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poster: Karen Hellekson

[META] Breaking the primacy of print: open access and TWC

Second post on open access: if you’ve seen the Open Access Explained video, it may seem pretty obvious that academic work on fans should also be open access. But what are the challenges of making a journal like Transformative Works and Cultures open access? TWC editor Karen Hellekson posted this fine analysis of the issues in August 2010, with a special focus on how making such a journal online only affects things. Reposting.

I was brought on board to help launch TWC in part because of my expertise in the scientific publishing world and my background in production. I was a hard sell when asked to lend my time to the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) and to TWC. What convinced me was the open access nature of the journal, the Creative Commons copyright, and the notion of fair use that would permit the journal to embed video and stills. These are in striking contrast to the locked-down access, repressive reprint rules, and monetization of content that I see every day in the journal-publishing industry. When it came time to decide whether we wanted a print component available for TWC’s articles, like a print version or PDFs, I spoke out strongly against it. I argued for the primacy of the online version because TWC embeds media, like YouTube videos and screen caps. How could that be duplicated in print? It can’t. Better that there be only one official version, and that one online. We would strike a blow for online-only content!

Two years later, TWC is still online only, but it’s become clear that that ideal has a cost. TWC’s audience is made up of acafans, and lots of academics who might otherwise submit to TWC find that they ought not, because their university has rules that online-only publications do not count for promotion and tenure. Some publishers won’t send us review copies of books because they have a blanket policy that they will not provide books to online-only publications. It’s clear that the reputation of online-only publications is markedly lesser than print publications. Discussions have been going on for years about online publishing models and how to weight them for tenure and promotion: Robert B. Townsend’s “History and the Future of Scholarly Publishing” discusses the issue in the field of history, and the Modern Language Association lays out its suggestions in its Statement on Publication in Electronic Journals.

The academic articles in TWC are double-blind peer reviewed. This means that every article is read by two scholars in the field who are unaware of the identity of the writer, and the writer is shielded from the identity of the readers. That’s the gold standard in the journal-publishing industry. (Several sections of the journal, including the Symposium section, are editorially reviewed.) We naively thought that rigor, peer review, excellent editing, and overall high standards would trump mode of publication. But little has changed in institutional practices. It is too easy to replicate the existing model, or too difficult to permit an institutional committee to assess items on their own merits. They would rather offload their assessment to a proxy, such as publication in a prestigious journal or by a prestigious press. Why read the book if Oxford University Press published it? It’s Oxford University Press! Similarly, to assess importance, you might look at proxies that are meant to suggest importance in the field: you might check the journal’s acceptance rates; if in the sciences you might check their impact factor; or you might examine a listing maintained by, say, the MLA, and if it’s on the list, it counts.

To up our profile, we submit TWC to various indexes. These indexes are lists of vetted content that meets certain criteria, and being listed in the index is a way to show legitimacy and drive readership. Well-known indexes that most people have heard of include PubMed (for medicine) and ERIC (for education). TWC signed an agreement permitting EBSCO, a database aggregator, to list TWC. But our application to be listed in Scopus was rejected, perhaps because when we applied, only a single issue had come out. (We’ll try again later.) To be listed, not only must TWC maintain its status as blind peer reviewed, but the journal must print a careful ratio of peer-reviewed content to non-peer-reviewed content to retain the status of “academic.” The indexing services seek to ensure quality by going down a checklist of current best practices in the journal-publishing industry and only listing journals that fulfill these criteria. Yet best practices have clearly not yet been able to adequately account for online-only publications, or online-only publications would not be treated differently by academic institutions during review for tenure and promotion.

When I fill out forms, surveys, and index submission forms related to TWC and its practices, it becomes clear how strongly the print model affects every aspect of what is considered the norm for publishing. I skip entire sections: I don’t know the number of subscriptions because we don’t use a subscription model. I can’t estimate readership because many of the user accounts are obviously spam accounts, and plenty of readers never create a user ID. We don’t offer different levels of access to different people. We don’t have office expenses because we don’t have an office, instead using freeware OJS to shepherd copy through the publication process. I can’t estimate readership for an essay because our copyright permits the author, or anyone else, to repost, which bleeds off readers and thus they aren’t counted by the software. We have no income from reprint or author fees because we don’t charge those fees. All the questions meant to assess readership and subscriptions are, with an open access model, nearly impossible to estimate. Ironically, the traditional journal-publishing world seeks to maximize impact by minimizing access, even though study after study has shown that people are far more likely to read and cite publications available in full online.

