Growing bulbs of intellectual freedom from academic libraries

Re-blog from:

by Kevin Sanders (moananddrone)

As many of us are increasingly aware, data pertaining to our online behaviour- when and where we have been, what we did whilst occupying that space, etc.- have become increasingly valuable to a range of stakeholders and bad actors, including unethical hackers, commercial organisations, and the state. The weaknesses inherent across various web infrastructures, their deployment, and their ubiquitous, multipurpose uses are routinely exploited to capture the private data and information of individuals and entire communities.

For many librarians, this technological and cultural problem has been increasingly acknowledged as part of a wider political concern that is directly relevant to our professional requirement to protect the right to intellectual privacy (Fister, 2015; Smith, 2018).

Through both my professional and voluntary labour with the Library Freedom Project and the Radical Librarians Collective, I have been trying to directly offer support for individuals in their attempt to protect their privacy through their behaviours and the digital tools they choose to make use of. However, consistently weaving intellectual privacy throughout my professional praxis is a significant challenge.

Peeling back the layers of libraries and the scholarly commons

I am currently employed as the Research Support Manager for Library Services at the University of West London (UWL). A significant aspect of my role is to manage and administrate the UWL Repository, which is the institution’s repository of research outputs. The repository makes these outputs discoverable and accessible through what is known as green open access.

The collection, storage, management, and sharing of information demonstrated in the administration of a repository are all core elements of library work. However, this specific aspect of library work directly contributes towards the development and maintenance of the scholarly commons as an accessible body of work that “admit[s] the curious, rather than [only] the orthodox, to the alchemist’s vault” (Illich, 1973), and to allow people to re-use the research for their own purposes.

In all areas of library work, ensuring that the personal data and information of our user communities is stored securely is very important for the preservation of intellectual privacy. However, in the contemporary environment, libraries’ digital connections to external sources and services can make this challenging. Libraries are reliant on services that are served externally, and as such libraries lack the ability to control how these services share data required for the use of these services.

As the University have control over the repository through an agreement with a hosting service, it has been easy enough to enable some security enhancements. As such, from January 2018, the UWL Repository has been wrapped in HTTPS to respect our user communities’ information security by ensuring that all connections to it are encrypted.

Unfortunately, the scholarly commons is only as accessible as it is permitted to be on the clear-net, as there are many powerful stakeholders that have the ability to suppress access and thus censor scholars and other publics from accessing the published results of academic research and scholarship.

Onions don’t grow on trees; environmental ethics and the scholarly commons

Some popular online services and networks for scholars, such as Sci-Hub, ResearchGate,, also offer users the option to share their scholarly and research outputs gratis. The latter two are capital venture funded, commercial services. Part of their business operations include providing data around research that can, it is claimed, offer insights into its ‘impact’. However, these services do not take responsibility for the frequent breaches of licences that help to calcify the commodification of scholarly knowledge (Lawson et al., 2015,). Many of these services also have vested interests in the data stored and created through the use of their services.

For the scholarly commons, publishing via open access (through both gold open access publishers and via institutional and subject repositories) and making use of appropriate Creative Commons licences is a significantly more effective and ethical way to share and access research and scholarly outputs. Institutional repositories are commonly sustained by institutional funding (i.e. they serve not-for-profit functions), for instance, and they also commonly run on free (libre) and open source software such as EPrintssoftware, which is licensed under GPL v3.0.

Here, we can see that libraries actively support a libre approach to free, online access to scholarly information.

Layering up for intellectual privacy, access, and the scholarly commons

As referred to above, various fields of informational labour hold a broad consensus view around users’ right and need for intellectual privacy (Richards, 2015). In this context, ensuring that the research and scholarly outputs are accessible in ways that allow users to retain their privacy seems essential.

As such, I have made the UWL Repository accessible from within the Tor network as an onion service.

