We are pleased to present a guest post from Martin Paul Eve, Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing, Birkbeck, University of London, who spoke at the University’s Open In Practice conference on 30th March 2017. Martin is an academic, a publisher, and a prominent advocate of open access publishing. He addressed a session at the conference on Open publishing models for the humanities.
Last week I attended the Open in Practice conference at the University of Reading. The event was lively and broad. It ranged from an opening keynote on the reproducibility crisis in medical research through to panels on digital humanities and the difficulties of open work in an era when cultural works remain under copyright.
In my own session at the event, I delved into some of the economic challenges of open access books. I am known for being a staunch advocate of open access. I believe that it is a social good that everyone could be able to read our works for free. That does not mean, though, that I believe the solutions are straightforward.
The reasoning behind this is quite simple. There is a temptation, when thinking in the technological realm, to see the problems about open access as technical: if only we could preserve software better; if only we could build the infrastructure to make data available; if only we could create X system, our problems would be solved.
However, the problem is that, in fact, the challenges with OA are not technical. They are social and they are about labour and its remuneration. These problems are both harder to fix and more important. Understanding the complex motives behind academic behaviour and tweaking social contexts requires sensitivity to avoid unintended consequences. Furthermore, appreciating various labour functions and their remuneration is important.
Yet I do sometimes wonder if we have double standards. Last week, Bruce Holsinger caused somewhat of a stir on Twitter when he began posting instances of male authors thanking their wives for typing. The outrage was caused by the way in which this gendered, hidden labour was at once being acknowledged but only in an understated mode that does not confer real credit.
A good example of the continuation, though, of this gendered hidden labour can be seen in copyediting. In each of my books (n=4), I have had a female copyeditor. Academics clearly value this labour in some ways; I was roundly shouted at when I suggested the submission of monographs to the REF in the state prior to any copyediting process. Academics told me that they value editorial and copy-editorial input for their works. Yet how is this any different to “thanks for typing”? If the input is so key, why are the names of the editors and copyeditors not on the front of the book? If we value this labour, is it enough to confine it to a “thanks for typing” acknowledgement? Also, when we’re assessing work in processes like REF, is the assessment of the author or of the author plus the copyeditor?
The broader point for a move to open access and data is that thinking about systems of credit (usually circling around hiring, promotion, and tenure committees) cannot be divorced from the economics of the system. The way that we credit people has implications for how we imagine their function and remuneration in any future system of scholarly communications. Authorship is clearly a poor proxy for this credit; when we have hundreds of authors on a single paper we know that they did not actually all co-author the work. We know that “authorship” is standing as a proxy to credit many different labour systems that were necessary for the work. But in the humanities, we don’t have this tradition.
If we are to accurately appraise the labours that we claim to value and want to continue in any open-access environment, then we need to give credit where it is due. We need not do this through authorship; we could use something like the CRediT taxonomy. For when we recognise that OA problems are often problems about labour and its distribution, we will also see that we cannot accurately appraise costs until we have evaluated all the labour that will be needed. Although the digital space allows us to imagine infinite abundance, it is underpinned by work. We should credit this labour so that we can ascertain how much it really costs to publish academic work.
Martin Paul Eve
Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing, Birkbeck, University of London