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Publishing Infrastructures for Communities

A presentation with CWTS at Leiden University, Facultaire Bibliotheek & Open Access commissie

Published onJan 17, 2023
Publishing Infrastructures for Communities
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Introduction

As we begin the year 2023, it is encouraging to acknowledge how far people in scientific research have come in regard to making their work more open and accessible.1 It is also important to note that the World Wide Web, the integrated system for composing, transmitting, and retaining information on the internet, has only existed for 34 years.2 Taken together, my hope is that the following discussion conveys the mutability and adaptability of our current publishing conventions and digital infrastructure for making research public.

I argue that we are at a particular moment in which sites of power can be democratised for the benefit of scientific progress. The confluence of technological developments, values-based initiatives within research,3 justice-oriented movements, and an increasingly immediate need for global cooperation in response to societal challenges brings into focus our capabilities as communities of researchers to realise more equitable and actionable systems for sharing knowledge.

Image of Dan Rudmann speaking in front of a room

My advocacy in publishing and Open Science is informed by my professional and personal experiences. I am a Digital Scholarship Librarian at Leiden, hired in particular to develop Open Science and community knowledge of software in research. Prior to that, I developed infrastructure for open access publishing,4 worked as a publisher of both scholarly books and music, and created spaces for public dialogues and performances. I have a PhD in religion and literature from The University of Texas at Austin and wrote a book on translation theory, which is available open access.5

One of the communities I helped to develop: Studium in Austin Texas, 2016

Publishing, Now Better Than Ever

Cover image for the Mind the Gap report

In 2019, researchers at Simon Fraser University published Mind the Gap, A Landscape Analysis of Open Source Publishing Tools and Platforms. The report underscores how quickly and comprehensively a publishing operation could be enacted, profiling 52 pieces of software facilitate nearly every aspect of the publishing lifecycle. In the four years since, that landscape has only flourished further. We will proceed by exploring some pieces of software profiled in the report, and others that have developed in the approximate four years.

I hope that we are collectively coming to the realisation that we are in the midst of a development in publishing that is akin in significance to that of the creation of the printing press. Publishing to the World Wide Web has incredible implications of how knowledge is expressed, disseminated, and accessed. The following research publishing platforms reveal incredible possibilities in not only the form and content of the publication, but also in the approaches communities might take in making their work public.

PubPub

Developed by the Knowledge Futures Group, a nonprofit organisation that spun out of MIT, PubPub is an open-source and self-hosted content management system designed to rethink academic publishing. The software features collaborative editing, peer review workflows, a Git-esque versioning metaphor, templated and customisable design, LaTeX integration, multiple exporting outputs, DOI minting, and visual editing. There are very minimal barriers to entry. No coding or server hosting is necessary so a site can be established in minutes.

PubPub supports over three thousand communities, from peer-reviewed scholarly journals and books to novel community publishing experiments, and everything in between. These communities are created and maintained by university presses, society publishers, library publishers, independent scholar-led publishers, academic departments, research labs, ad-hoc communities, individuals, and many others. PubPub provides infrastructure for each part of the publishing process, from drafting documents, conducting peer review, and hosting entire journal and book websites to collecting and displaying reader feedback and analytics.6

Some examples of publications utilising PubPub include The Journal of Trial and Error, Data Feminisms (MIT Press), and Arcadia’s experimental publishing project.

Manifold

A collaboration among research universities, digital humanities champions, and a handful of scholars turned designers and developers, Manifold began development in 2012 as a way to make books more interactive and aesthetically pleasing to read online and has since flourished into a beautiful, functional, and access-focused system for reading and utilising scholarly publications. Manifold’s annotation capabilities are particularly noteworthy, with the ability to access both global and local reading groups to participate in conversations around the text. Particularly noteworthy are founding partners CUNY and University of Minnesota Press’ Manifold instances, as well as University of Luxembourg’s Melusina Press.

ResearchEquals

Launched in 2022 by Liberate Science, ResearchEquals presents a unique publishing intervention through the modular publication of outputs. By prioritising connectable and collaborative modules — including but not limited to data, preregistration, reviews, or design — rather than adhering to more common composition formats like articles and book chapters, ResearchEquals allows for greater flexibility and responsiveness in scientific communication.

…And More Publishing Platforms

We observe a spectrum of publishing possibilities while barely setting out upon the surface of this landscape. Here in the Netherlands, Openjournals.nl presents a mission to support Dutch researchers. Their system is run upon Public Knowledge Project infrastructure, a forefather of open scholarly publishing with 25 years of developing a holistic scope of tools and platforms. Massive participation in Zenodo illustrates ways in which a repository can function as a publishing platform, in part due to carefully considered principles adhering to interoperable frameworks.7 Is your trusted Preprint server, repository, or catalogue a publishing platform? Why not?

Implications

With the above at your disposal, are you now a publisher? The tools mentioned above result in a seismic shift to the publishing landscape. Researcher reliance on commercial entities for the distribution of scholarship is increasingly diminished. To be sure, even physical printing workflows are more accessible than ever with advances to Print On Demand technologies and automated supply chains. Our digital infrastructures provide historic opportunity to redefine what it means to publish knowledge. Communities within scholarly production now have the means and competencies to share science around the world.

