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Creating resilient publishing infrastructures

A Spotlight on COPIM, the Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs, on organizational adaptation in an ever-shifting publication ecosystem. (One hour with transcript)
Published onMay 30, 2023
Creating resilient publishing infrastructures

In this Spotlight interview, we chat with a few of the folks at COPIM — Janneke Adema, Joe Deville, and Tobias Steiner — about the many work packages and projects that have come out of their organization. This includes, but is not limited to, the Open Book Collective, Experimental Publishing Compendium, Thoth, and their latest project Open Book Futures. Given all these ideas and projects, we talk about what it means to adapt as an organization with shifting funding, all the while “scaling small.”

SUMMARY KEYWORDS: open publishing, book, COPIM, academic, libraries, metadata, packages, funding, scaling small, experimental.

Read the interactive transcript below.


Sarah Gulliford (Kearns) (SG(K)) 00:00

Thank you all for joining me to have a conversation about COPIM for the PubPub Spotlight. Maybe we could just start with a round of introductions just like say your name and what you do with COPIM. We can go in alphabetical order by first name. So Joe, you can go first. Wait, no, Janneke should go first. Oh, my gosh, shoot.

Janneke Adema (JA) 00:34

I'm happy to go first. So yeah, so I'm Janneke. I am an associate professor in digital media at Coventry University. And I've also over the last three years been the co-PI on the COPIM project. And within that, I've been involved in various work packages more in depth, including a work package on governance and one on experimental publishing.

Joe Deville (JD) 01:00

Yeah, my name is Joe Deville. So I'm an academic. I'm a sociologist based at Lancaster University. And within the COPIM project, I've been jointly leading with my colleague Eileen Joy, a work package on thinking about how to develop new revenue models for open access book publishers.

Toby Steiner (TS) 01:19

And hi, I'm Toby Steiner. I have been the project manager on COPIM. Now past tense (feels a bit weird). And yeah, I've been supporting Janneke and Gary, the co-PIs, on a general overarching remit of COPIM and also supporting work package 6, COPIM’s experimental publishing work package.

Work Packages

SG(K) 01:55

You all mentioned WorkPackages. Could you maybe describe a little bit about what those are? And you just said, a version six one. So sounds like there's more in the making?

JA 02:07

This is awful, we do this all the time internally :) No, work packages is a way that we've kind of set up the project. So basically, the project consists of several mini projects, I guess you have that with larger kinds of projects like these with lots of collaborators. So we've divided the project into six kind of main work packages, then in which we list also requirements of our funders. We've had work packages on revenue models, on governance, experimental publishing, preservation, etc, etc. To kind of divide up the work that we've been doing within the COPIM project.

SG(K) 02:45

So how do you choose what those work packages are called, and sort of who works with you to develop them? Are they kind of like guidelines or resources?

JA 02:54

We had to do that already as part of when we did the funding application for this project. They require you to kind of put together a very concise plan already, which includes details on work packages that you're going to work in, the collaborators who will be joining those work packages, what you will be doing within them, and also what the outcomes will be — so it's quite structured in that way already from the outset.

JD 03:15

You can sort of think of them each as their own semi-independent organizational unit. So each work package is working on a particular part of the puzzle of open access publishing. We identified some areas that we thought were really important to develop a sort of more sustainable future for open access book publishing and then effectively had little teams working on each of those each of those areas those are that's kind of what the work packages it's kind of like a team and obviously we meet regularly all together as well to come back together but they’re structurally each an independent little semi-independent entity

SG(K) 04:07

It sounded like you're each on your own project, is that right?

JD 04:12

Yeah, we working on different work packages. Being the PI means [Janneke] has overall responsibility for the project together with Gary Hall, as Toby mentioned.

Each of the Work Packages have more people involved in them. Mine was one of the larger ones, which, as I mentioned, was at one point called revenue models, but that's not a very exciting name. Effectively, the work package ended up creating this new organization called Open Book Collective — I'm sure we're getting on to talking about later on — about how we could develop a new infrastructure, a new platform, a digital platform, actually, and an organization that could deliver new sources of revenue, so money, to smaller and scholar-led Open Access book publishers.

