarly infrastructure is an interview with Lucy Barnes and colleagues.
Open Access Books
Scholarly publishing is probably still most often thought of in terms of journals, which means that books are too often overlooked. So, this month, we hear from Lucy Barnes and a whole team of people collaborating on infrastructures for the open access scholarly monograph. Writing them may often be a solitary pursuit but the resilient infrastructures to support them require the efforts of many. Here, some of the team from COPIM explain their approach of ’scaling small.’
Interview with Lucy Barnes
Interview by Jennifer Kemp
What does ‘infrastructure’ mean to COPIM, in the context of open access book publishing?
Lucy Barnes: Joe Deville talks about this in illuminating ways. He argues we should expand our thinking of infrastructure beyond ‘systems or tools that support us in doing something’ to consider it as situated in particular communities and socio-political logics; creating relationships between people; and always provisional and in the process of being remade. (He discussed this at the OASPA conference in 2019.) For us, Open Access publishing infrastructure should be owned by and responsive to the academic community; it should be openly and transparently governed; and it should enable what Janneke Adema has termed ‘scaling small’ — in other words, it should support the activities of a large number of various types of presses operating at a range of smaller scales, rather than being built to serve only the large commercial players or established university presses. It’s something that should enable ‘disaggregation and plurality’ to quote Martin Eve and Tom Grady, and not demand conformity among those who use it.
How do you describe what you do to people unfamiliar with it?
Lucy Barnes: The simple ‘elevator pitch’ is to say that we’re building community-owned, open systems and socio-technical infrastructures to enable open access book publishing to flourish. But when talking about COPIM to people unfamiliar with it, I always emphasise the collaborative aspect of the project — that it’s about building relationships between researchers, presses, libraries and infrastructure providers in order to create the systems that will strengthen and support Open Access book publishing, from funding to dissemination to archiving and more.
The ‘scaling small’ idea can be folded in here, and it’s illuminating once people understand it: we like to point to the ScholarLed consortium of OA presses, many of whom are part of COPIM, and their portfolio of over 500 books on OAPEN. There are currently 5 presses in ScholarLed, but what if the infrastructure were there to enable the activities of 10, 25, 50 such publishers? People then begin to see what the COPIM project is trying to achieve.
What is the one thing you wish ‘Silicon Valley’ would do or do differently to better support open access book publishing?
Lucy Barnes: In several respects, COPIM’s outlook and philosophy is entirely opposite to that of some of the exemplars of ‘Silicon Valley’. We don’t want to create something that will capture all users — be they publishers, authors, libraries, readers, or whoever — on a single platform or operating system; we want to create infrastructures that are plural and interoperable, and which others can take and build on in whatever way is useful to them. We don’t want to monetise the data of the people who will use this infrastructure, or put what we create to any commercial ends — the systems and platforms we build will be open source and community-owned and governed. This relates to the first answer we gave, that infrastructure is always rooted in particular social and political logics. COPIM has come together because we want to do work that isn’t interesting to ‘Silicon Valley’ — the underlying principles and desired outcomes are different.
Javier Arias, Open Book Publishers: We want to remind people that in a context where data is the global currency, data cannot actually be owned, only gatekept; this is why the software we are developing is built in an API-first manner, where access to those APIs is completely public.
What is the one thing you wish non-technical people understood better about the challenges of open access book publishing?
Tom Grady, COPIM, Birkbeck, University of London: (1) That ‘digital’ is not open access. The two terms/concepts still seem to get mistakenly conflated. (2) That when a book is published OA it is not suddenly immediately findable and accessible in library catalogues —it actually still takes a lot of work in order for those things to happen.
Gareth Cole, Loughborough University Library: That once something is online it’s not there forever unless people do something to keep it there. To be honest, I wish some technical people realised this as well — we can’t automate everything.
Javier Arias: The importance of clean, consistent and structured data. That, unlike humans, computers cannot communicate with each other if the message is not well formulated — and every time a publication is made available you are relying on machines to deliver that message.
Lucy Barnes: That people are working to overcome them! I think there is often a defeatist attitude about OA book publishing, that everything is too difficult or too expensive or not as good as print or… that it just can’t be done, and we have to prop up the existing ways of doing things or else academic publishing will grind to a halt. I find COPIM inspiring because we’re working on making things possible.
