Some Thoughts on Open Access Projects

This month I’ve been thinking a good bit about open access and its challenges as both a scholar and a publisher. It’s easy enough to grasp the basic concepts surrounding open access and to even understand how to implement open practices in theory, but it’s harder to anticipate the challenges associated with open publishing moving forward.

I have a few case studies that I’m posting here not to demonstrate that I have discovered some new angles or can reveal new challenges, but rather to make some of my recent challenges tangible and explicit.

1.  Publisher Obligations. Last month, my press published a book called Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future under a CC-By license. The book contained 20 papers by some the leading scholars in the field of digital archaeology. Within a few days of it appearing contributors were helpfully pointing out proofreading issues in the text (most of which could be easily fixed).

One contributor, however, asked that we change an image in his article. Since we’re disseminating the book as a single volume and as individual papers, this wasn’t a huge inconvenience for a technical standpoint. We simple updated the manuscript, gave it a version number, and pushed it out through our distribution networks (including print on demand).

It was really no problem, but it was interesting that the authors looked to the publisher to make these changes when they could have made them to their own texts. Of course as publisher I retain access to the most visible avenues for distribution (i.e. my webpage and Amazon), but that’ll likely be a temporary situation as individual chapters and the entire book appears in libraries, academia.edu pages, and various institutional repositories. In effect, a change by a publisher is no different from any other changes once the book is out in the wild. One the first copy of the book appears, there ceases to be the need for an original.

2. Modifying the Text. Over the past year, my colleague Scott Moore and I have prepared a digital edition of Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town (2014). This involves adding hyperlinks to our page proofs of the volume that allow a reader to connect our text with data published in Open Access

The challenge is, at least for now, that the book is not available under an open access license, and while it seems likely that the book will eventually appear under a CC-By-ND-NC license via that HathiTrust (as other ASOR volumes have), our version may not make the cut as it’s obviously a derivative work. Of course, our version of PKAP I was done in collaboration with our publisher. As a result, it’ll likely see the light of day in some form, but it demonstrates how important truly open standards are for books. The CC-By-ND-NC license does nothing to protect the investment of ASOR since the book can circulate for free, but it does limit the value of the work for scholars who want to enhance and expand its value.

3. The Bakken: An Archaeology of An Industrial Landscape. My next book is slated to appear either this fall or early winter and it’s a tourist guide to the Bakken oil patch. One of the interesting things about this book is that it treated as static something that was exceedingly dynamic. The Bakken is always changing and my guide presents a landscape that is both imaginary (in that it includes sites that do not necessarily coexist) and static. As we keep visiting the Bakken, I’ve kept a change log in my project notebooks. 

This book, as near as I can tell, will be published under a standard copyright maintained by the publisher. As a result, my change log and up-to-date commentary will be untethered to the text. As the North Dakota Man Camp produces more open access content, seamlessly integrating this material – like the Bakken Goes Boom book that appeared earlier this year – with The Bakken presents another challenge. 

I believe that publishing – even the rarified air of academic publishing – needs both open and closed standards so the key will be find ways to elegantly integrate the two.

4. Print and Open Access. At North Dakota Quarterly we’re thinking about transitions from paper only to a kind of digital/paper hybrid format. This has me wondering about the role of open access in paper publications. Having read Kate Eichhorn’s recent book of photocopy culture, I’ve begun to imagine releasing NDQ as an open access paper text. From its paper form, the volume could disseminate into digital and other paper forms as it moves into the world. 

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