The kind of top line is effectively that we in the project as a whole, but also within our kind of bit of that project, we felt that the kind of existing way open access book publishing was largely funded, wasn't sustainable, wasn't scalable, and wasn't fair. And so we wanted to — and we argue that we’re part of the solution since we're not saying that what we've developed is the solution — aimed at particular kinds of publishers and so on. What we ended up building is the Open Book Collective, I suppose each of the work packages was taking a little part of the problem, and then thought about what solutions or, you know, what they thought needed to happen to change things.

Sustainability and Resilience

SG(K) 06:15

Yeah, I think maybe it is worth getting into a little bit about that, because you're talking about revenue. But I think the bigger idea behind that is to ensure sustainability, right? So how are you thinking about sustainability to create an open book infrastructure, and culture is really within academics communities?

JA 06:42

It's quite a large project, and the amount of people that take part, what we wanted to do is really showcase that we're a bit ambivalent around the use of the word ‘sustainability’, right? Because we're working in the context of open publishing, which has never been a sustainable model. In that sense, there has always been this kind of requirement with moving to digital publishing, and open access publishing, and [assuming that] all of a sudden, this just will turn out to be a sustainable model. We've been trying to work in ways towards resilience, and to find ways that we can make the work that we've already been doing stronger and to support each other in doing that. So this project was, I think, a prime example of doing that. Bringing together these different stakeholders, all with, you know, a big stake in promoting Open Access towards books, and seeing how we can help each other and support each other. So these included like libraries and universities and scholar-led presses. And what we wanted to show is by working together, how we can create all kinds of new ways to become more sustainable.

SG(K) 07:58

And more resilient!

You mentioned libraries, academics, and publishers. What was it like getting these different stakeholders, and facilitating those conversations and getting getting those things off the ground? Is this with the … is this with COPIM? Or is this with the Open Book Collective in particular?

JD 08:22

Both … I'd say both. I mean, I think that the project as a whole, that was the kind of ethos that really underpins the project as a whole, was thinking about ways to work together and in different in different ways, actually. One of the things about the academic landscape is that — and sometimes this may not be entirely sort of visible from the outside — the different parts of, higher education, universities, and the scholarly aspect more broadly don't really talk to each other very much. An academic may talk to publisher about their book, but publishers don't really talk to academics in general about what they're doing. The challenges they're facing and much about university libraries, which include some incredibly knowledgeable, forward thinking individuals and groups. Thinking about the mechanisms of scholarly publishing, that those discussions actually happen often in a quite isolated way, separate from discussions in departments about research metrics and department priorities and so on.

I suppose one of the things that we've argued is that for various different reasons, for political reasons, but also for practical reasons, that is the real benefit to be had by having those conversations, and not just having conversations actually by saying, Okay, we'll start those conversations. But then what did we what can we build? And you know, one of the things that's been so kind of amazing about the COPIM project is that we've had that funding to actually build stuff. It was part of the grant that Janneke and Gary have put together, that we have that fund to actually build things. It's extremely rare, extremely rare within the world of academic life. There’s lots of money for research projects, and but we actually had funds to potentially build infrastructures and ways of working together, which was really quite revolutionary. And of course, this is thanks to those two funders, the Research England Development Fund (with UK Research and Innovation), and Arcadia that provided that funding.

Sarah Kearns 10:18

Is that grant something that you have to re apply for every so often?

JA 10:27

It works as one-off grants in principle, but so what we now applied for with Open Book Futures is kind of like follow-up funding, but it's a separate project. So the first one was for a three-year project, for COPIM, which was then extended for half a year because of the pandemic. And the project that we've just started in — Joe can say more about that too — is Open Book Futures, which is now led by Lancaster University. So that was a separate application, but it is directly connected to, to COPIM, but we can talk about that.

Project Longevity and Shifting Funding

SG(K) 11:03

Yeah, I mean, we could talk about it now. So if your funding is constantly shifting, is that is that like a thing that helps with resiliency? I'm not quite sure what I'm trying to ask, maybe: how do you ensure project longevity, given shifting funding sources?

