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Archive for the ‘academic publishing’ Category

I have a number of academic writing projects on the go. I keep a track of things I’m working on in a mind map version of a to-do list on my iPad. But I also thought it might be helpful for me to make a note here. Partly to help me see the different things I’m juggling, but also as a statement of intent. I find the annual Academic Writing Month very motivational and productive, where I state my goals, and assess publicly how I’m getting on with them, both during the month and at the end of it. So maybe a similar process will kick in here. I hope!

At the moment I have four main writing projects on the go:

  • Write book chapter (invited by editor) for a new book history collected volume. This invitation came at short notice, and suddenly, and I need to finish it in the next month or so. This is proving to be a lot of fun, both in working to fit within the book’s theme and approach, and using elements of my PhD research and thesis that I haven’t published on before. I’m confident I can complete this in time.
  • Continue converting my SHARP Antwerp conference talk about Doctor Who and its fanzines into an academic journal paper version. Again this is time critical. For the journal I’m aiming at submitting it to there is a deadline for submission for consideration for publication next year. And I will have to clear image permissions with the relevant fanzine editors, so that I can have illustrations in my paper. But it’s well advanced.
  • Finish article about early directories as a source for book and urban history crossover piece. This is well advanced, and I hope to have it ready soon to email to my former PhD supervisor for a read through. But it isn’t time critical, and can be pushed to one side while I juggle other things.
  • Write a book chapter version of my upcoming St Andrews book conference talk. Again there’s a time limit on this, but it’s far enough ahead (deadline September) that I can worry about it after finishing the other chapter first. And probably also after the Doctor Who fanzines paper too.

In addition I have a journal paper that I need to rework before submitting to a journal. And two other journal papers are currently in the review process, with the relevant editors.

Looking at it listed like that it feels like quite a lot on! But I am comforted that some things are not time critical (the book/urban history piece and the reworking journal paper in particular). And those others that are time critical are somewhat staggered time-wise, so don’t overlap too much.

I’m also not writing intensively. I’m very seriously ill long-term, and have to snatch good moments here and there. But in an odd hour now and again I can pick a project to work on, and make progress with it.

But I may be quite pleased once it’s October. And after all that writing over the summer and early autumn it’s quite likely I’ll skip Academic Writing Month 2015!

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Two of my history journal papers recently went online freely under green open access rules. Prompted in part by that I thought I’d look back on the first of those.

Entitled “Glimpses into a Town’s Reading Habits in Enlightenment Scotland: Analysing the Borrowings of Gray Library, Haddington, 1732-1816”, this paper was published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies in 2006. At the time I was about half-way through my part-time history PhD. Every year the Economic and Social History Society of Scotland runs an essay prize for postgraduate students, with a money prize, and the winning paper published in their journal, the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies. History postgraduates at Dundee were encouraged in my time to enter. I wrote up my then research, but didn’t complete it in time for the competition deadline because of being particularly ill at the time, causing a delay. But I sent it in anyway. The then editor, one of our Professors, asked me if I’d like him to hold it back for the competition in nearly a year, but I said no, please just consider it as a journal paper submission now. With my life-threatening condition I was keen to get on with things sooner rather than later, and a delay would not help.

My paper was accepted without any revisions, which is rather rare in academic publishing. With hindsight I think it gave me an unrealistic impression of journal publishing as an easy thing to do! I’ve certainly found it harder since, not least as I’ve aimed for more and more ambitious journals. But it at least gave me confidence to try more publishing, and it was a delight to see my research in print, only halfway through my PhD. I remember how thrilled I was to hold the print issues. Even the digital PDF was exciting. I had earlier co-authored publications from my computer science time, including some published after I had to leave that full-time PhD as my neurological illness struck. But this was the first time I had a sole-authored history journal paper, and it was a huge achievement.

The paper was based on research I was doing as part of my PhD on Scottish reading habits. In particular it looked at the borrowing records over 80 years or so of a free town library in Haddington, East Lothian. It was very unusual to have a free library at that time, and one that was open to the whole inhabitants of a town. It opened up all sorts of possibilities for contextualising the borrowings, and also researching the borrowers further.

