NWO-funded book author interview: Rens Bod

Since the start of our collaboration with NWO – The Dutch Research Council, the OAPEN Library has seen the NWO collection grow, now containing almost 200 titles. OAPEN asked 3 authors/editors of books arising from NWO-funding to share their experiences and views, the third interview is with Rens Bod:

L.W.M. (Rens) Bod is a professor in digital humanities and history of humanities at the University of Amsterdam.  His research focuses on the exploration of patterns and underlying principles in language, music, art, literature, and history. He is the author of the first historical overview of the humanities from Antiquity to the present: A New History of the Humanities. Bod is a Vici-laureate and he is currently PI in the NWO Gravitation project “Language in Interaction”.

Your recent publication is an English translation of your book that was previously published in Dutch. Published with Johns Hopkins University Press: World of Patterns – A Global History of Knowledge was made freely available under a CC-BY licence, allowing re-use. What was your motivation for publishing the translation of your book openly and under this license, in other words what was your motivation to change your pattern?

I wanted to make the book as widely accessible as possible, and open access is the best strategy to do this. Thus I learned from the publisher (JHU Press) that my book was downloaded already over 40.000 times in the first month only. So for creating impact, open access seems a fantastic way to go. As to the CC-BY licence: this was entirely the publisher’s choice.

In the acknowledgements of World of Patterns, you mention various funding sources. Could you elaborate on your experience in gathering funding for an open access version?

My previous funding sources, such as NWO Vici and NWO Gravitation, did not involve funding for open access. But in the recent past I did ask for funding to make our book series The Making of the Humanities open access(three volumes published together with Jaap Maat and Thijs Weststeijn by Amsterdam University Press, 2010, 2012, 2014). We obtained small amounts of funding from different foundations, including the J.E. Jurriaanse Foundation and the Dr. C. Louise Thijssen-Schoute Foundation. This involved quite some work, as it meant that we had to apply several times for small amounts of funding for each volume.

Did unrestricted access help you to reach new audiences compared to traditional publishing?

Definitely, I noticed that I have several readers from the Global South who might not have been able to read my book if they had to pay for it.

What is your view in general on open access academic book publishing, its benefits, or limitations?

I am generally positive and I believe NWO should use its open access fund also for books that are not the product of one of its funded project (my book was in fact the result of an NWO Open Competition project). It would be fantastic if many more scholars can publish their books open access, as it would increase accessibility which may be especially important for other parts of the world. Sure, there are also some disadvantages: it becomes very easy to re-use just a chapter or even a smaller part of the book without taking into account its context. People can simply copy and paste. But of course these are the consequences of our digital world. So far, I haven’t seen any misuse or abuse of my book, so perhaps the risks are not that high.

In World of Patterns you examined where our knowledge of the world began and how it developed. What is your perspective on the direction of knowledge development in the future?

That’s the hardest question to tackle. It appears that all knowledge will continue to be based on patterns (regularities, laws), principles (deeper generalizations, deterministic or statistical) and the relations between these two (inductive, deductive, abductive). I noticed in my historical research that there can also be patterns in the relations between patterns and principles, and even more: principles underlying these patterns in the relations. Now I realize this gets terribly abstract, but if we look at a variety of disciplines, such as artificial intelligence, digital history, medical information science and forensic science, then we find the re-use of successful derivations between patterns and principles all the time. It seems that this might be a promising way for future knowledge development.

International Open Access Week interview: NWO-funded book editor Karène Sanchez-Summerer

Since the start of our collaboration with NWO – The Dutch Research Council, the OAPEN Library has seen the NWO collection grow, now containing almost 200 titles. To celebrate Open Access Week, OAPEN asked authors/editors of books arising from NWO-funding to share their experiences and views, the second interview is with Karène Sanchez-Summerer:

Karène Sanchez-Summerer, Professor and Chair Middle East Studies, Faculty of Arts at Groningen University. She obtained her PhDs from Leiden University and EPHE (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris Sorbonne). Her research considers the interactions between European linguistic and cultural policies and the Arab communities (1860-1948) in Palestine.  Currently, she is the PI of the research project CrossRoads: European cultural diplomacy and Arab Christians in Palestine. A connected history during the formative years of the Middle East (1920-1950) funded by The Netherlands National Research Agency (NWO). Five books by Karène Sanchez-Summerer are included in the OAPEN Library.

Just recently you published a book titled The House of the Priest. An Orthodox Palestinian Life (1885-1954) which is included in the OAPEN Library collection. This book is the result of the CrossRoads project funded by NWO. Could you tell us some more about your motivations for conducting this research project?