JD 11:32

No, no, it’s good to be honest about it, right. We have that COPIM grant. So as a grant, it was a three year extended to three and a half years, because of the COVID pandemic, and all the challenges you can probably imagine that might be associated with that, and so on. So we ended up being a three and a half year project, that was that was a sort of time-limited project. Many people on the project have sort of different roles and jobs, either publishers or those working in a university, but a number of colleagues are working just purely on the project, and have been hired for the project, and then, you know, there was a fair likelihood at the end of the project, that some of those colleagues would have to then find another role in a different organization, or whatever it might be. So, you know, we were kind of facing that potential. It's one of the things you would have built would have carried on in different ways.

We then went back to the funders, and put to them a proposal for a follow-up project called Open Book Futures, which is the follow-up to the COPIM project, and which is, in some ways, actually even larger than COPIM. We thought we had a strong case. We put our sort of best face forward to the funders, and yeah, and we're obviously really happy that they, they sort of saw that there was value potentially, in extending our work for another three years. So basically, we now have funding for this project for another three years. So effectively, this project will now run up until the end of April 2026.

JA 13:08

And I think also, I think part of it is that this funding will help us to, you know, again the word sustainability, but it would help us to get there quicker. So it's not like if the funding would have ended that would have been the end of the things that we've created, but it would have taken us so much longer to get there. And we might have lost some really valuable people that we have been working with over the last three years. Having this extra funding now helps us to retain, you know, this talent and the people that, you know, that that have supported us throughout this period, and to really kind of speed up some of the things that that we want to achieve going forward. So it's a really, it's a great gift to have that and to be able to continue this work.

JD 13:53

And I suppose, you know, it's beyond just what we're doing on the project. I think it's been a fantastic project, because often I think we've done some really exciting things and things that will make quite a difference, potentially, in the way that academic work circulates and is engaged with and so on, has funded and so on. My sort of broader hope is that universities and funders and also academic see that that's a really important part of academic work, potentially — getting involved in these kinds of infrastructure and capacity building projects, which is not straightforwardly seen as research. It's not straightforwardly administration, either. It's a kind of sort of third space in some ways, this sort of academic-related work. And I think it's one in terms of publishing and open access and the way that knowledge is disseminated and who can access it and so on and how they can access it. For me, it's important that that kind of funding, also beyond just our project, that kind of funding exists.

COPIM Projects and Futures

SG(K) 14:54

Yeah, so I guess what would you say like the biggest or some of the big sort of highlights or impacts that COPIM and Open Book Collective has had. I guess maybe it’s worth, teasing those apart a little bit and like maybe describing what's in a name. What do those names mean within like the bigger context of academic publishing? And then sort of what that means for the Open Book Futures as well. I guess that's a really big question. So hopefully, all three of you can weigh in on that.


JA 15:31

So, yeah, starting with COPIM, that comes down to that first part of our name, which is “community-led”, so we were really keen on getting this specific community of people together, and strengthening bonds between them to address some of those barriers of around open access book publishing, that we found, and that we came up across as individuals, and to see how we can work on that together. Overall, I think that's one of the main outputs of the project is that we've created this very strong community of people. And from that initial smaller kind of project application, which has a specific kind of strategic partnership, its goals, its set of universities, libraries, presses and infrastructure providers, we've reached out to kind of similar and like-minded projects, and we've kind of collaborated a lot with others that are trying to go and work towards the same goals of open access for books.

Beyond creating that community-led organization network community, we've worked on specific outputs and deliverables that came out of copying some of the main ones that we've listed. And there's many more, I don't want to kind of discriminate, but one would be the Open Book Collective, which Joe has led on, and it's a library consortial funding model for open access books. We've got Opening the Future, which is a model that we've created to kind of allow libraries or other funders to subscribe to backlists of presses so that the front list can become open access, we've created Thoth, which is an open metadata dissemination system. And I'm sure that Toby might be able to say a little bit more about that. And one of the other main outcomes that we've released in a kind of beta version of, the Experimental Publishing Compendium, which is a kind of a toolkit that brings together practices for experimental book publishing. And in addition to that, we've done a lot of work on governance structures for community-led organizations, and on preservation and archiving of complex monographs.