The core part of the research involved transcribing the Haddington library’s borrowing registers and building up a database of library borrowings. For this I used the relational database system MySQL, drawing on my computer science degree and training. I had three linked tables: one recording the details of borrowers, one recording books in the library, and a third table linking the two, recording details of borrowings. And then I could write SQL queries to interrogate the database, and quickly produce answers to different questions.

For the borrowers, about 700 of whom could be identified, I researched in other local records to find out more about them. Parish registers, both Church of Scotland and other denominations, were useful, as were tax records, wills and inventories, later census returns, and so on. For this I was able to draw on my skills as a genealogist, used to working through such records, and was able to discover significant new information on over 240 of the known borrowers.

This extra information, such as occupation, age, family connections and so on together with the relational database allowed me to analyse the borrowings in a number of different ways. A simple analysis was to look at the numbers of borrowings over time, or, having categorised the library books roughly by subject, the changing subjects borrowed by the library users. Another analysis let me pull out the most popular titles, borrowed the most frequently, in specific decades. But I could also analyse the borrowings of specific occupational groups, or, for example, young girl borrowers. All were easy to pull out using the database structure I had built, allowing queries that would be impossible otherwise.

Results, such as differences between male and female borrower choices, could be compared with findings of other scholars elsewhere. And because I knew so much about many of the borrowers I could also write meaningfully about them. For example I was able to identify a watchmaker father and his daughter borrowing books together. As an added bonus this pair were my own direct ancestors.

I was able to show borrowers working through a multi-part title in sequence, getting hold of successive volumes as best they could, and clearly reading them. Clearly there was often competition for different volumes in the same sequence, but I could trace readers trying their very best to borrow the next volume they needed, and this wasn’t an isolated example. Some other book historians, particularly those associated with the Reading Experience Database, are sceptical about the use of library borrowing records as evidence of reading. But I would argue that the records I studied, with their clear evidence of reading sequentially like this, are very much evidence of that, and should not be dismissed so readily. Significantly they also cover a very sizeable local population, which permits a much greater range of analysis than a single isolated reading reference can.

Another nice thing that the Haddington library records showed was the extent of female reading. Many other Scottish reading institutions at this time were restricted in their membership, and often dominated by men. But the Haddington library was open to all genders, and asked borrowers to indicate when they were borrowing a book for someone else. So there are many loans recorded for female readers, allowing a comparison between male and female borrowing choices – and there was quite a difference – and, as noted already, a study of young female readers, who seemed to congregate in the library, particularly on Saturdays.

Overall I’m very proud of the paper, and still think that the research it presents stands up to scrutiny. I’m also pleased that I was able to use my computer science training in building up the databases that it relied upon. And although it gave me perhaps an overly optimistic view on academic publishing, I think without its experience I probably wouldn’t have gone on to do so much more.

The open access PDF copy of the paper is available from my publications page in my personal website.

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I’ve blogged here a number of times about my concerns about the new UK Research Councils’ policy on Open Access. I’m in favour of Open Access, but have concerns about the way they are implementing it, particularly the effective push towards Gold Open Access. This is where the author pays the publisher an APC or article processing charge, effectively to compensate them for loss of income from people downloading the article for free. APCs can run into thousands of pounds, and are a particular problem for independent unaffiliated scholars like me. The other form of Open Access, Green Open Access, is virtually unheard of in humanities, unlike in sciences where it is widespread. In this form of open access there is no fee paid by authors up-front, and instead they are allowed, sometimes after an embargo period, to put an online version of their journal paper in an institutional repository, or a personal website, or a central one like ArXiv.

Well I am delighted today to say that two of my old academic journal papers are now available freely online. This is thanks to Edinburgh University Press, which is one of the few humanities publishers which supports Green Open Access. I double-checked their rules with them, and got the go-ahead today to put the final as-published versions of my papers online in my personal website.

One paper was my very first history academic journal paper, published way back in 2006, long before Open Access in its modern form had even been dreamed of. This was derived from part of my history PhD, then still in progress, and looked at the borrowing registers of Gray Library in Haddington, East Lothian, from 1732 through to 1816. This was published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies.