I briefly consulted Library Services’ director, Andrew Preater, prior to undertaking this work, but I was able to make use of Enterprise Onion Toolkit (EOTK) to create a proxy of the repository without requiring root access to the webserver of the clear-net site, and without having to make copies of the files held on that server. As a proof-of-concept, it is now accessible via https://6dtdxvvrug3v6g6d.onion, but may be moved to a more permanent .onion address in the future, subject to institutional support. (Please note that an exception has to be granted to access the onion service due to some of the complexities of HTTPS over onion services. This is something that I would hope to resolve with institutional support. Please see Murray’s post for further details).

This provision allows global access to the UWL Repository and its accessible content in a form that allows users to protect their right to intellectual privacy; neither their ISP nor UWL, as a service provider, will be able to identify their personal use of UWL Repository when using https://6dtdxvvrug3v6g6d.onion/.

Having repositories available as onion services is of significant benefit for those accessing the material from, for instance, oppressive geopolitical contexts. Onion services offer not only enhanced privacy for users, but also help to circumvent censorship. Some governments and regimes routinely deny access to clear-net websites deemed obscene or a threat to national security. Providing an onion service of the repository not only protects those that may suffer enhanced digital surveillance for challenging social constructs or social relations (which can have a severely chilling effect on intellectual freedom), but also on entire geographical areas that are locked out of accessing publicly accessible content on the clear-net.

The expansion of intellectual privacy for the scholarly commons is bringing tears to my eyes

Although this is a small step for the scholarly commons, it is an important one. In our politically fragile world, marginalised communities often suffer disproportionate risks, and taking this simple step helps to reinstate somesafety into this digital space (Barron et al., 2017). As Ganghadharan (2012) notes, “[u]ntil policy–makers begin a frank discussion of how to account for benefits and harms of experiencing online worlds and to confront the need to protect collective and individual privacy online, oppressive practices will continue”.

I hope that other library and information workers, repository administrators, open access publishers, and their associated indexing services will take inspiration from the step that I have taken and help us to lead a collective charge that places intellectual privacy at the centre of both the scholarly commons and digital library services.


I would like to thank Murray Royston-Ward and Simon Barron for their technical support (if you do not have access to a server, Murray has written a guide to trialling a Tor mirror of services via Google’s Cloud Engine), Alec Muffett for his development of EOTK, Alison Macrina and the Library Freedom Project for their advocacy of digital rights within libraries, the Radical Librarians Collective for providing spaces to support my professional development and practical skills, and to all those involved in the Tor Project that support and provide tools that allow us to make good on our right to digital privacy.


Barron, S., Regnault, C., and Sanders, K. (2017). Library privacy. Carnegie UK. [Retrieved from:]

Fister, B. (2015). Big Data or Big Brother? Data, ethics, and academic libraries. Library Issues: Briefings for Faculty and Administrators. [Retrieved from:]

Gangadharan, S. P. (2012). Digital inclusion and data profiling. First Monday, 17(5)

Illich, I. (1973). Tools for conviviality. [Retrieved from:]

Lawson, S., Sanders, K., and Smith, L. (2015). Commodification of the information profession: A critique of higher education under neoliberalism. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 3 (1). [Retrieved from:]

Richards, N. (2015). Intellectual privacy: Rethinking civil liberties in the digital age. Oxford University Press, USA

Smith, L. (2018). Surveillance, privacy, and the ethics of librarianship. Cambridge Libraries Conference, 11/01,2018. [Retrieved from:

This is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Licence

A Guide to Open and Hybrid Publishing

Or how to create an image-based, open access book in TEN easy steps


The world of publishing is undergoing dramatic changes, with the emergence of new publishing platforms, the increasing need for cross-media content and the transformation of the book into an ‘open medium’. The aim of this guide is to explain the concept of ‘open and hybrid publishing’ and to encourage various parties – students, educators, artists, curators, independent publishers, cultural heritage managers – to become involved in open and hybrid publishing themselves.