Open Book Futures

JD 18:01

One of the things that is different between COPIM and and this new project, Open Book Futures, is that with COPIM, we effectively started with I was gonna say, a blank sheet of paper, that's obviously not entirely true, we had the grant, and we had the various things that we were committed to doing during the grant. But there was a lot of kind of uncertainty about what we were going to actually build, you know, we had these things that we saw, we thought we knew what the problem was, and we had some ideas of things that we might want to do to address some problems. There's a lot of consultation that needed to happen, a lot of engagements from communities to really understand what they're doing and so on. It was from that consultation that, you know, we built the Experimental Publishing Compendium, and this organization called Open Book Collective, and as Janneke mentioned, its aim is then to find new ways for for libraries — academic libraries — to support publishers, and infrastructure providers directly. Opening the Future, this revenue model, particular for small university presses, and Thoth, which Toby should definitely say a word about which is an organization, an organization and focused on open book metadata. And all of that was within COPIM.

Within Open Book Futures, we actually have these organizations now already existing and these and these websites and working practices, so I suppose for me, the key difference between COPIM and Open Book Futures is that COPIM was like, Okay, how are we going to build how do they address these problems? What do I need to do, to build, to address these problems? The Open Book Futures project is now saying okay, we've got these really exciting new organizations, workflows, practices, and so on, how do we really scale these, how do we make these not just, you know, an interesting kind of platform, but actually something that becomes really pretty central to the ways of working within the academy? So the kind of key differences is Open Book Futures is really accelerating and scaling that work. And COPIM was about putting in place these vital infrastructures. But, yes, Toby, did you want a bit more about Thoth?


TS 20:28

Yeah, I'd be happy to, thanks, Joe. Yeah, Thoth, which basically is like the culmination of different aspects that we've been working on over the last three years as part of COPIM, working with a dedicated subgroup of stakeholders that involved small publishers, as well as tech developers. What we've done with what we originally labeled as an open dissemination system was to tackle the massive barrier, actually, that small presses are facing towards getting their open access books into the larger ecosystem out there. For example, to a small press press like the press that Joe is working in, Mattering Press, to get their books into Google Books, for example, or into ProjectMUSE, or like these other large aggregators. And as it turns out — and a lot of small presses have written and talked about this previously, for example, Open Book Publishers or punctum books or meson press, and Mattering Press — about these challenges they're facing to get into this kind of ecosystem. And they are, like, remaining invisible because of this kind of massive barrier.

With Thoth, the open dissemination system that we started to work on, within COPIM, but will now also continue in Open Book Futures, this is an approach to bring the aspect of open data and similar aspects of open science, basically, into the world of open publishing. So to open up this whole workflow and the processes that are connected to getting this metadata into these kinds of ecosystems to make those truly open.

This hasn't been easy, one must say, there's been lots of work going on behind the scenes also to figuring out how to actually talk to these kinds of providers. For example, with Google Books we've been trying for months and months to get somebody at Google to talk to us about these kinds of issues. And eventually, we managed to, thanks to the persistence and dedication of the people involved. That was also made possible through the funding that we had available through COPIM, because I think in the larger scheme of things, many of the smaller presses would, on their own, just have given up in fighting this kind of fight alone.

What Thoth is now able to facilitate is this kind of dissemination towards the wide variety of networks and platforms out there. This also links to the question of how will open access books remain, or become archived and be preserved for future generations? Especially when talking about smaller publishers, we have this challenge that from an ecosystem point of view, one might say that smaller publishers might be also those publishers that might disappear from the landscape very easily. In some cases, it's just very small ventures from maybe one or two academics that if it so happens, they change universities, for example, and aren't able to continue their publishing activities. They then have to stop producing these outputs and basically the works themselves can disappear over time, which of course is a shame because it's the knowledge that should be made available for generations to come.

To ensure that, Thoth has also been working with archiving and preservation experts, and with another of COPIM’s subgroup, Work Package 7 of COPIM, which has thus integrated archiving and preservation aspects into the larger context of disseminating content. We now understand archiving as just another kind of workflow that is connected to disseminating your publications. To ensure that they are not just pushed out to Google Books, for example, but will also be stored in university repositories for longer-term archiving purposes. And all of that is, of course, also very specialized work that has been happening all the time. With COPIM, I believe we've done a great job to get all of the stakeholders together to sit down and to hash out these details of how to facilitate such a truly open approach to open metadata, open dissemination, and archiving and preservation, all basically in an integrated fashion, and we hope this will make lives easier for those smaller and scholar-led publishers and presses out there, who will hopefully be reaping the benefits of that work that has been happening in COPIM. And will continue to happen, of course, in Open Book Futures going forward.