Despite these very real drawbacks, all of which are remnants of the print model, I stand by our decision to reject print in favor of online-only open access. We probably don’t need to be cited in indexes like Scopus because Google searches easily find us, with no block to obtaining full text. It has also struck me that my coeditor, Kristina Busse, and I are the perfect people to edit this journal precisely because neither of us is affiliated. Our jobs aren’t going to be affected by our work; working on the journal will never “count” one way or the other. That’s tremendously freeing.

I’m proud to be working on a publication that is on the vanguard of changing the journal-publishing model by testing models and ideas that permit the free and open exchange of ideas within a context of intellectual rigor. I am saddened that some authors will never submit to us because they can’t afford to, but I am also confident that within the next 10 years, that will change. And it will be because TWC, and journals like it, stood its ground.

[META] Persistence and DOIs

When TWC’s No. 6 (History issue) came out a few weeks ago, we had a not-so-minor snafu: all the hotlinks in the press release were broken. The reason? We had (cleverly, we thought) drafted the press release using DOIs instead of URLs, and we had problems with the issue’s DOI deposit. DOIs, or digital object identifiers, are a way to pretend that Web items are permanent. Web sites change so frequently that links continually get broken. DOIs aim to help solve this problem: an online item, in this case a journal article, is assigned a unique identifier, and then that identifier is linked to a URL in a database. When you hit the identifier, it searches the database for the URL and then goes there. The DOI record file is simply updated when the URL changes. One goal of DOIs is to expedite persistence of online content. When we wrote the press release, we used the DOIs because the links would persist, and theoretically, anyone running across it years later would still be able to hit live links. The most widely used DOI service is CrossRef, whose “mandate is to connect users to primary research content, by enabling publishers to work collectively. CrossRef is also the official DOI link registration agency for scholarly and professional publications.” Their Free DOI Lookup lets you type in information and return a DOI. You may also type a DOI in a box on their home page, and it will take you right to the relevant URL, often not the article itself but a summary page that lists all the options available for viewing, downloading, or purchasing content. (You may also add “http://dx.doi.org/” before the DOI to turn it into a URL.) The DOI system is very flexible and can take any number of forms. A sample DOI from TWC No. 6 is “10.3983/twc.2011.0272.” Here’s what it means: first is our unique DOI number (10.3983), which was assigned to us when we signed up and paid our fees. Next are the journal abbreviation (twc), the year (2011), and a minimum-four-digit individual article number (0272), which is the same as the article’s OJS submission record. We made up the whole format to please ourselves, and to permit future growth—for example, we could replace “twc” with something else to reflect something else we wanted to index, like a monograph. According to the DOI folks, the DOI system is “A system for persistent, semantically interoperable, identification of intellectual property entities on any digital network.” Various sorts of metadata may be uploaded into each item’s database entry—not just the URL, but also things like author names, whether the item is online or print, journal titles, journal abbreviated titles, whether the item is full text or abstract only, page number for first page, year of publication, in-house identifier, volume and issue, and individual references cited inside the article. The information chosen by the administrator to be collected is typed into an XML form, and that form is uploaded into a DOI system. TWC doesn’t deposit much: we file the first author, the URL, and the journal’s status as online (as opposed to print). Although DOIs are most often identified with journals in the sciences with an online presence, TWC joined the club because we approve of the theory of the persistence of links. As part of the deal with DOI, we have to hotlink to DOIs in the articles’ works cited sections, so an issue or so back, we researched all the works cited sections of all the published articles and added in the DOIs so we would be compliant. Now we do this for each article as a production step; we have a CrossRef account that permits batch querying. Regarding TWC’s failed deposit for No. 6: it turned out that the DOI folks had changed the way the deposit was formatted (in their terms, they updated to a new schema), only we didn’t know about it. We thought we were incorrectly formatting the XML file. We spent a lot of time examining it, trying to figure out where we went wrong. We got it done, but days late. Still, we’re committed to the broader issue of persistence of online content: in addition to depositing DOIs, TWC grants permission to libraries to make archive copies of each issue, and of course TWC’s Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License copyright lets anybody who wants to (nonprofit only!) duplicate the entire text and credit back to the original source—and we hope people will use the DOI, naturally, not the URL. TWC is using an established tool built for scholars to help persistence of data. But it makes me wonder: what do fans do to ensure that an online fan artwork can be found? I can think of a few strategies: continuously curated links roundups, multiple copies of items at several blogs and archives, screenshots of artwork, zipped and filed files (vids? art? stories?) maintained in locked communities. (Comment with more!) It just reminds me of how much we rely on fans’ time-consuming, detailed organizational work to find things.