Using two case studies of multi-platform publishing projects, this Guide to Open and Hybrid Publishing demystifies the process of publishing online and offline today. Promoting the creative reuse of the available cultural resources, it draws attention to the complex issue of copyright when it comes to publishing written texts – as well as images. It also discusses the various business approaches that ‘open and hybrid publishing’ can embrace.

What’s happening with publishing today?

The rise of new devices, such as Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, has facilitated new ways of reading. It has also changed the very nature of the medium that is being read. Desktop computers facilitated a shift to screen-based reading, while laptops, smartphones and tablets encouraged the development of cross-platform multimedia contents. Today it is e-books, tablets and smartphones, more than online newspapers, that are radically transforming the publishing landscape. The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported recently that e-books are ‘on course to outsell printed editions in UK by 2018’. The book market itself is showing definite growth tendencies in respect of both the commercial e-book market and, under the open access publishing model especially, academic publishing market. With regard to the former, ‘The UK consumer e-book market – which excludes professional and educational books – is forecast to almost triple from £380m to £1bn over the next four years’ (The Guardian, 4 June 2014 ).

E-books are only one part of this new ecosystem of reading, writing, publishing, distribution, access and sales. They represent, in Europe, just a few percentage points of the revenue of the national book industry. Certainly, for many publishers these days (such as Penguin Random House or Hachette Livres) expanding their access to international markets on a global scale through e-books is a priority. Yet publishing is no longer limited to the traditional publishing houses: technology companies such as Apple, Amazon and Google have now entered the picture. With their new production and distribution models, and new modes of presenting content, these companies are disrupting the traditional structures – and strictures – of the pre-digital publishing industry. Interestingly, they are also promoting a more seamless relation between text and image.

As for academic publishing, while the shift to digital and the promotion of open access (OA) to knowledge – where outcomes of academic research, in the form of articles, research papers and reports, are made freely available online – is relatively advanced in the sciences, it has yet to become more firmly established in the humanities. One reason for this is that in the sciences the major form of communication is the peer-reviewed journal article, and it is easy to make journal articles available on an OA basis because of the way copyright works for articles: you can always publish a pre-print version online as soon as it’s ready. In the humanities, however, the book (the academic monograph in particular)  remains the gold standard by which academics are measured – and it is more difficult to make a monograph available OA. Yet many non-profit, scholar-led presses which publish open access monographs, such as Open Humanities Press and Meson Press, have emerged in recent years. Mobilising academic labour traditionally given to large commercial conglomerates to become directly involved in the book production process, such presses have challenged the monopoly and business practices of commercial publishers of academic books.

What is the Open and Hybrid Publishing model really about?

The Open and Hybrid Publishing model presented here offers an alternative to the top-down, one-to-many traditional publishing model. It does so by drawing on the availability of valuable textual and visual material under Creative Commons licenses (licences which allow free distribution and use of works). Employing open source software – i.e. software whose code is publicly available for all to use, modify and improve upon – the Open and Hybrid Publishing model offers clear benefits to smaller publishing enterprises, both commercial and non-profit, and also to individuals. The ready availability of material that can be published on an open access basis, the reduced costs of printing and binding, the wide availability of print-on-demand services, and the relative ease of distribution of electronic and paper books, including those that are self-published using platforms such as Amazon and Blurb, means that the primary costs of the future implementation of such projects will have to do with staffing, i.e. with the setting up of such projects, copy-editing and proof-reading them, and, last but not least, with publicising them. But the majority of other costs associated with the traditional publishing business will disappear. This is why the role of the publisher now can be taken up not just by large established organisations and businesses but also by small groups or even individuals.

This expansion and the relative ease of performing this role of the publisher today – blogs, Twitter, Scribd and, etc. mean that anyone can now publish in a matter of minutes – have at the same time generated a need for capturing the attention of the increasingly fragmented audience. This is where the role of the book editor as a ‘knowledge curator’, that is as someone who selects relevant bits of knowledge and directs relevant audiences to it, becomes crucial. This role can be successfully filled by various organisations and groups within the cultural, art and educational sectors – organisations that are not traditionally associated with publishing but that already have established audiences for the content they could offer.