JD 26:25

Maybe it’s also worth adding what [metadata] is, right, metadata is the kind of thing that you know, as a publisher, this is sort of like your bread and butter, part of what you do. But as a reader, sometimes you do kind of realize how all this kind of information is. When we're talking about metadata, we talk about the title of the book, the authors of the book, the authors of the chapters, the date of publication, where the digital address of where that book is, is held, the subject areas of that book, all this kind of information. And there's way more than that, all this information that actually is really crucial, and all that information has to be consistent. Every platform has its own requirements in terms of you know, what it needs, and so on. It's just, I mean, absolutely, kind of astonishing what they'll be doing effectively building a system from scratch that can consume all this information, and then send it out to multiple different places, each with their own requirements and so on.

Experimental Publishing

SG(K) 27:50

Yeah, hearing you both all talk about that, at Knowledge Futures, we talk about metadata, but it's like, “what metadata?” There's so many different types and each different way that you can cite it requires different information. And even now, especially with more experimental publishing, or like multimodal publishing, there's all these different layers of what metadata is.

So I guess I'm kind of curious about how you're thinking about — you talked about preservation and longevity and metadata — how those kinds of standards that are not new, not shifting, but very complex?

JA 28:38

I mean, this one of the things that within our work on experimental publishing we really wanted to explore but because this is a, something that's hard for publishers, and also authors to see what's out there. Because we're all kind of accustomed to a kind of a print-hegemonic model, in which you have a clear standardized output that's print-based still very much even though it might be a PDF or ePub. One of the things we really wanted to do is kind of showcase to authors and publishers what is already out there.

This is one of the few projects within COPIM in which we, we didn't necessarily build something new, but really focused on kind of showcasing and collating. So the things that we did there is that we've worked on this Compendium that we set up, which is basically a combination of tools and practices and examples. So what we have there is examples of tools that you can use to create experimental books. We've got descriptions of the kinds of practices that come with or that are being experimented with for books, so these are things like open peer review, or versioning. A lot of the things that PubPub also facilitate in that sense. And the other thing is just having examples of books available for people to have a look at and see examples of, say, a living book, a book that keeps on being updated.

We've kind of tried to make these connections to make it easier for publishers and authors to get an overview of what is possible. And in addition to that, we've worked together with publishers and artists to create a set of pilot projects. Actual books are kind of book-like outputs, as examples, and we've documented them extensively, also using PubPub in the form of blog post and audio recordings. We've created a computational book and workflow for Open Book Publishers [the publisher involved in that pilot case]. We've worked together with Open Humanities Press to create a kind of a workflow to create new books out of existing books. And together with Mattering Press, we've worked on creating a kind of data book, to kind of see what you can do with a database of of materials, and how you can present them in a way that's not a standard PDF-like or print-like book. So this has been very much kind of a showcasing exercise and trying to kind of engage both authors and publishers with what is possible in a digital open landscape for books going forward. We will be continuing that work within the Open Book Futures project to do even more pilot projects and extend the Compendium etc.

Scaling Small

SG(K) 31:42

Yeah, with you talking about the pilot projects, you've kind of mentioned this topic or concept a few times, maybe not directly, but you recently had a conference on Scaling Small. So I guess, I'm wondering if you could maybe explain that concept and share any takeaways from that conference? In addition to the motivation for focusing on like smaller communities and those smaller experimental pilot projects?

JA 32:14

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I can say a little bit about how we got to Scaling Small. Joe had an amazing sum-up at the end of the conference, so I might hand over to Joe for that bit. But first, Scaling Small is a concept that we've been using for a while already: I originally started talking about it, like five, six years ago, giving talks and kind of summarizing the way that some of the smaller projects that I'm involved in have been working together, have collaborated together.