This project aims to revisit the relationship between the European cultural agenda and the local identity formation process, and social and religious transformations of Arab Christian communities in Palestine, when the British ruled (1918-1948). When we started, our main questions were: what was the role of culture in European policies regarding the Arabs of Palestine; how did Arab Christians use culture to define their place in the proto-national and religious configuration between 1920 and 1950? Eighteen months after the beginning of the project, we found in Lebanon (Beirut) so far unpublished and untranslated memoirs of Niqula Khoury, a senior member of the Orthodox Church and Arab nationalist in late Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine. This amazing manuscript discusses the complex relationships between language, religion, diplomacy and identity in the Middle East in the interwar period. We wanted to share an annotated translation of this precious and significant manuscript to explain Khoury’s memoirs and their significance for the social, political and religious histories of twentieth-century Palestine and Arab relations with the Greek Orthodox church. Khoury played a major role in these dynamics as a leading member of the fight for Arab presence in the Greek-dominated clergy, and for an independent Palestine, travelling in 1937 to Eastern Europe and the League of Nations on behalf of the national movement.

This is one of two books, available in the OAPEN Library, from the new peer-reviewed series, Christians and Jews in Muslim Societies, published by Brill. Previously you have also published your work with Springer (now SpringerNature). What was your experience with these publishers?

I’ve published several volumes in OA the last years, with Brill, and, though different with Springer (an extended book proposal is evaluated), the process went rather smoothly. The publishers wanted to know whether the book was going to be open access before starting the editing process. In addition, you can apply for NWO’s Open access books fund only after the book has been accepted for publication by the publisher (which was my case for the House of the Priest). As for the NWO Open books grant is concerned, I thought it was a very easy process, so I recommend it to anyone who would like their book to reach out to a bigger audience. Open access might cause some delay in the publication, but the advantages are worth it. 

Your recent books are published under an open license, CC-BY, making it freely available and granting others a certain level of re-use, what was your motivation for publishing the book openly and under this license?

First of all, I believe any academic endeavour should be open to the public. Since this book is the result of an NWO project, which was paid for by public funds, open access is now required.  Furthermore, working as a scholar on Middle Eastern studies, I’ve seen various academic settings and open access is essential in regions where many do not have access to print copies, fewer institutions can afford subscriptions.

How do you think academia and society at large can benefit from your book being available open access?

Scholars working on the Middle East can now easily prescribe parts of the book to their students, it gives them an easy access to a source translated from Arabic, all the more relevant that it is a critical edition. They can also prescribe only some of the chapters, so that students get an idea of certain aspects only (for example the Arabs in Europe and their political representation during the interwar period). The fact that institutions/individuals don’t have to purchase the book makes it easier to prescribe only some parts of it. 

It has been a while since you have published these books. Did unrestricted access in any way help you to reach new audiences? In new, unexpected ways or in any way different compared to traditional publishing? If yes, how do you know this?

The creative commons engage audiences beyond the traditional readers, broadening and diversifying the audiences who get access to the book, anyone can access it. We were contacted by various types of readers, in Europe and from the Middle East – we even received a message with photos of the persons mentioned in the manuscripts (1920’s and 1930’s). The book The House of the Priest has been published just before the summer; we are eager to receive more reactions in the future.

Looking at your own publishing journey, have your views on open access book publishing, its benefits or limitations in any way changed over the years?

I was always convinced by the necessity to share widely publications, to make them available to various audiences, and that all students and scholars, all the more so when they are from/in Middle Eastern countries, in my particular case, should easily and immediately access them. Over the years, this opinion was only reinforced.  

International Open Access Week interview: NWO-funded book editor Janneke van Bergen

Since the start of our collaboration with NWO – The Dutch Research Council, the OAPEN Library has seen the NWO collection grow, now containing almost 200 titles. To celebrate Open Access Week, OAPEN asked authors/editors of books arising from NWO-funding to share their experiences and views, kicking off with Janneke van Bergen.

Janneke van Bergen is a landscape architect and PhD researcher at the TU Delft. Over the past decade she worked in the field of water and infrastructure, including Room for the River, the National Coastal Delta Program and Studio Coastal Quality. She currently works for the ShoreScape research, funded by NWO Top Sector Water Program, to investigate Building with Nature and coastal design.

Building with Nature is a concept where nature is used to cope with climate change risks, such as floods, waves, and sea level rise. You have recently published a book on Building with Nature perspectives which is included in the OAPEN Library collection. Could you tell us some more about this concept and your research project?

Within the ShoreScape project we combine research from coastal engineering and landscape architecture to promote Building with Nature (BwN) along urbanized sandy shores. In this research we develop design principles to stimulate dune formation after nourishment and reduce the negative effects of beach urbanization. The collaboration promoted new joint insights on BwN, and gave incentive to a publication on this topic: Building with Nature perspectives. This publication was funded by NWO and DIMI, a fund focusing on interfaculty research.

You published your work in TU Delft Open Publishing which follows a diamond business model. What was your experience with the publisher?