Tobias Steiner, COPIM, Coventry University: That ‘open access’ doesn’t necessarily equate with a logic of ‘the author has to pay’, which is an absurd — but still very prevalent — construct to begin with. Basically, the logic behind this reasoning translates to a cook having to pay the restaurant so that it will graciously agree and facilitate the provision of chairs and a table to serve the meal prepared for a customer, while also charging the customer a hefty price. In the book world, this relates to author-facing Book Processing Charges, which are the equivalent of the more-widely feared journal-based author-facing fee of Article Processing Charges (APCs), and which COPIM aims to avoid as much as possible. Also, that not everything happening in the realm of OA publishing as perceived through a STEM- and journal-oriented Open Science lens translates well to the world of the Humanities and Social Sciences, and this includes book publishing. This includes substantial differences in formats — what Dan describes below as a book not simply being a collection of chapters — but is also reflected in a difference of understanding in how research processes are practiced (quantitative vs. qualitative approaches, long-form writing processes, etc.)
How, if at all, does (or should) open infrastructure differ for books vs journals or data, etc.?
Janneke Adema, COPIM, Coventry University: It is important to highlight that the players tend to differ for articles and for books; books in the HSS are often published by university presses and increasingly, as we have highlighted here, by scholar-led presses, and the workflows and infrastructures around their production, dissemination, and consumption are completely different and often separate from those of journals and data. In this sense, specific open infrastructure solutions are needed that are compatible with books and that can be easily adapted by the presses that produce them.
Dan Rudmann, Punctum Books: Open infrastructure for books should be mindful of unique and experimental applications of monographs, and should also bear in mind that a book’s content is not so easily separated from its form. Intentionally developed, open infrastructure has an opportunity to expand the possibilities of books, as we have already seen with projects such as Manifold and Fulcrum. Attempts to shoehorn monographs into open infrastructure built for journals has had mixed results. For example, we see sometimes the breaking apart of book chapters into “articles” which risks the erasure of linkages and exchanges that occur within a longer-form work. Realizing that monographs are a critical form of knowledge dissemination, unique expression, and creative design calls on us to build something more purposeful and nuanced for books.
What other areas of infrastructure does COPIM work most closely with/is most dependent on (& how)?
Tobias Steiner: On an overarching project level, COPIM is committed to work with a variety of open tools and infrastructure initiatives. On the very pragmatic level of tools that we’re using for project management and communications, these include:
- gitea & Hugo: self-hosted git- and Markdown-based publishing workflow for maintaining our website copim.ac.uk;
- Mattermost as an established open source alternative to Slack for chat-based communication between the Work Packages and with external stakeholders in community-governed fora, and with the benefit of full control of one’s data;
- Nextcloud for file sharing purposes to replace commercial services such as Google Drive or Dropbox;
- OnlyOffice integrated with NextCloud as an alternative to the omnipresent Google Docs Suite that is still often perceived as the most versatile solution for easy collaboration;
- BigBlueButton as an open-source video platform with the option to use Breakout Rooms (no recording of these, though), shared notes, chat, etc.
- PubPub as a publishing platform for our documentation site;
- Zotero as the collaborative hub for collecting and curating scholarly output that informs our research;
- Humanities Commons: as social platform and CORE repository (find the groups COPIM is involved in at 1, 2, 3);
- github.com: as a development platform for the Open Metadata management system Thoth.
Explain in some detail the issue you think is the most vexing/interesting/consequential/etc.
Gareth Cole: How do readers access material today, tomorrow but also in 5 years? There might be different dissemination routes and different means (machine and human). Also, readers have to know that the material is there in the first place. Without good visibility across multiple platforms, the book will not be discovered and, thus, may not be known about by people who might want to read it. And these systems need to work across, e.g., multiple languages.
Javier Arias: We have seen a rise in the number of tools and platforms made available to the public, but there are only two types that will survive: those that are owned and marketed by big commercial players, and those that implement open standards and expose their data publicly to enable further expansion by a wider community. We need to make sure that the scholarly community understands the importance of, and relies on, the latter.
Janneke Adema: Finding more support for community-controlled infrastructures for the production of open access books. To achieve this it is crucial that publishing (including publishing infrastructure) is seen as an integral part of research, something scholars and / or our public institutions (libraries, universities) can control, instead of it being outsourced, as is predominantly the case now—even though scholars end up doing most of the editing and reviewing work for free or for very little compensation. To do this we need a wider acknowledgement within academia that publishing is an inherent part of research and something we want to support as part of the research process (providing dedicated resources, funding, and time to do so).
In a perfect world, how would open access book publishing be funded and governed?
Janneke Adema: We are currently exploring community-led governance models for the infrastructures that COPIM will create. What is important here is to determine who our community is or will be, and how we can make sure we engage an inclusive community. At the same time our governance will need to reflect the values we stand for around access, openness, diversity, equity, and inalienability. In this respect, networks such as the Open and Collaborative Development Network are thinking about how a more ethical approach to inclusive knowledge infrastructures not only involves ‘the tools, protocols and platforms that need to be in place in order to advance collaborative research production, but also considers socio-technical mechanisms that could deliberately allow for multiple forms of participation amongst a diverse set of actors, and actively seeks to redress power relations within a given context’ (Chen et al., 2018, pp. 11–12; Okune et al., 2019).
