Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Sarah Wipperman, University of Pennsylvania. This is part of a series of reflections by community members on the recent Library Publishing Forum. See the whole series.
The 2018 Library Publishing Forum preconference, Owned by the Academy, gave participants a chance to learn more about publishing platforms that have a commitment to community-owned infrastructure. Elsevier’s 2017 acquisition of bepress put a spotlight on this issue, so, for many, including myself, this preconference was a welcomed chance to explore both well-established and up-and-coming open source publishing alternatives.
Publishing platforms can be a place where libraries do research and development, finding new partnerships and collaboration opportunities, working with new types of scholarship and methods, and experimenting with new technologies. I thus found the most exciting takeaway from this preconference to be the possibilities of new (and continued) development in open source publishing. Many of these communities are thinking more actively about non-traditional forms of scholarship, multimodal scholarship, and other ways in which academia is embracing, incorporating, and sharing new expressions of scholarship. Many platforms are also emphasizing sustainability and trying to provide multiple ways of engaging in these systems, including options for assisted setup and/or hosting. While no platform is “perfect” (as if such a thing exists), progress towards the next wave of scholarly needs is tangible.
“We all have different services we provide to meet needs on campus, so I find it equally important to have tools that can support us as needs, workflows, and services change. Platforms should support people-based services, not dictate or confine what those services should be.”
I was also excited to see more platforms prioritizing support for individual services and workflows. We all have different services we provide to meet needs on campus, so I find it equally important to have tools that can support us as needs, workflows, and services change. Platforms should support people-based services, not dictate or confine what those services should be. From what I saw, many platforms are working along these lines to ensure flexibility for end users. The Collaborative Knowledge Foundation, for example, emphasizes open, modular architecture, which maximizes the flexibility of a system – as new needs arise, more modules can be added. This approach speaks to the need for us to be able to be agile as scholarship evolves and services change.
There were some things, however, that I wish I had seen more of. Looking back on the preconference, I realized that there was not much discussion about what happens “next” – what happens when the platform ceases to exist, loses funding, gets bought, evolves into something else, or when users decide to make a change. In fact, from my recollection, only Fulcrum broached this topic. As libraries, we need to get more used to the idea that there is no such thing as a “forever” platform. We will need to migrate our content at some point. There will be changes to infrastructures that make us want or need to change. What do we do when that happens? How do we get our data in and out? What does that look like? What does it require?
I also echo Clifford Lynch, who, in his closing remarks, desired more connection between publishing platforms and institutional repositories. I would, however, expand this to include the entire scholarly communication lifecycle. Publishing is part of a larger system of platforms that we may or may not have control over, so the ability to push and pull content from one place to another is key. While many platforms seem to be working in the pre-publication space, I would like to see more in the post-publication and sharing realm.
“The only way we can grow in this space, however, is to be ready to fail, to be ready to experiment, and to invest as a community in open source so that we can improve these technologies and work toward a community-owned infrastructure.”
While it is easy to imagine the utility and functionality of new publishing technologies (as some of the platforms we saw are still in development), I can also see where there could be hesitation from the library community: We are often risk-averse and want to put out a perfect product with all of the stability, functions, and long-term preservation qualities we champion. Signing on to a new platform or technology is a risk, and it might fail. It might not meet all of our needs. The only way we can grow in this space, however, is to be ready to fail, to be ready to experiment, and to invest as a community in open source so that we can improve these technologies and work toward a community-owned infrastructure. I was inspired by what I saw at this preconference and am excited to see these communities continue to evolve and grow.
Sarah Wipperman, University of Pennsylvania