March 22, 2013
Will our understanding of “a book” fundamentally change with Open Access? Its faster turnaround from writing to publishing content has inspired new methods of book production like “liquid books” or “book sprints. Both point in a direction I am interested to explore in this blog post, inspired by Elizabeth Eisenstein’s still outstanding historical study “The Printing Press as an Agent of Change” (1979). In her big book worthwhile reading, the historian explores the effects of the printing press, and finds that the rise of book printing establishes a different form of knowledge. For example, making more books easily available established the method of textual comparison still used in the academic world today: citations.
Will Open Access introduce new forms of knowledge in a similar way? One could argue that it might for example change what we expect to find in a book, now that the push for Open Access in academic publishing has finally reached the more book oriented studies, which by now foster a growing range of publishing options.
Inspired by Eisenstein, let us turn to a characteristic that Open Access has introduced to academic publishing in general and to the more book oriented areas like the humanities in particular: speed.
Researchers themselves wish to see speedy and effective publication and dissemination of research results, the UK’s Finch report from June 2012 notices correctly. This wish gets supported by Open Access publishing. Studies have shown a faster turnaround with Open Access books (see for example Adema, Rutten 2010). There are two simple technological reasons for this: 1) digitization allows all parties involved in the production of a book to organize their communication more efficient. 2) it enables new ways of production, by which the course of publishing a book often moves together with the course of distributing it. Both aspects not only help the publishing process to take up speed. They make new methods of publishing possible like the liquid book or book sprints. Let’s look at these new techniques of book publishing in greater detail:
Central to the methodology of a book sprint is the real-life collaboration during the writing process which speeds up the book production. Often a whole book is written and produced within 3-5 days without pre-production, and is made directly available at the end of the sprint via digital publishing or print-on-demand. Still books sprint aims for high quality despite its speed, as the inventor of the methodology Adam Hyde points out. Instead of being researched and written by one expert over a period of time, then being peer reviewed by other experts, several authors, for example expert in the same field, write each a chapter on a certain topic, then review the chapter of the others with the help of “collaborative software, good ideas, and copious amounts of coffee” (Berry, Dieter 2012). This mode of production intensifies the dialogue between experts to one moment and allows to cover issues in a more timely manner.
In, general a book sprint starts with a brainstorming session for developing themes and ideas, then moves to the creation of chapter headings and the division of the work, then starts a writing process followed by a process of discussion, re-structuring, and copy editing which finally leads directly to the process of publication. A useful technical tool is the open source platform Booktype by Sourcefabric, which assists with organizing and editing the content (its development is supervised by Hyde). A good example of the outcome of a book sprint is the reader “New Aesthetic, New Anxieties” which is the result of a five day book sprint in June 2012. It was written by David M. Berry, Michel van Dartel, Michael Dieter, Michelle Kasprzak, Nat Muller, Rachel O’Reilly and José Luis de Vicente. Its topic was a netculture phenomenon that was firstly described by London designer James Bridle in 2011.
While speed is the central characteristic in the concept of a book sprint, change is the central characteristic of a liquid book. Here, the production process starts with an author (or a group of authors) who provides content open to change, until the content gets “frozen” i.e. can’t be altered anymore. The applied change can be useful for a quality check as well as for a wider dissemination of the content: 1. quality check: by letting the book’s readers co-write, edit, update, remix and comment, it turns the production of a book in a more collaborative processes in the course of which the content gets peer-reviewed. 2. dissemination: by enabling readers to remix the content, it allows to tailor a book (or parts of the book) for a specific readership.
One technical tool used to produce a liquid book can simply been a Wiki as the Wikipedia software provides a website which allows its users to add, modify, or delete its content. A good example of a liquid book series is “Living Books About Life” , which consists of 21 books all created within 7 months. The series was edited by Clare Birchall, Gary Hall and Joanna Zylinskawas for the Open Humanities Press, and was funded by UK’s Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) as a collaboration between the Open Humanities Press and Coventry University, Goldsmiths, University of London, and the University of Kent. With Gary Hall, the underlying shift could be described as a transformation form a peer review model to a peer-to-peer review model (Hall 2008).
The bifurcation of book publishing
Provided that both new methods comply with academic standards – and I can’t see why this shouldn’t be the case – these developments make us aware of something interesting: we currently witness an exciting bifurcation of academic book publishing. Elizabeth Eisenstein’s timeless book written in 1979 is still a standard reference, and has been composed over the course of fifteen years as she writes herself in the introduction. In the future, some books will be written like this over a long period and in a timeless manner, while others combine the knowledge of different experts to deeply explore a certain moment of time. It is well thinkable that a book sprints or liquid books, for which current experts of digital publishing gather to combine their knowledge openly, might soon produce a similar standard reference. If this is the case, then this has a profound effect on the roles that books play within scholarly studies, and at the Hybrid Publishing Lab of the Leuphana University, we look forward to explore this further.
For centuries the book has been a central part of our scholarly conversation. In the past, it was mainly seen as the place to publish our scholarly findings. In our Open Access future, it will more and more than ever before become the place to create them.
Adema, Janneke; Rutten, Paul 2010, Digital Monographs in the Humanities and Social Sciences: Report on User Needs, Amsterdam, OAPEN.
Berry, M. David; Dieter, Michael 2012, Everything you wanted to know… about Book Sprinting, available at: http://www.booksprints.net/2012/09/everything-you-wanted-to-know/ , last accessed: March 20, 2013.
Eisenstein Elizabeth 1979 (2005), The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, Cambridge, University Press.
Finch, Dame Janet et al. 2012, Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand
access to research publications, Report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings (The Finch Report).
Hall, Gary 2008, Digitize This Book: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now, London, University of Minnesota Press.