The Open and Hybrid Publishing model can thus be of use to many parties:

  • museums and galleries
  • educational institutions (schools, colleges and universities) and communities of learners worldwide
  • artists, curators and arts managers
  • cultural centres
  • business organisations working with media images
  • individual users (book readers, writers and artists interested in self-publishing)
  • non-profit organisations such as artists’ collectives
  • internet communities with interest in open cultures.


How is Open and Hybrid Publishing different from Open Access?

OAlogo         hyb

Exploring the newly arising possibilities in the publishing market, Open and Hybrid Publishing allows users to experiment with different modes of publishing textual, audio and visual material. It also allows for the promotion of alternative, sustainable and resilient business practices for individuals working with texts and images (artists, curators, art managers) and smaller enterprises, such as artists’ collectives and non-profit organisations. This model takes as its starting point the fact that the so-called digital revolution has facilitated the development of new modes of knowledge dissemination and research methods as well as new forms of communication. Digital distribution channels have also allowed for a wider access to academic and other cultural resources – a development that has gained the moniker ‘Open Access’.

Open Access allows free online access to academic research (articles, books, reports, etc.). The scholar-driven Open Access movement emerged in response to academic publishing being dominated by profit-maximising corporations (e.g. Taylor & Francis, Elsevier). While scholars are keen for their work to be read, appreciated and cited, this possibility is being hindered by the gate-keeping business models of their publishers, whereby knowledge is sold at rather high cost. As a reaction to the increasing commercialisation of the universities, Open Access is powered by a belief that access to knowledge and research should be the right of all people and not just a privilege of the few who can afford to pay for it.

The Open and Hybrid Publishing model makes use of, and creates, Open Access resources but it also uses other publishing modes and formats, both online and offline, which can be subsequently monetised (e.g. distribution of an electronic – epub, pdf – version of a textbook or a novel for free, with a paper copy being sold; sales of limited runs of artists’ books to accompany an exhibition or a web project): hence its ‘hybrid’ nature. This hybrid model of publishing allows users to experiment with the overall form of publications and with their business premises. It thus allows for the emergent publishing practices to develop as free educational and art experiments supported by the institutions hosting them, and as sustainable commercial ventures. However, in promoting the socially significant open access to knowledge and facilitating access to cultural heritage, the value of Open and Hybrid Publishing transcends direct monetary benefits.

Building on the approach of Open Access publishers such as Open Humanities Press and Anvil, the model employs a targeted approach to publishing various kinds of materials. It works on a project-to-project basis, thus challenging the traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach. The two case studies presented below – (1) the Living Books About Life online series of Open Access academic books that allow all readers not just to access them for free but also to edit and re-version them; and (2) Photomediations: An Open Book, a multi-site project that combines the online and offline publication of texts as well as images – illustrate the educational, artistic and commercial possibilities opened up by this model. They also highlight many of the practicalities of Open and Hybrid Publishing, including the minefield that is copyright.

In a nutshell: Open and Hybrid Publishing learns from Open Access, it sometimes borrows from OA; it may incorporate OA strategies, but it can also go beyond them, depending on what a given publication and the organisation or group bringing it out want to achieve.

Case Studies

I How can you create a ‘living book’ which keeps growing?


Living Books About Life,

Funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc), and published by Open Humanities Press, Living Books About Life is a series of curated, open access books about life – with life understood both philosophically and biologically – which provide a bridge between the humanities and the sciences. Produced by a globally-distributed network of writers and editors, the books in the series repackage existing Open Access science research by clustering it around selected topics whose unifying theme is life: e.g. air, agriculture, bioethics, cosmetic surgery, electronic waste, energy, neurology and pharmacology.