From there, it's a concept that together with Sam Moore, we've basically adopted as a project to describe the work that we've been doing. And together we have an article that's called Scaling Small and, and that kind of outlines how basically, Scaling Small can be seen as as as an organizational principle as a way of collaborating. One of the issues of when you scale up, and this is a lot of the kind of demands from, again, from funders and from publishers to kind of become bigger and bigger and bigger, and a lot of diversity gets lost. We really don't think that this is the right kind of model to pursue for open access book publishing, which is much more focused on smaller communities from different fields and disciplines working together, right. So what we wanted to highlight is how we can actually scale together, scale small by having these like smaller communities, and with small, it doesn't necessarily mean size, right? We're a bit open towards how they can kind of scale together by working together, collaborating, sharing, combining strengths, and all of the work we’ve been doing in COPIM showcase that very well, right.

This was originally based on the work that's been done by the ScholarLed consortium, which is also one of the partners within the COPIM projects. And this is a collective of ScholarLed presses — I think there's currently six or seven in them — that are all working together to promote open access book publishing. They came together in I think it was 2017 and this has been the kind of the underlying model that we've applied to COPIM going forward.

Within the conference that we've just had we wanted to kind of go back to that core concept again. One of the ways that we've been doing that is by not only highlighting what we've done with the within the project. So the conference had that element of “this is what we've done,” but we've also tried to really reach out to all of the people that we collaborated with and reached out to and to see how what we've been doing has influenced them and has impacted them and how they might be taking forward some of the things that we've been doing.

JD 35:31

I'll just say a few words about that conference. Because it was just fantastic. It was an online conference, but it was, in a way, the kind of culmination of the COPIM project and everything that we've been doing. The combination of that concept of Scaling Small in the sense that we had so many demonstrable successes of that principle being put to work. In my closing comments, I quoted Janneke because in the experimental publishing session, she said that, “this is an urgent need to rethink what research, scholarly communication and publishing are and how they're organized,” which I suppose is the principle that is underpinning the whole COPIM project with the principle that will also underpin the Open Futures Project.

I suppose it is about imagination, and thinking about how we might reimagine the scholarly publishing landscape, it doesn't have to be organized in the way it is. There are reasons why it is organized in the way it is, that we could obviously talk about, and we could think about why that is. But just because it is doesn't mean it has to remain like that. So when we talk about infrastructure building, and metadata platforms, there is a risk, sometimes it can sound dry and technical, but actually what we're doing here is thinking about ways of working together differently. This is also I think, what Lucy Montgomery, one of our other speakers, talked about: that we need to think about how to work together collaboratively in different ways. And I suppose that is at root, what is so exciting about these projects? Yes, we're building all the infrastructure, but really what we're doing is putting in place the conditions for working together in different ways that bring together different parts of the scholarly landscape, which in itself I think is quite transformative.

Supporting Libraries and Subscription Models

[At the conference,] we had talks, from academic libraries have really actually rethought how their approach towards, towards publishing and funding and the funding of publishers. One of the big areas of debate and contention, particularly in the library world, with the universities is the amount of university budgets that go towards funding really expensive journal subscription packages, which are offered by large publishers. The academic world is a quaint world, it's actually a quite cut-throat commercial world in some contexts with multimillion pound or dollar deals being done with publishers in terms of access to content, because this content is not open access. This is taking more and more of many libraries’ budgets, and it's unsustainable. In contrast, our particular model with the Open Book Collective involves us presenting effectively a kind of a suite of different membership packages for university to support. And then the universities actually support the organizations directly, because they're not supporting access to content, because this content is already open, but they are supporting these organizations directly. And that doesn't really work with a model of library funding where you're saying all our money has to go towards subscriptions. It’s inherently contradictory, when you get down to it.

Nonetheless, some libraries are really thinking hard about rethinking their budgets. That's going to involve some tough conversations, probably with faculty colleagues because the researchers want access to all the journals, but they're costing the university increasing them out money every every year. Some difficult conversations might need to be had, and then, at the same time carving out part of the budget to actually support initiatives like Open Book Collective and other initiatives out there do some similar things in different contexts.

There’s this radical way of rethinking the role of the university. It's not about buying content, it's actually about supporting an ecosystem. And we're seeing this small movement in some universities that really does mark a potential opening for thinking and discussing about how we might want to do the academy differently.

