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Just before the old year ends and a new one begins I thought I’d do a recap on how things have gone for me in the last year, particularly academically.

My honorary research fellowship was renewed again. This is from History in the School of Humanities at the University of Dundee. After I finished my PhD in 2010 I asked if I could get an honorary fellowship, to help me continue to access vital resources like electronic journals, which are typically only available to current staff and students of universities subscribing to them. This is particularly important as more and more university libraries switch from subscribing to print copies to e-journals, which, generally, are restricted in who can use them. I’m a life member of one local university library, and have another one nearby, but neither opens up their e-journals to people who aren’t staff or students. So this was important to allow me to keep up to speed with current research and new developments. And the fellowship has been renewed every year since. It’s also nice that when I give a conference paper or publish a new academic journal paper it provides some kudos to the department which has supported me so well.

Over the year I’ve submitted more journal papers. I learned early in January that another paper had been accepted. It’s derived from part of my PhD thesis, with new additional material, and will be published in Library & Information History in 2014. Another prize-winning paper is due to be published at some point in the Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society. And I was asked to do my first academic book review, for the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, and it was published in November 2013. Other papers are with editors, or at various stages of development. And I was pleased to see two of my past academic papers became freely available online, under open access rules.

I took part in four academic conferences this year. The first was a conference for archivists, where I gave a talk about my experiences as a disabled user of archives. This was held locally, in a hotel in Dundee, so was easy for me to get to, but I was very weak from the neurological disease that day, and it was something of a struggle. But I wanted to present this important view, and was glad to make it. I blogged about both my time there, and the topic I was talking about.

In the summer I attended one day of a conference about the Middle Ages in the Modern World. This was at St Andrews, my former university, actually very near to where I was once a science undergraduate and postgraduate student. This was much fun. Again my husband was with me on the day, to help me manage everything in my wheelchair, and I blogged about my time there.

The third conference was that of the Economic and Social History Society of Scotland. Their autumn conference, in September, was held in Inverness, and focused on the topic of Rural Scotland. I gave a talk about my postgraduate Masters dissertation research examining Melrose regality court records (local court records for Melrose and the surrounding area) in the late 17th century. I am currently looking to publish this as an academic paper, and got very good feedback and had a very rewarding time there.

The fourth conference was held in late October to celebrate the work of my PhD supervisor who died a month earlier. It had been planned long before he died, and was a conference of mixed emotions, but ultimately positive.

I also had another flying visit to the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. Not academic at all, but a wonderful celebration of books and reading, and I was very glad to be able to go again.

In November I took part in Academic Writing Month again. My goals were more modest this time: resubmit a revised journal paper (done), and submit a paper to the SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing) 2014 conference in Antwerp (also done). Whether my paper for SHARP is accepted or not I will be there. I’m also planning on going in 2014 to a book history conference at St Andrews in the summer, and will be flying down to London to attend the Worldcon World sci-fi/fantasy/etc. convention at the Docklands.

Another major interest of mine is genealogy. I run a Cavers one-name study, researching all families with this surname, particularly before 1900. Developments on this in 2013 included me starting a new Y-DNA study to use DNA to look for connections between different Cavers lines. I also gave a talk about my Cavers one-name study at a Guild of One-Name Studies regional meeting at Perth. A version of this is online, with PowerPoint slides and my audio delivery.

I also run two one-place studies, where I research two parishes in the past. Both of these have a particular focus, for practical reasons, before 1820. The two parishes are Coldingham in Berwickshire, and Melrose in Roxburghshire, both Scottish Borders parishes with family connections for me. I continue to transcribe and develop online resources for these studies, and in 2013 this included adding a person index of about 9000 names for Melrose court participants between 1657 and 1676. Likewise for Coldingham I put online a list of 19th century prisoners from the parish.

I’m a roleplayer, and play Call of Cthulhu online at Play@YSDC. This works well for my neurological disease, meaning I can play as and when I’m able to. It also means I get to play with people around the world. In 2013 I started a new game in our ongoing campaign of Doctor Who / Call of Cthulhu crossover games. And I also started a game set on the Bass Rock, hopefully the first of many games (if our characters survive!) set in Scotland. Sadly I also dropped out of a game for the very first time – it was proving too unreliable in terms of keeping going, with long periods of inactivity by the keeper which I couldn’t keep up with – but I hope that won’t happen again for a long time.

Continuing the roleplaying theme I’ve been writing more of a series of crossover history/roleplaying articles, which I plan to compile into a book, probably in digital format. This is slow-going, but I hope to make more progress in 2014. Likewise I have been continuing to develop my very long-standing interactive fiction (text adventure) work in progress – a whodunnit set in Hermitage Castle in the Scottish Borders, about 500 years ago. Again another thing to work on in 2014.

My neurological disease continues to be a problem, but is being a bit better behaved at the moment, and may have gone into remission or need less daily chemotherapy and steroids to control it. I’m still left with the legacy of brain damage from the past, and wide-ranging disability that this causes. But I hope for a bit of a break from too toxic a cocktail of daily drugs. And maybe I will be able to get more done in 2014 than I have for a number of years. It may be just a temporary respite, but I want to make the most of it.

Anyway I’m looking forward to 2014 in an optimistic manner. Hopefully it will be as productive and rewarding as 2013 was.