[META] TWC, style, and meaning

Thanks to the recent release of the 16th edition of the venerable Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), I redid the in-house style sheet for Transformative Works and Cultures, just in time for the production team to start work on the March issue. The style sheet is a document that outlines how information ought to appear so that it’s presented consistently across documents. It specifies such things as how references are styled, what heads look like, and how units of numbers are presented. TWC follows CMOS closely in virtually every respect.

A style does more than simply provide a template that permits many people to work on a single project and be confident of some degree of conformity. The style chosen makes a statement about the kind of information it presents. TWC uses author–year style (CMOS Documentation II), which marks us as falling under a media studies/social sciences rubric rather than a humanities rubric. The presentation of the year in text foregrounds the importance of timely work. Any scholar glancing casually at TWC can infer a lot just by noticing our citation style.

But choosing to style something a particular way can also make a political statement. As an example, take the styling of, for race, Black versus black, White versus white. Depending on context, the capitalized version can indicate anything from official US Census demographic categories to radical political leanings. If it’s capitalized, it’s got to be meaningful. (TWC follows CMOS, which likes down style: black, white.)

Politically speaking, in the small world of fan studies, one could argue that fanfic is used so commonly by fans themselves that TWC ought to style it like that. We don’t. We use fan fic because that is how it appears in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (MW; updated version available at MerriamWebster.com), which we follow slavishly for spellings, even going so far as to permit it to override CMOS where they differ. One reason is that we don’t want to imply that fan is a prefix—it can’t be, because it is a noun, a word meaningful on its own. But another, more important reason is that we think separating the two words emphasizes the status of the fan herself. Thus in TWC’s style, fan words are almost always open compounds, not solid or hyphenated compounds: fan work, fan artwork, fan vid. It’s not a fanwork; it’s a fan work, a work created by an agent, the fan. By styling it open, we are making a kind of political statement that emphasizes agency.

However, when it comes right down to it, TWC likes to use published reference works to make production easier: team members and authors can look items up and be confident they are correctly styled, and, at least for styling references, conformity to a published style means that bibliographic citation managers, such as Zotero and OneNote, may be used without modifying the output. Despite the political implications of styling it open, if MW changes fan fic to fanfic, TWC will change its style. If MW changes Web site to website, TWC will change its style. Published standards result in pleasing stylistic conformity.* And they make the life of production personnel so, so much easier.

A shortened version of the new style appears in the instructions for authors on TWC’s Web site. The long version contains a lot of detailed information really only relevant to the production team. If we have done our jobs correctly, the edited documents will read so clearly that meaning is immediately evident, with no distracting errors: do regular readers of the journal even notice that we style it Web site? Didn’t think so.

In a well-edited document, the editing ought to be invisible. Standards are there to help that happen, and that’s why we follow them.

Endnote

* Most words we look up are compound words, not words we don’t know how to spell. Is a term one word, two words, or hyphenated? We need to know. The rule is, if a compound word is not in MW (the only dictionary used in the US academic publishing industry), it’s two words. TWC prefers to style most things always open; it usually isn’t confusing to omit a hyphen to indicate that the terms are linked.

[META] Breaking the primacy of print

I was brought on board to help launch TWC in part because of my expertise in the scientific publishing world and my background in production. I was a hard sell when asked to lend my time to the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) and to TWC. What convinced me was the open access nature of the journal, the Creative Commons copyright, and the notion of fair use that would permit the journal to embed video and stills. These are in striking contrast to the locked-down access, repressive reprint rules, and monetization of content that I see every day in the journal-publishing industry. When it came time to decide whether we wanted a print component available for TWC’s articles, like a print version or PDFs, I spoke out strongly against it. I argued for the primacy of the online version because TWC embeds media, like YouTube videos and screen caps. How could that be duplicated in print? It can’t. Better that there be only one official version, and that one online. We would strike a blow for online-only content!