But digital advances do not strictly favour scholars. Commercial publishers leverage their position to capture and monetise our data. Surveillance publishing8 and data brokerage can result in activities that put people at risk of harm.9 As these activities come to light, scholars are increasingly aware that their publication strategies have real world implications.

Image by Ludo Waltman for the Symposium Research Intelligence Network Netherlands (RINN) Groningen, December 8, 2022

While means of production in publishing are more democratised than ever before, that does not mean that the work is suddenly easy. Publishing remains a resource intensive pursuit. Digital infrastructures, then, must be complimented by similarly comprehensive and intentional social infrastructures. Experiments are underway that demonstrate we can scale small,10 seek out news ways of recognising and rewarding our efforts, and alter our conceptions of business structures.11

So when a community of scholars from different institutions get together to form their own Peer Review Club for Preprint articles, certain values are being expressed.12 When a scholar-led organisation like Peer Community In develops peer review systems expressly for the purpose of “regaining control of the scientific publication process and disconnecting it from financial issues,”13 we see that researchers are empowered to stand against organised and heavily resourced commercial entities. What I recommend, and see more possible than ever, is that our scholarly communities organise around shared values and then select the tools and methods for scientific production that best adhere to those collective imperatives. We no longer need to render ourselves to fit into a rigid system.

The recent worry that science is losing its capability for disruption14 might be an indictment of the conditions in which people are presently conducting research. Groundbreaking developments in digital infrastructure can render publishing the site where we as communities decide, in more democratic and less alienated fashion, what is means to make research public, how we recognise and assess the value our scholarship, and how we can create scientific cultures and communities that challenge our fields. The medium sends a message.

Pre/post Script: Concerns in Discussion

  • Financial agreements with commercial publishers, how policies can alter these agreements.

  • Academia has lost the battle to publishers, they’re doing better than ever.

  • Changing practices is very difficult. How to pluralise and democratise the governance within an institute.

  • Rising costs of Open Access publishing. Are APCs sustainable?

  • Are publications as we know them a good format for developments in research? How might we bring recognition to new formats?

  • The emergence of policies that tend to be developed around old models. How might we as communities be more responsive in the current moment?

  • How might institutions give timely advice on Open Access publishing?

  • Control over the cost — is everyone allowed to publish?

  • Academic freedom for researchers — are they empowered to publish the way they wish or feel is best?

  • Sustainable ways to publish and changing academic culture.

  • How faculties can be more responsive in making use of OA developments spearheaded by the library / other places within the university.

  • How do we communicate to our colleagues the nature of agreements with publishers? (OA Switchboard?) Should policies prefer specific journals?

  • Price, transparency, and speed.

  • How the publication landscape is changing and what infrastructure we would need for this changing culture.

  • How to activate people ready to put content before form and do what is best for science. How systems make change risky.

  • Rising costs and what do all the subscription models mean for subject librarians?

  • How can a publishing culture move away from pressure and be more focused on quality content? Where is the recognition and reward?

  • Rising costs no longer reasonable and undermine Open Access.

  • How do we inform and bring along the research community in all of the aspects that are changing in OA landscape and foster a dialogue?

Comments
2
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Alenka Princic:

Great overview of the platforms that support some form of OA publishing along with the open science goals such as open source! If I had to choose, it would be the ones that allow us to take modular and collaborative, community-led approach to publishing scientific work. Naturally, with minimum costs! Openjournals.nl is a good, NWO-supported initiative to increase the efficiency of running a journal platform. Although they do use an open source software and do not charge APCs to authors it is not for free; there are annual costs for journals! If my university wanted openjournals.nl to host 20 journal, this would costs 50K yearly; quite a considerable chunk!

Dan Rudmann:

Thank you for raising this point, Alenka! We need more transparency about these platforms and their business models, and I appreciate you bringing this to light. I hope that more information like this can be made available so that we can make well informed decisions about what might be generative or extractive for scholarly labor.

Timothy Elfenbein:

The main POD and fulfillment services are part of the biggest commercial entities in the publishing (thinking of Ingram and Amazon). Are there non-commercial options emerging? This seems like a much harder nut to crack.

Dan Rudmann:

I’m so glad you asked about this, Tim, as it’s a subject that I want to get much deeper into in the future. There are good options out there that, while still commercial, are at least not part of monopolistic entities.

For example, PrintOnDemand Worldwide, is an independent organisation based in the UK that has robust capabilities in POD (they print OUP’s books) and distribution/ fulfillment. (This video of their operations is pretty mind blowing to me.)

I only encountered them at the end of my time as a publisher, so I had calls with them but never got to test their services myself. I did direct Jeff Pooley to this place so maybe he has some experience with them.

For printing, alone, there are smaller operations with alternative business models that are worth exploring. I encountered many printing collectives in Portugal, and Ciaco Coop in Belgium had an inspiring model and range of capabilities.

Distribution in a non-commercial sense for books would be harder to find, but there are analogous models in other industries. For example, in music, it would often be the case that an independent record label that was a little more advanced in years and as such had more establishing shipping operations, would let the new upstart record labels piggyback on their infrastructure to give those new operations a much needed kickstart. Check out, for example, The Business Anacortes which was able to launch a bunch of independent projects by building off the success of K Records.