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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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I do a lot of my research planning and writing on my iPad. For example I’ll always have a to-do list on the go there, of things I want to work on, of all sorts, ranging across academic history, through genealogy, miscellaneous writing, and computer game design.

To do list on iPad

And whenever I start a new research project I will brainstorm it, again in iThoughtsHD on my iPad.

But I was struck today by some of the advantages of an old fashioned pen and paper approach, even in a digital age.

I carry a red notepad with me all the time. It’s like a Moleskine, but a fraction of the price, lovely texture, and nice to write in.

Notepad with pen

It’s compact, and easily fits in my bag that I take out with me. So it’s always there, which is more than can be said for my iPad 2, which is too big for me to carry around all the time, though it’s great for working on at home. So when today I had a few minutes in the supermarket cafe, with a cappuccino beside me, I took out my notepad and had a look.

The first thing I spotted was a set of notes I’d made on a similar occasion, but hadn’t transferred to my iPad, and had totally forgotten about! These are notes of genealogy things I want to work on soon, such as transcribing a court case for my Cavers one-name study, and digitising the many paper receipts I have from around the wedding time of my great-grandparents at Melrose in 1905. I must get on with these!

Genealogy notes in notepad

After that initial shock, the next step was to use the notepad to develop new material. I’m writing a series of articles at the moment that are a sort of crossover between historical pieces and roleplaying game ideas, and once I’ve finished my current one about Montrose I’ll want to move on to the next couple of places. One of the upcoming articles will be about Inchtuthil in Perthshire, a Roman fort. So I took the chance this afternoon to brainstorm some ideas for this. I will move this planning at some point to my iPad though, into iThoughtsHD, and then write up the piece in WriteRoom.

Inchtuthil notes in notepad

I really like working with a pen and paper notepad like this, but I must make more of an effort to transfer the notes to my iPad, to work on them in future, and not completely forget them. Of course this brings to mind the integrated Evernote/Moleskine notepads. But I don’t think I want one of those, even though I use Evernote a lot. I think I just need to be a bit more organised about opening up my notepad when I get home and have my iPad to hand, and transferring the ideas from one to the other.

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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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I received word that my conference talk proposal has been accepted, so I need to write that talk for definite now. And I now have a deadline for the revised version of the accepted professionals paper, by June, so I can deal with other more looming things first.

My immediate priority now is to write the talk for the archivists conference, or at least finish developing the mind map version of its content, which I could turn very easily into a talk nearer the conference in April.

After that I will look afresh at the chapmen material and see where things stand with that. I’m still gathering secondary material, for me to read and assimilate. Masses! But that is good. And I will start to transcribe the other detailed chapmen inventories I found, focusing on any reading material that was recorded. There is a chance that I could have something ready to submit to a journal before the 1st April 2013 open access deadline, but I’m not too worried if not, and will just expunge anything necessary to avoid problems.

I’m also taking a bit of time to work on some fun non-academic articles for a planned ebook project. It’s fun being creative like this, and a bit different from my usual academic writing, which is a welcome change.

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I blogged earlier this month about my research and writing plans for the month. I’m checking in here with a progress update, continuing in the spirit of Academic Writing Month, which I found so motivating.

A few days ago I submitted my Melrose journal paper by email. I’ve already had a reply from the editors, and it will now go through the due consideration process to see if they want to publish it. So that’s nicely out of the way and in their hands.

Regarding the chapmen paper I sent a query to the SHARP-L mailing list, asking for advice on comparative research in a mainland European context. That has given me lots of valuable leads. I now have a mass of relevant books in the house, most bought new or secondhand, and it is going to take me some time work through those. They are unlikely to change my conclusions, but they may give me valuable new ideas for areas to explore in a Scottish context. And I will be able to add excellent discussion of comparative research.

Because of this, indeed the sheer mass of relevant comparative literature which is too interesting to overlook, I am going to postpone submitting this paper until after the 1st April 2013 deadline I had set myself. The paper will probably have to have some PhD-related context expunged, to avoid costly pay-to-publish fees, but the bulk will stay intact.

I’ve also been chasing up more possibly relevant records in the National Records of Scotland. For a short while I thought I might have located a register of chapmen, recording names and addresses, but it just gives total numbers. But even those could be interesting, though they will take time to work through. The NRS also have manuscript records relating to one of the Scottish chapmen I found with a detailed after-death inventory, including his license to sell gold.

So the chapmen paper is now downgraded as less urgent, and I will allow myself adequate time to soak up the ideas in the relevant literature. This should lead to a much better paper in the long-run, and it will be a fun process to work through. But I can’t put a likely timescale on how long this process will take, given the volume of reading required, as well as more primary source research.

I haven’t heard back yet about the required revision timescale for the accepted professionals paper, but I have heard from another editor that another paper of mine is now with the new editor for that journal. So that makes it two papers with editors for review.

So going back to my recent to-do list for this month my next priority is to write the talk that I may be giving to a conference for archivists in Dundee in April, if my proposal is accepted. That shouldn’t be too time-consuming. I’ll mainly write it in my mind-mapping app iThoughtsHD on my iPad.

And I will continue to soak up the chapmen literature. I have also identified a number of additional detailed after-death inventories for chapmen from the period I’m focusing on, and can transcribe those slowly as I’m able to.

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