Editing such an open, living book about life could not have been simpler. After the editors decided on the topic, they had to find 10 or more scientific or science-related articles on it in one of the open access science repositories. They were also encouraged to include some other articles, excerpts, images, podcasts, video clips, etc. – as long as they were available under appropriate Creative Commons licences or, on Flickr, had ‘no known copyright restrictions’ , or as long as permission had been obtained from the copyright owner to use the works in the ways the editors intended.

By creating twenty-one ‘living books about life’ in just seven months, the series showcased exciting opportunities for publishing, in a sustainable, low-cost manner, many more such books in the future. These books can be freely shared with other academic and non-academic institutions and individuals. Taken together, they constitute an engaging interdisciplinary resource for researching and teaching relevant scientific issues across the humanities, a resource that is capable of enhancing the pedagogic experience of working with open access materials. All the books in the series are themselves ‘living’, in the sense that they are open to ongoing collaborative processes of writing, editing, updating, remixing and commenting by readers – although ‘frozen’ pdf versions of the books are also created, to strike the right balance between editorial authority and experimentation. Through this, the Living Books About Life series engages in rethinking ‘the book’ itself as a living, collaborative endeavour in the age of open science, open education, open data and e-book readers such as Kindle and the iPad.

Living Books About Life is a collaboration between Open Humanities Press and three UK-based academic institutions: Coventry University; Goldsmiths, University of London; and the University of Kent. The publishing model behind it – and behind its parent organisation, Open Humanities Press – has been shared with, and adopted by, other organisations, such as Punctum Books (an open-access and print-on-demand independent publisher dedicated to radically creative modes of intellectual inquiry and writing across a whimsical para-humanities assemblage) and Meson Press (an open access press that publishes research on digital cultures and networked media). Its authors would like to encourage some further sharing, adoption and modification of this model – and of the idea of the living book embraced by it.

II How can you redesign a coffee-table book for the Internet age?


Photomediations: An Open Book,

Photomediations: An Open Book redesigns a coffee-table photography book as an online experience to produce a creative resource that explores the dynamic relationship between photography and other media. The book uses open (libre) content, drawn from various online repositories of open access material, and tagged with a CC BY or another open licence. Through this, the book showcases the possibility of the creative reuse of image-based digital resources.

Featuring a comprehensive introduction and four specially commissioned chapters on light, movement, hybridity and networks that include over 200 images, Photomediations: An Open Book tells a unique story about the relationship between photography and other media. Its online form allows for the easy sharing of the book’s content with educators, students, publishers, museums and galleries, as well as any other interested parties. To collect the images, the book’s editors conducted an extensive search of open image collections and repositories such as Europeana, Flickr: The Commons, and Wikimedia Commons, using carefully tailored keywords  such as ‘optics’, ‘networked image’ and ‘library’. For intellectual property reasons, the images chosen had to be tagged with a relevant Creative Commons licence, or they had to be marked as being ‘in the public domain’ or having ‘no known copyright restrictions’ (the latter being a designation adopted on Flickr: The Commons, when cultural institutions have reasonably concluded that an image is free of copyright restrictions): otherwise it would have been impossible to include those images in the book. The process of searching revealed the extreme wealth of widely available open images and other forms of visual cultural heritage online – many of which can be reused, often in commercial publications (e.g. images tagged with the CC BY licence, which lets others distribute, remix, tweak and build upon the original work, even for commercial purposes, as long as the original creator is acknowledged).