We collaborated with Research in Urbanism Series (RIUS), a scientific journal, that took well care of the publication process within TU Delft Open Publishing.

Your book is published under an open license, CC-BY, making it freely available and granting others a certain level of re-use, what was your motivation for publishing the book openly and under this license?

I think it is important for emerging fields of science, such as Building with Nature, to share scientific perspectives and work towards an overarching agenda, besides more specialist, mono-disciplinary publications. This will help to build new layers of innovative, joint knowledge.

It has been more than a year since you have published this book. Did unrestricted access in any way help you to reach new audiences? In new, unexpected ways or in any way different compared to traditional publishing? If yes, how do you know this?

It was a good way to reach a hybrid audience of both coastal engineers, spatial designers and even social sciences to cross the bridge to other disciplines working on the concept of Building with Nature. It has increased the interest for our ShoreScape publications from both disciplines (documented by ResearchGate), that otherwise would have been limited to our own disciplines only.

This year’s theme for the International Open Access Week is “open for climate justice’’. How do you think society at large can benefit from climate research being openly available, and your book being OA (Open Access)?

Certainly, I think climate adaptation is urgent, therefore is not just an academic, but public matter where all parties should be involved in. It will help academics to open up their specialisms to the social perspective, and the public to making conscious choices for climate-proof evolution.

Big in Japan, Zimbabwe or Brazil – global reach and national preferences for open access books

To many the internationalisation of academic publishing may mean: a strong focus on global issues, written in English only. However, many academic books are written in other languages than English. We tend to link non-English publications to regional issues, so there is a tension between English as the ‘lingua franca’ enabling a global reach, versus local languages that provide a better cultural ‘fit’.

M. Adiputra, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Now from theory to practice: if you give a global audience free access to (nearly) 20,000 freely accessible books and chapters in several languages, spanning many subjects, will they all choose books in English?

In a newly published paper, we have systematically researched the preferences of readers originating from one hundred countries. By looking at the ten most downloaded books from each country, we can measure the focus on regional topics by counting the books written in languages other than English.

Books, popular in multiple countries

The outcomes of this study do not fit in a story of English language publications as the only or the main source of scholarly communication. There is a demand for regionally focused titles, countering the narrative of the dominance of English as the language of scholarly communication. Instead, this study supports the value of bibliodiversity.

Read the paper here:

Snijder, Ronald. 2022. “Big in Japan, Zimbabwe or Brazil – Global Reach and National Preferences for Open Access Books”. Insights 35: 11. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.580

Tour de Bibliothèque: The OAPEN Library SCOAP³ for Books collection

The OAPEN Library is a growing virtual library of open access books. Researchers and curious readers find their way to the OAPEN Library via a number of entrances. As they browse, land upon or virtually stroll through the OAPEN Library, what unique books may one discover on its bookshelves? Today we’ll take a tour through the high energy physics section, where we’ll find the latest collection added to the OAPEN Library: the SCOAP³ for Books collection.

Open access books in high energy physics

The SCOAP³ for Books collection currently includes over 20 open access books in high energy physics and will, as part of this pilot initiative, grow to include a set of over 100 important texts within the discipline. 

This collection includes titles such as “The Standard Model and Beyond’’ written by Paul Langacker, part of the High Energy Physics, Cosmology, and Gravitation series published by Taylor and Francis (2017). This open access book provides an advanced introduction to the physics and formalism of the standard model and other non-abelian gauge theories. It provides a solid background for understanding supersymmetry, string theory, extra dimensions, dynamical symmetry breaking, and cosmology.

Next to this readers may encounter the open access book Challenges And Goals For Accelerators In The XXI Century’’, edited by Stephen Myers & Oliver Brüning and published by World Scientific Publishing Company (2016). This book describes the past 100 years of accelerator development with a special focus on the technological advancements in the field, the connection of the various accelerator projects to key developments and discoveries in the Standard Model, how accelerator technologies open the door to other applications in medicine and industry, and finally presents an outlook of future accelerator projects for the coming decades.

The role of books for SCOAP³ 

These open access books are made available thanks to the work of SCOAP³ – the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics. SCOAP³ enables open dissemination of global research outputs in high energy physics and was first introduced in 2012, with the support of the European Organization of Nuclear Research (CERN).

So what is the role of the academic book for SCOAP³ and within high energy physics more generally?

The overall objective for SCOAP3 is to enable global, equitable open access for research in the discipline of high energy physics. Having successfully converted the majority of the journal literature in the discipline to open, the Consortium decided to expand the scope of the initiative to include academic books in high energy physics and related disciplines (such as accelerator physics and instrumentation).