Two years later, TWC is still online only, but it’s become clear that that ideal has a cost. TWC’s audience is made up of acafans, and lots of academics who might otherwise submit to TWC find that they ought not, because their university has rules that online-only publications do not count for promotion and tenure. Some publishers won’t send us review copies of books because they have a blanket policy that they will not provide books to online-only publications. It’s clear that the reputation of online-only publications is markedly lesser than print publications. Discussions have been going on for years about online publishing models and how to weight them for tenure and promotion: Robert B. Townsend’s “History and the Future of Scholarly Publishing” discusses the issue in the field of history, and the Modern Language Association lays out its suggestions in its Statement on Publication in Electronic Journals.

The academic articles in TWC are double-blind peer reviewed. This means that every article is read by two scholars in the field who are unaware of the identity of the writer, and the writer is shielded from the identity of the readers. That’s the gold standard in the journal-publishing industry. (Several sections of the journal, including the Symposium section, are editorially reviewed.) We naively thought that rigor, peer review, excellent editing, and overall high standards would trump mode of publication. But little has changed in institutional practices. It is too easy to replicate the existing model, or too difficult to permit an institutional committee to assess items on their own merits. They would rather offload their assessment to a proxy, such as publication in a prestigious journal or by a prestigious press. Why read the book if Oxford University Press published it? It’s Oxford University Press! Similarly, to assess importance, you might look at proxies that are meant to suggest importance in the field: you might check the journal’s acceptance rates; if in the sciences you might check their impact factor; or you might examine a listing maintained by, say, the MLA, and if it’s on the list, it counts.

To up our profile, we submit TWC to various indexes. These indexes are lists of vetted content that meets certain criteria, and being listed in the index is a way to show legitimacy and drive readership. Well-known indexes that most people have heard of include PubMed (for medicine) and ERIC (for education). TWC signed an agreement permitting EBSCO, a database aggregator, to list TWC. But our application to be listed in Scopus was rejected, perhaps because when we applied, only a single issue had come out. (We’ll try again later.) To be listed, not only must TWC maintain its status as blind peer reviewed, but the journal must print a careful ratio of peer-reviewed content to non-peer-reviewed content to retain the status of “academic.” The indexing services seek to ensure quality by going down a checklist of current best practices in the journal-publishing industry and only listing journals that fulfill these criteria. Yet best practices have clearly not yet been able to adequately account for online-only publications, or online-only publications would not be treated differently by academic institutions during review for tenure and promotion.

When I fill out forms, surveys, and index submission forms related to TWC and its practices, it becomes clear how strongly the print model affects every aspect of what is considered the norm for publishing. I skip entire sections: I don’t know the number of subscriptions because we don’t use a subscription model. I can’t estimate readership because many of the user accounts are obviously spam accounts, and plenty of readers never create a user ID. We don’t offer different levels of access to different people. We don’t have office expenses because we don’t have an office, instead using freeware OJS to shepherd copy through the publication process. I can’t estimate readership for an essay because our copyright permits the author, or anyone else, to repost, which bleeds off readers and thus they aren’t counted by the software. We have no income from reprint or author fees because we don’t charge those fees. All the questions meant to assess readership and subscriptions are, with an open access model, nearly impossible to estimate. Ironically, the traditional journal-publishing world seeks to maximize impact by minimizing access, even though study after study has shown that people are far more likely to read and cite publications available in full online.

Despite these very real drawbacks, all of which are remnants of the print model, I stand by our decision to reject print in favor of online-only open access. We probably don’t need to be cited in indexes like Scopus because Google searches easily find us, with no block to obtaining full text. It has also struck me that my coeditor, Kristina Busse, and I are the perfect people to edit this journal precisely because neither of us is affiliated. Our jobs aren’t going to be affected by our work; working on the journal will never “count” one way or the other. That’s tremendously freeing.

I’m proud to be working on a publication that is on the vanguard of changing the journal-publishing model by testing models and ideas that permit the free and open exchange of ideas within a context of intellectual rigor. I am saddened that some authors will never submit to us because they can’t afford to, but I am also confident that within the next 10 years, that will change. And it will be because TWC, and journals like it, stood its ground.