The book’s four main chapters are followed by three ‘open’ chapters, which can be populated with further content by a variety of users, after the launch of the book. The three open chapters are made up of a social space – a Tumblr blog titled ‘The Book Is Alive’, an online exhibition and an open reader. A version of the reader, featuring academic and curatorial texts on the subject of photomediations, has also been published in a stand-alone book form, in collaboration with Open Humanities Press. A pdf version of the reader is downloadable for free, with a printed copy being available for purchase. All these different publication formats that are part of the project are designed to show what a contested object ‘the book’ has become in the digital area, while also highlighting the hybridity of the publishing platforms and mechanisms that are available today. In an attempt to visualize this state of events, the splash (or front) page of Photomediations: An Open Book is designed to evoke a set of book spines while the navigation around the book mimics a traditional page turning experience. Promoting the socially significant issues of ‘open access’, ‘open scholarship’ and ‘open education’, the project offers a low-cost hybrid publishing model as an alternative to the increasingly threatened traditional publishing structures.

Photomediations: An Open Book was developed as part of the European Commission-funded Europeana Space under its ICT Policy Support Programme. It is a collaboration between Goldsmiths, University of London, and Coventry University.

How to create an image-based, open access book in 10 easy steps

Using the two case studies discussed above, we present behind-the-scenes tips on how these projects came about – and on how anyone can follow in our footsteps to design a similar open/living/hybrid book, either as a free open project for themselves or their organisation, or as a commercial product. Feel free to borrow, share, adjust and improve upon our idea and model.

 1. Choose a platform for hosting your book

One way of thinking about the book as an open, hybrid, living object in the digital age is to reimagine it as a kind of website: a series of linked online pages, held together by a contents list but also by some unique design elements.

The Living Books about Life project runs on a wiki, using MediaWiki software – which is basically the same software used by Wikipedia. Photomediations: An Open Book, in turn, is based a single page of html code. You don’t need an experienced coder to get it done: our html page was customised by our designer from a readily-available module – a Fullscreen Pageflip Layout – taken from the code sharing website codrops. For the splash page (i.e. the front page of our Photomediations site), we repurposed the Image Accordion with CSS3 module. If you can do some basic html design, or have a web designer involved in your project, you can use similar ready-made, freely available modules. You can also get some low-cost help with your website by hiring someone from freelancer, even on a one-off basis.

If you know nothing about web design and have very limited resources, the web software and publishing platform WordPress is the way to go: it’s free, customisable and easy to use. It also provides lots of ready-made templates. You can download it and install it on your own website, or, if you are a complete newbie, you can build your project, and thus publish your book, directly on their site  – in a slightly more limited way though.

2. Develop the right design

To ensure your book doesn’t look like just any old website, you may want to introduce some design features that reference a ‘real’ book – or that playfully remediate its format. (Your can make a book cover and stick it on the splash page or you can insert a page-turning feature into your website). You can pick up plenty of ideas from open source and code sharing websites such as codrops.

It is important that the shape and look of your open book reinforces its content.  In designing Photomediations: An Open Book we experimented with many different shapes and styles of the platform before we settled on a design that remediates the experience of a coffee table book. Its main landing page is designed to evoke book spines and the navigation around the book mimics the traditional experience of turning book pages.

Deciding on the method of navigating through your book is equally important. You should also have an easily accessible contents list, or map, of the book as a whole. Last but not least, you need to ensure that your design is ‘responsive’, i.e. that it works well on different devices and platforms, from desktops and laptops, through to iPads and mobile phones. (Many of the recent WordPress and Tumblr templates are already designed this way.)

3. Secure hosting and a domain name

Unless your institution is able to let you use some web space on their server, your will need to secure some space on which you’ll host your book. Hosting web-based projects on shared servers is inexpensive these days and can be bought from companies big and small. (The biggest ones include Bluehost, GoDaddy and 1and1 – but do look around.) The same companies will also sell you a domain name – like – that will act as the address for your book. They will also ensure your book is easily found by search engines such as Google.

When choosing your address, think of one that best encompasses the nature of your project. For us the concept of mediation (‘photomediations’) and the idea of an open book were important components, all of which found their way into the project’s overall title and also its URL address.