The other paper that’s just gone freely online was published a year ago, in Scottish Historical Review, probably the most eminent Scottish history journal, which was a real coup for me to get a single author paper into not long after completing my PhD. This paper, too, developed work studied in my PhD, this time examining books in people’s houses, using a case study of after-death inventories in late 18th century Dumfriesshire.

Both papers, in downloadable PDF form, are available via my publications page in my personal website.

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Research Councils UK has today published new guidance on Open Access publishing. There are some changes, including greater addressing of the green Open Access route, and relaxations on speed of implementation, and differing timings for e.g. humanities. But there is still no section addressing the issue of independent scholars, and the increased personal cost that they may face under this new scheme. The Research Councils are offering extra funding to pay for APC charges, but this is based on institutions, and block grants. This is of no benefit to non-affiliated independent scholars like me.

I’m still finding this incredibly frustrating. My AHRC-funded PhD thesis is freely available online, in PDF form, but I’m being penalised and restricted re future publishing based on it. This is the case even when the content from the PhD is only a tiny little bit of a paper with mostly new research. So I either don’t publish, expunge the PhD bit, or break the rules.

And I’m in favour of Open Access, as seen by my thesis already being freely available. But I’m not in favour of Open Access the way RCUK are pushing it through.

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Another interesting article about open access in the digital era. Includes the particularly alarming comment that “I am honestly not sure libraries are going to exist anymore in a couple decades.”

Bibliographic Wilderness

Why did you decide to become a librarian or work in libraries? For me, like many of us, working in a library wasn’t just an arbitrary job to pay the bills, we have a special affinity for the mission and values of libraries. A mission and values which focus on connecting people to the research and information they need to make informed decisions and actions, through a democratic and egalitarian approach that serves all in need, rather than focusing on maximizing profit that can be extracted from our customers.

In fact, libraries are just about the only ‘information institutions’ whose business interests are centered on aiding our users, not in commodifying our users as demographic data, ‘eyeballs’, or paying customers.

Even the university library has historically been a center of knowledge distribution to the public at wide, not just the university community. Especially — but not only — at public…

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Interesting article about academic publishing, paywalls, and open access:

Academic paywalls mean publish and perish – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

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I’m a graduate member of a nearby university library. I used to nip in regularly to check their book history journals (per Z) whose recent issues, along with other journals, were shelved on open shelves on the ground floor. When I nipped in the other day – albeit after some time since the last time, and since a library redevelopment project – I found that recent journals were now on the main shelves, not in a separate section as before. But not the per Z journals I was looking for, which, like most of the other Z (book history) books, are stored locked away in the library store, not on open access.

The librarian I spoke to initially said “We have electronic subscriptions to some of these”, but of course, as I pointed out, I have no way of accessing these. As is common with university libraries such electronic subscriptions are restricted to staff and current matriculated students, and other members of the library, including life graduate members like myself, have no means of accessing them. But increasingly university libraries provide electronic subscriptions as the only means of access to journals, with no paper copies shelved. This is fine for staff/current students, but no good for external readers, including independent scholars like myself. I understand the restrictions are imposed by the copyright holders / publishers, and individual universities rarely negotiate for wider access.

I was told I could order up recent copies of the issues I wanted through the computer system. That’s fine in theory, except that when I used to scan them on the current journal shelves I would look through dozens of journal issues at a time: both recent issues of a number of book history journals, and some older issues published since my last visit. I can put individual requests for them, but doubt the library system will like the numbers I would ask for. And I’m not even sure what all the relevant titles are: again with them on open shelves I could scan through them quickly and easily. Now I need to know what they are all called, and I’m not sure about that. Plus I need to arrange recalling all of the required issues in for a time I know I will be back in St Andrews.

Of course I am lucky to be able to access another university library nearby, as an honorary research fellow. Indeed I asked for that fellowship after finishing my PhD in order for me to continue to have good access to library journals, in particular electronic journals. But Dundee University doesn’t subscribe to the same range of journals as St Andrews, and in particular misses out a lot of book history journals which I could only access locally at St Andrews. And are now locked away in the library store, rather unhelpfully.

Still I should be grateful they are getting them at all. But it’s requiring a lot more organisation for me to see them than in the past. And I wonder if it means that these journals will be read less, now they are not on open shelves. And that in itself might lead to an argument being made by libraries for reducing their subscriptions/numbers held.

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