[-empyre-] Week Three - Open Access

Janneke Adema ademaj at uni.coventry.ac.uk
Fri Jun 18 07:58:50 EST 2010


Wow, some great conversations going on here, a lot of it is just mind-blowing to me! Michael was so kind to ask me if I would like to contribute to this week's theme and tell a bit about myself and the research I am doing. So here it goes.

I just started my PhD research at Coventry University two weeks ago. Before that I have done some research for the OAPEN project, a network of European publishers experimenting with Open Access for books in the Humanities and Social Sciences. My own research deals only partly with Open Access as it basically covers the whole transformation process of the monograph (as a specific book genre or format) into its digital (or hybrid?) counterpart. A bit different from the focus of this month's discussion, I am not so much looking at the way new digital practices and possibilities surrounding the (e)book are transforming or having their impact on new modes of publishing/distribution and the creation of alternative communication spaces. My focus is actually quite the reverse: I want to explore how the discourses surrounding the transformation of the book are affecting the practices of those scholars actually experimenting with the new possibilities the online medium offers for scholarly communication (more in specific for the monograph as a specific format). What stimulates them? And perhaps more importantly, what constrains them?
    What seems essential to me when studying this transition–which I feel the different threads running though this month's discussion also show–is that this transformation should be studied from a broad perspective. For the scholarly monograph this means taking into consideration the medium and its materiality, but also the institutional context in which the monograph is immersed (where it involves reputation building—for a large part based on gift economy/unpaid labor—, quality control and, very importantly, what a specific field decides to recognize as a monograph) and finally the political economy surrounding the book. And this is where discussions on copyright, ownership and Open Access come in.

I want to expand a bit on Gary's clarification of Open Access being a mode of resistance. As I see it, Open Access is about a different way of making things (research) accessible. Open Access is a multitude of things. It is a movement, it is a variety of economic models, it is a marketing instrument, it is a way to remove barriers. Many presses, libraries, scholars etc. experimenting with Open Access, do so out of ethical motives: they want to disseminate research further and wider (also into third world countries and into the society at large); or they want to create an alternative (business) model to battle the staggering journal prices and declining libraries budgets; or they see Open Access as it is mainly perceived as on this list, as a way of creating an alternative publishing space, taking control into one's own hands again and out of the hands of the big commercial publishing companies.
    However, these are only a few of the reasons why people experiment with Open Access. Many believe it can and will actually be a successful business model. Springer offers an Open Choice model just as many other commercial publishers are offering Open Access options, seeing it as a good marketing tool to sell printed books (the power of free), or for instance seeing it as a good basis to build (paid-for) services on top off.
I feel the power of Open Access lies exactly in what lies beyond Open Access: What are the possibilities for research and data at the moment it is openly available and it can be connected in meaningful ways, when it can be cross-searched and mined etc.? But as Gary stated before, Open Access will probably not be an alternative model in the sense of either/or. It will exist next to subscription and various other models and it will itself be of a very diverse constitution, a mix of motives and reasons, a mix of models and actors and foremost, it will operate on a gliding scale of what it is Open Access actually entails. Is the idea of a future in which (all) research will be openly available (where it is still unclear what open actually means) therefore naive? Is such a future perhaps even dangerous?

Finally, I wanted to connect briefly to the previous discussion on blogs and blogging. I keep a, what I would call, scholarly weblog over at www.openreflections.wordpress.com, where I write short pieces (mostly more essay-like than what one commonly perceives as blogposts) related to the subjects described above. This is actually the way I prefer to write, the way I prefer to communicate my ideas. For me, except for its formal requirements, there is not much difference between writing a journal article and writing a blog post, although I am quite aware that this is my personal disposition as many scholarly bloggers will feel quite different about that. I never wrote a book before. I was taught to write essays and short assignments (and yes, there were some longer pieces of work for my BA and MA’s). The value of writing an extended narrative, of communicating my thoughts in the format of an actual monograph is something I will (have to?) explore now at this stage. What I do know is that, akin to what Katherine Hayles said about her experiences with the manuscripts of younger scholars, is that my dissertation, my monograph, will be heavily influenced by my own online research practices. I do not know if this is a good or a bad thing, what I know is that I want to explore the possibilities of the online medium to communicate my research to its fullest, even if this might mean sacrificing certain print-like qualities and benefits. Perhaps it is all about finding our own middle way in this transition.

For a nice discussion on scholarly blogging, I can highly recommend: What is the role of blogs and blogging in the future of academic research and scholarship? http://richard-rmel10.blogspot.com/2010/06/ilol09-what-is-role-of-blogs-and.html


Janneke Adema | Email: ademaj at uni.coventry.ac.uk | Mobile: ++31 (0)642157996 | www.openreflections.wordpress.com | http://twitter.com/Openreflections

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