Lucy Barnes: In terms of funding, we want to see a future in which the BPC has no place. Flipping the cost of disseminating research from the reader to the author does nothing to solve problems of access and inclusion; it simply moves those barriers. Since you’ve asked about a perfect world, it would be great to see a thriving system of consortial library funding for Open Access publishing, such that libraries aren’t paying to keep research behind paywalls (a perverse consequence of the profitability of the closed-access system) but to make it openly available.
What are your favorite blogs, conferences, Twitter accounts, etc. to keep up on open access book publishing?
Lucy Barnes: The Open Access Books Network is a great initiative to keep up to speed with OA-books-related issues (although, full disclosure, I am one of the people leading it!) Its hub is a Humanities Commons group that anyone is welcome to join (a place to have conversations and share events, readings, and blog posts related to OA books) and there’s a Twitter account (@oabooksnetwork) sharing news from the OA books world and updates about the OABN. We’ve also just started running a series of events called ‘boOkmArks: Open Conversations about Open Access Books’, in which we interview people involved in current OA books initiatives. Now I’ve plugged that(!) other great Twitter accounts are @oa_dog, a newshound who sniffs out the latest news in Open Access, as well as @oatp, the Twitter home of the Open Access Tracking Project run by Peter Suber. In terms of events — the recent OASPA annual conference was a brilliant digital gathering, and in May of this year the Open Publishing Fest (co-organised by Dan Rudmann) was a ray of light during the first difficult months of lockdown (and there’s an extensive archive to browse). Also a quick shoutout to the Radical Open Access Collective, a community of scholar-led, not-for-profit presses, journals and other open access projects.
Favorite topical little-known fact or unsung hero?
Lucy Barnes: I think librarians belong here — their praises can’t be sung enough! Library funding is crucial for so many important Open Access initiatives, and librarians are often champions and advocates for Open Access within their institutions. As people invested in getting information and research to people who need it, they’re almost the human embodiment of the social and technical aspects of infrastructure that we’ve been talking about in this interview! If we were to single out just one — Demmy Verbeke, who is on our Advisory Board, is a perfect example of a librarian who champions value-led Open Access at his institution and beyond.
What question do you wish we asked but didn’t and why?
Gareth Cole: “How can the project help make research accessible to all?” Why — because “open” should be a first and necessary step in the dissemination of research. If research isn’t accessible to all then we are not doing “research” correctly.
More Information: Lucy Barnes & Contributors
Lucy Barnes is Editor and Outreach Coordinator at Open Book Publishers, a leading independent Open Access book publisher. She does outreach work for the COPIM (Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs) project and for the ScholarLed consortium. She is currently developing the Open Access Books Network (oabooksnetwork.org) in collaboration with OAPEN, OPERAS and Sparc Europe, and she is on the Editorial Advisory Board for the OAPEN Open Access Books Toolkit. You can find her on Twitter @alittleroad.
Other COPIM contributors to this interview were:
- Gareth Cole, Research Data Manager at Loughborough University Library
- Tom Grady, COPIM Scholarly Publishing Outreach Officer at Birkbeck, University of London
- Dan Rudmann, Associate Director at Punctum Books
- Tobias Steiner, COPIM Project Manager at Coventry University
- Janneke Adema, COPIM Co-PI and Assistant Professor at Coventry University
- Javier Arias, Software Engineer at Open Book Publishers
More Information: COPIM
COPIM (Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs) is an international partnership of researchers, universities, librarians, open access book publishers and infrastructure providers. It is building community-owned, open systems and infrastructures to enable open access book publishing to flourish.
Open access book publishing stands at a crossroads: one avenue leads to the monopolisation of open access by large commercial publishers and for-profit intermediaries, with infrastructures and funding systems set up to serve those businesses and their approaches; the other opens up a more diverse, scholar-led, community-owned, and not-for-profit publishing ecosystem that enables smaller and more community-focused presses to thrive and multiply.
COPIM is a project dedicated towards supporting these second sets of possibility. It is guided by the principle that publicly-funded research must be openly available to a global readership and a global authorship, without technical or economic barriers. It therefore aims to move away from a model that prioritises the working practices and interests of large-scale, commercial publishers and service operations, to a more horizontal, cooperative, and knowledge-sharing approach, governed by the research community and open for widespread participation by scholar-led and non-profit publishers. We call this ‘scaling small’.