[Open research practices] demonstrate the role a university can have in feeding knowledge to people irrespective of their personal wealth or the infrastructure of the country they live in.

Moderator: Joanna Page (Professor of Latin American Studies and Director of CRASSH)

Panel: Rachel Bruce (Head of Open Research, UKRI), Geoffrey Khan (Regius Professor of Hebrew, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies) & Siddharth Soni (Research Fellow CRASSH and Jesus College)

Rachel Bruce discussed the new UKRI open access policy. The policy is designed to help move open access forward and navigate some of the more complex issues.

Rachel acknowledged that this is a transitional phase, and is a change for stakeholders. For example, UKRI have provided a grant to Jisc to support open access.

The policy includes a central fund that institutions apply to, to help with open access costs. However, we need to contribute to ‘bibliodiversity’ and support different models of publishing.

Rachel noted that there is evidence (from a Spinger Nature report) that open access monographs have 10x as many downloads and 2.4x as many citations as non-open access.

Geoffrey Khan gave a really interesting case study of a book series he and colleagues have published with the Open Book Publishers (OBP) platform. As a result of this experience, he’s become an advocate of open access.

Geoffrey published with OBP in collaboration with his faculty, in that the series is funded partially through faculty monies (and partially through library support schemes). He gave several motivations for publishing open access: He created this series, as is typically the case, to fill a knowledge gap. He found that some mainstream publishers were not as interested in publishing primary material, which he feels is the ‘bedrock’ of fields such as his own, and open access provides a way of making this available.

Books that are published behind a paywall are not accessible to many who are interested in them – people in a diverse range of countries, and also those who are interested in acquiring scholarly knowledge but are not formally attached to an academic institution.
The field of semitic languages and cultures involves the study of living communities. The typical practice in academia involves publishing the information and lived experience of these communities in books that they themselves often cannot access. He sees this as a form of ‘asset stripping’ that has no benefit to the source community.

In a more practical vein, Geoffrey and colleagues have been able to publish 21 books in the series, with a number still in the pipeline. Several have received international book prizes, and the books have been downloaded thousands of times (including in countries with no institutions supporting the study of the subject). This demonstrates ‘the role a university can have in feeding knowledge to people irrespective of their personal wealth or the infrastructure of the country they live in’.

Siddharth Soni works in the literary humanities – he is interested in what an open monograph might mean in a broader sense.

He argues that this issue should be more than a matter of advocacy. Publishing work openly is vital to the integrity and voice of our writing. It helps us to consider the context and conventions in which it is written, its aims, audience, politics and foundation. We should think about openness in a more unstructured way; open humanities can entail a transformative practice throughout the process.

Siddharth and others organised the first UNBIND research colloquium last year. The questions here were more all-encompassing than ‘should we publish open access’ – the group considered the ways in which practice can change the culture and the discipline. Open access can present opportunities in the modality of form, and the nature of the book itself. Also, the idea that early career researchers can start to change things themselves, rather than waiting for senior researchers to enable change.

We discussed the concept of ‘safety’ – researchers feel that publishing a monograph via a university or other standard publisher can help to assure their position in their field. However, in the current climate, this may be an illusion; there is no such thing as complete safety. It is merely a matter of convention.

He asked us to question the idea that a scholarly book is the same as a monograph, which is the same as long-form scholarship. The monograph is a very particular manifestation of ‘the book’. The monograph can structure the discipline and pedagogy itself; in terms of what is published and when and who has access to it. Also, how the publications are grouped together in terms of themes and epochs.

Another consideration is not seeing smaller and open publishers as second-tier – that open research and publishing is (and can be) a deliberate first choice. These forms of publishers often allow more control to the author over their work.

We want to thank the panel for a great session, and look forward to more CRASSH research culture seminars in the Lent term!



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