Culture Shifts

SG(K) 40:53

Yeah, I think that's a really key point that libraries and everyone who's a part of these experimental models, that despite the large stakes of how research is traditionally conducted, how libraries pay for subscriptions, there's so much on the line here about this multi-million dollar industry. And yet, there's still a cultural praxis shift towards this change. It sounds like what Open Book Futures does is using the tools and supporting that cultural movement going forward. So I guess I'm kind of curious on how you're thinking about what that means? And how you're supporting the different stakeholders in that huge cultural shift?

JD 41:55

I think there’s quite some interest, I’ve been talking to some universities out there today. In our project, we've focused not so much on academics yet, and we’re actually focusing constructing models that work for librarians and publishers. Academics have been sort of outside of the picture, to some extent, with the exception of some experimental publishing work. And for me, it comes back, ultimately, to that we need to bring academics back into these conversations, to encourage academics to think seriously about the politics of their publishing. I don't want to be lecturing here, because academics sometimes are in very precarious positions, in early career positions, are in insecure contracts. I don't want to be standing and saying that they have to publish open access, because if they're in a situation where they've got to secure a job that's going to put some food on the table. But we at least want to have those as part of the part of discussion.

JA 43:42

In addition to what Joe was already saying, I think this is part of a larger question about funders and universities around making the argument that publishing is an inherent part of research. We've really kind of outsourced that aspect over the last decades and it didn't use to be that way — it used to be something that was much more controlled and led by academics. Especially now with the digital innovations that we have with open access and the ability to update publications to kind of work collaboratively on publications, much more. These kinds of clear distinctions between the research stage and when it is published are disappearing or complicated. Beyond this kind of theoretical aspect is this redesigning how we do publishing by bringing together all these different people involved in both the research and the publishing process. I think we got a big chance there to anticipate some of the changes that might be coming ahead, and future proofing them. We're looking to kind of build systems that, you know, will be able to accommodate what authors and academics and readers and publishers want in the future from the systems that we're creating.

TS 45:28

The last point you made about building systems actually is also, I think, something that also comes back to the question of metadata, and towards the general understanding of how COPIM and all of us understand the systems and infrastructures that we have been building, which has not merely been focusing on like, we need to get this tool set up and build like a platform. From the focus on the social aspects of infrastructure, it's always people working with these platforms that actually matter, to make sense of the metadata and other outputs.

When you talk to academics out there, it’s just a small percentage of them will actually think about the details around how their research gets disseminated. And what lies behind that in the larger digital sphere — what digital publishing actually is, what is connected to that, what kind of standards, what kind of metadata needs, what kind of formats like that's sort of what what you guys are also working on with KFG and with Pub Pub, right — is to break some of the barriers of conventional wisdom around how to publish things, to come up with new ways of making research and knowledge available online.

With many of us in COPIM, there’s this inherent curiosity around metadata and interest in structuring in more general terms based on the academic backgrounds of our group. Joe, for example, is an STS scholar, I believe, and other COPIM colleagues as well, so there's the Science and Technology Studies aspect, but also from a very Humanities-focused background, we've got a lot of practitioners in the network, the small publishers like punctum, Open Book Publishers, or Open Humanities Press, who have very much been working to push the envelope of experimenting with modes of publishing at large, including how traditional routes of metadata and dissemination networks have been working, how licensing works, and how to reclaim some of those infrastructures.

The metadata world out there is a smaller image of the larger problem we face in publishing in more general terms. The metadata ecosystem itself has been splintered off into a lot of commercial entities that are now very much acting as barriers ... they make it difficult for small publishers to participate, and to take control of creating metadata, and this impacts on how we talk and think about aspects of archiving and preservation as well as dissemination. Luckily, and given the network involved in COPIM that includes metadata specialists, archiving specialists, librarians who have been working with metadata for years and years, we have been very lucky in COPIM to have lots of expertise in these kinds of pockets. We've been given the opportunity to bring those people together and think about new approaches to free up metadata issues and the underlying metadata that needs to be created to make content findable in the digital world out there.

