Time for a University Prepress?

When I first joined the OU as a lecturer, I was self-motivated, research active, publishing to peer reviewed academic conferences outside of the context of a formal research group. That didn’t last more than a couple of years, though… In that context, and at that time, one of the things that struck me about the OU was that research active academics were expected to produce written work for publication in two ways: for research, through academic conferences and journals; and for teaching, via OU course materials.

The internal course material production route was, and still is, managed through a process of course team review in the authoring stage and then supported by editors, artists and picture researchers for publication, although I don’t remember so much involvement from media project managers ten years or so ago, if they even existed then? Pagination and layout was managed elsewhere, and for authors who struggled to use the provided document templates, the editor was at hand for technical review as well as typos and grammar, as well as reference checking, and a course secretary could be brought in to style the document appropriately. Third party rights were handled by the course manager, and so on.

In contrast, researchers had to research and write their papers, produce images, charts, tables as required, and style the document as a camera ready document using a provided style sheet. In addition, published researchers would also review (and essentially help edit) works submitted to other journals and conferences. Th publisher contributed nothing except perhaps project management and the production and distribution of the actual print material (though I seem to remember getting offprints, receiving requests for them, and mailing them out with an OU stamp on an OU envelope).

Although I haven’t published research formally for some time, I suspect the same is still largely true nowadays…

Given that the OU is a publication house, publishing research and teaching materials as a way of generating income, I wonder if there is an opportunity for the Library to support the research publication process providing specialist support for research authors, including optimising them for discovery!

At the current time, many academic libraries host their institution’s repository, providing a central location within which are lodge copies of academic research publications produced by members of that institution. Some academic publishers even offer an ‘added value’ service in their publication route whereby a published article, as written, corrected, layed out, paginated, rights cleared, and rights waived by the author (and reviewed for free by one or more of their peers) will be submitted back to the institution’s repository.

[Cue bad Catherine Tate impression]: what a f*****g liberty… [!]

So as the year ends, here’s a thought I’ve ranted to several people over the year: academic libraries should seize the initiative from the academic publishers, adopt the view that the content being produced by the academy is valuable to publishers as well as academics, that the reputation of journals is in part built on the reputation of the institutions and academics responsible for producing the research papers, and set up a system in which:

– academics submit articles to the repository using an institutional XML template (no more faffing around with different style sheets from different publishers), at which point they are released using a preview stylesheet as a preprint;

– journals to which articles are to be submitted are required to collect the articles from the repository. Layout and pagination is for them to do, before getting it signed off by the author;

– optionally, journal editors might be invited to bid for the right to publish an article formally. The benefit of formal publication for the publisher is that when a work is cited, the journal gets the credit for having published the work.

That is all… ;-)

PS RAE/REF style accounting could also be used in part to set journal pricing and payments. Crap journals that no-on cites content in would get nothing. Well cited journals would be recompensed more generously… There would of course bee opportunities for gaming the system, but addressing this would be similar in kind to implementing measures that search engines based on PageRank style algorithms take against link farms, etc.

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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