“Through the support of members of the consortium and partnerships with key publishers, we are making important texts in our domain completely free for students, faculty and researchers around the world. The COVID19 pandemic demonstrated how important it is for content to be widely and seamlessly accessible, and we are committed to a future where research and academic texts are available openly to anyone who might need them.”  – Dr. Kamran Naim, Head of Open Science, CERN

OAPEN Library collection services 

Thanks to the partnership between SCOAP³ for Books and the OAPEN Library, the SCOAP³ for Books collection benefits from the various OAPEN Library collection services. These include hosting, digital preservation, dissemination and usage reporting.

The OAPEN Library includes these books as part of its metadata feeds, API schema and OAI-PMH harvesting protocol. This enables a wide range of organisations such as academic libraries, library intermediaries, research institutions, and discovery services (including Google Scholar) to provide visibility for these open access books around the world.

In the course of the next few months, more titles can be expected to be added to this unique collection of open access books.

The OAPEN Library and the origin of downloads – libraries & academic institutions

On a regular basis, we look at the download data of the OAPEN Library and where it comes from. While examining the data from January to August 2021, we focused on the usage originating from libraries and academic institutions. Happily, we found that more than 1,100 academic institutions and libraries have used the OAPEN Library.

Of course, we do not actively track individual users. Instead we use a more general approach: we look at the website from which the download from the OAPEN Library originated. How does that work? For instance, when someone in the library of the University of Leipzig clicks on the download link of a book in the OAPEN library, two things happen: first, the book is directly available on the computer that person is working on, and second, the OAPEN server notes the ‘return address’: https://katalog.ub.uni-leipzig.de/. We have no way of knowing who the person is that started the download, we just know the request originated from the Leipzig University Library. Furthermore, some organisations choose to suppress sending their ‘return address’, making them anonymous.

What is helpful to us, is the fact that aggregators such as ExLibris, EBSCO or SerialSolutions use a specific return address. Examples are “west-sydney-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com” – pointing to the library of the Western Sydney University – or “sfx.unibo.it”– coming from the library of the Università di Bologna. And in this way, many academic libraries can also be identified from their web address. Some academic institutions only display their ‘general’ address.

Academic libraries and institutions, sorted by type
Academic libraries and institutions

As mentioned before, our analysis delivered over 1,100 – 1,121 to be exact – different addresses. The chart displays those addresses divided by type, and we see that many academic libraries not just rely on aggregators such as ExLibris, but also directly give access to the OAPEN Library through their catalogs. The metadata of the OAPEN Library is freely available under a CC0 license, and can be downloaded as a MARCXML file to ensure easy library integration.

Which libraries and institutions are the biggest users of the OAPEN Library according to this data? The most downloads come from MediaLibraryOnLine, the first Italian network of public, academic and scholastic libraries for digital lending; the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford; and Universidad Peruana de Ciencas Aplicados.

We are happy to see that our collection is finding its way to libraries and academic institutions all over the world!

It’s the system that counts

You would expect it to be simple: when somebody downloads a book from the OAPEN Library, the system adds one to the total number of downloads. After a while you put the numbers in a report, and share it with the world. Sadly, the reality is more complex. All the books and chapters can be downloaded by everybody, including automated processes (bots). Also, if you think as downloads as a measure of impact, it becomes tempting to inflate it by downloading a certain book again and again.

So, the raw download numbers need to be filtered, in order to give a more realistic indication of the true impact. Many libraries use the COUNTER Code of Practice as standard, which enables them to compare the data from different sources. However, many online platforms measure their visitors using Google Analytics. The OAPEN Library uses both (but we only report the COUNTER data). Together with the migration to a new platform, a new version of the COUNTER reporting (Release 5) was introduced. A good moment to compare Google Analytics (GA) with COUNTER Release 5 (R5).

Comparing the amounts of monthly downloads is simple: where GA reports over 1 million downloads per month, R5 stricter filter lets it report around 400,000 downloads. Again, when we look at the details, the reality is more complex. For instance, comparing the number of downloads per country shows large differences for the USA, France, China and Russia. In contrast, the numbers for Australia, Canada and Austria are virtually the same. When we compare the usage data of each title, the differences are even less simple to explain. You would expect that both GA an R5 more or less agree about the order of books: which book was downloaded the most, which one comes after that etc. But that is very much not the case.

GA and R5 have made their own choices on what is reported and what not. One metric is not better than the other, but we should be open about the choices made. After all, open access book metrics are complicated and we can only benefit from clarity.

More details about usage data and the two systems can be found in:

Ronald Snijder, “Open access book usage data – how close is COUNTER to the other kind?,” Insights 34 (1): 9. (2021), https://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.539.
Submitted on 11 November 2020 and published by UKSG in association with Ubiquity Press on 28 April 2021

You might also be interested in the OAeBU DataTrust Pilot or this OBP blog. Things get even more complex when you try to compare different platforms…

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