What's been really exciting is to get these new kinds of conversations going. It's been fantastic to engage with larger players like the British Library, for example, the National Library of the UK, to get them around one table, to talk to European national libraries, to talk to scholars from Cambridge, from UCSB, from University of California, international colleagues, from far and wide about how to reconceive these established modes of disseminating works.

SG(K) 51:03

That sounds like it really speaks to the emphasis that you have on building systems, and having faith in those experiments that you're trying out in those experimental publishing modalities, all the while being really tuned into the communities that you're working with. That's really amazing to have, this focus of Scaling Small while you're still having this really big impact within the communities and ecosystem.

JD 51:55

I suppose, it is sort of testament to that principle. I'm sure somebody's done work and made an argument that the most efficient way of organizing academic publishing would be a single, giant publisher that owns all the infrastructures, all the mechanisms and so on, that it's all optimized to its very limit, and so on. But it's completely obvious what you would lose if that were the case — you lose that diversity, you lose those individual kind of passions that drive projects and books, and platforms and so on.

Our argument has been that there is a cost involved in diversity, but that's a cost that the scholarly ecosystem needs to factor in. If we rationalize everything, not only do we lose diversity, then it also actually puts in place the conditions for effective monopolies in the system, where they can charge kind of what they want. That never ends well, really, for intellectual endeavors, and for knowledge production or knowledge dissemination. Scaling Small remains at the heart of what we do. We may want to collaborate, and small entities can work together to become something larger, and then have a more collective impact. But those entities keep their smallness. It can grow if they want, but if they’re very happy with doing what they do, publishing a small number of books per year, why not?

JA 53:57

Those larger organizations also really lack capacity for change. They just become these huge, conservative behemoth systems in the end. What you can maybe have in that form of sustainability is, what you lose in this emphasis on resilience is because these smaller entities are able to kind of adapt quicker to change. There is something to be said there about a system that consists of smaller nodes working together, to be able to deal with the changes in publishing that have been so rapid over the last few decades, and to guide that in ways that makes sense for us, instead of going for an easier option and outsourcing that to an external large commodity hegemonic giant.

SG(K) 55:06

Oh, I love all those words. Yeah, it just sounds like a real focus on intentionality. I thought about asking you a question about like, “Oh, what are some key principles that have worked across multiple projects or communities?” But I would imagine that answer would be like, “Oh, well, it depends on the goal or the mission.” So there's not like a predescribed path or guideline that you can just be like, “Oh, if you just do X, Y, and Z, it'll be a successful publisher,” or a successful whatever-it-is-that-you're-trying-to-be, just because it really depends on what your community is, what the goal is, and what the project is.

JA 55:47

And this is an element of situatedness, that's also important for us. This is something that communities often need to figure out for themselves. When it comes to publishing, certain things just work better in certain communities depending on how they are already working together. Academia has been really good in kind of interdisciplinary international collaboration, because that's what we've been doing. This is why I really think that scholar-led publishers are really good at copying, of adapting that kind of mode of working together. And a lot of the work within schools, or consortia, for example, we've been doing is just simply using those networks that already exist. So going to conferences and having books stands there, because we're already there. So it's very much easier for us to promote those things ourselves than to have somebody from the outside coming in. So there are all these kinds of options in which you can, depending on the specific community in which you are, make this work better.

SG(K) 57:08

Yeah, right. I think that goes back to what you mentioned earlier about the process of publication: it's what everyone's doing already. So having the focus be on that rather than the final product of the book, or the paper or, or whatever.

Yeah, I recognize we have been talking for an hour. So if there's any final words that you want to share, feel free? And if not, then I thank you for for your time and all the work they've been doing with COPIM, looking forward to Open Book Futures.

JA 57:47

Thanks so much! I think I'm mostly just really excited about seeing what's going to happen, of course, in the next few years, so stay tuned, and hopefully find that together.

JD 58:00

Yeah. I mean, it's a you know, really, really interesting conversation. It's nice to have this kind of conversation that we get to reflect on what we've been doing. So thanks, and you know, Toby has mentioned PubPub a few times, and it's been a really, really helpful resource for us over the life of the COPIM project, and is one that we will continue to explore over the life of the Open Book Futures project.

SG(K) 58:30

Yeah, thank you all. Appreciate it.

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