4. Decide what types of content and media to include

Your book will no doubt feature still images such as photographs, as well as scans of drawings, paintings and other visual material. You may also want to include moving images. It is easy to embed visual material into your website/book – for example, using the automated ‘embed’ feature in WordPress. Text can be incorporated directly (through ‘cut and paste’ into your template), but you may also want to enhance your book with some pdf material or even with links to external resources. The advantage of the latter is that the book appears more open, reaching out beyond the confines of its covers. The disadvantage is that you have no control over external links: they can become obsolete any time. When using video, to ensure the smooth and speedy functioning of your book it’s best to host video clips on a free external website, such as YouTube or Vimeo, and embed them into your site from there – rather than place them directly within your book.

5. Curate your visual content

It may be helpful to understand your role in putting together on online book as that of a curator rather than just an editor. In other words, you become someone whose task is to organise the deluge of images and other data available on the Internet into a coherent and visually pleasing whole, gathered under a strong concept. Editing such a book is therefore akin to putting on an exhibition.

There are plenty of well-designed, themed repositories of open access material on the Internet from which you can download very interesting images. Most of these repositories have excellent ‘search’ facilities.

For example, to find content for chapter 2 ‘Photography, Optics and Light’ in Photomediations: An Open Book, we conducted a thorough search through a number of repositories (listed in the Appendix), using a variety of keywords: ‘light’, ‘optics’, ‘luminosity’, ‘camera’, ‘apparatus’, ‘eye’, etc. Importantly, we narrowed down our search to images tagged with appropriate Creative Commons licenses or marked as being ‘in the public domain’ (as explained in the section below), so that we could reuse these images in our project.

6. Think about copyright

If you are using images or texts that do not belong to you, make sure you don’t infringe the copyright belonging to the right holder. (Just because something is ‘on the Internet’ does not mean that you can use it…) Always check the licence of the work you find in a given repository. Also, if you receive an image or a piece of text directly from its author or copyright holder, make sure you clarify what the conditions of its use are: i.e. what you can and can’t do with it (e.g. Can you use it for educational purposes? Can you include it in a book you’re planning to sell? Can you crop the image or shorten the text? Can you use the image as part of a banner you are designing for your website?).

There are several so-called open licences that are considered ‘safe’, in the sense that they leave you a lot of freedom with regard to how to us them. As a rule of thumb, it is safest to use artefacts that are marked as being ‘in the public domain’ (sometimes marked as CC0) or, on Flickr: The Commons, images that have ‘no known copyright restrictions’. You can freely build upon, enhance and reuse them for any purposes.

There are a number of Creative Commons (CC) licences that aim to strike the right balance between permissions and rights: read the letters attached to them carefully, and follow the explanations on the CC website, to see what you can and can’t do with each work (some allow you to do anything as long as you acknowledge the original author; others allow you to use the works for non-commercial purposes only; some allow you to modify the work, others don’t, etc. etc.). Two most useful CC licences are:

Attribution CC BY 88x31

This licence lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licences offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA 88x31b

This licence lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This licence is often compared to ‘copyleft’ free and open source software licences. All new works based on yours will carry the same licence, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

7. Write captions – and supply additional text

It is important to always credit the work used – and, in case of images, to provide further information about them. Even if the copyright licence for a given image allows you to skip providing such information, it is good practice to include some further details about the image anyway, as they will no doubt be useful to your readers. This is how we’ve captioned the images included in Photomediations: An Open Book. Our example shows an image we found on Flickr by an author who calls himself ‘Doctor Popular’, which we included in a chapter on ‘Hybrid Photomediations’, as a commentary on new forms of portraiture today:

59Doctor Popular, AntiTagging, 2014.
 Self-portrait taken using the Anti-Tagging iPhone app that anonymizes photos by auto-detecting faces and glitching them out, thus producing a secure selfie. Source: Flickr. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0.

Even if your book is image-based, you may want to include some additional textual material in it, besides the captions for your images. For example, you may want to write or commission an introduction that contextualises the book. You may also want to include some additional reading material, by way of ‘curating’ (that word again!) your book in an interesting and multi-dimensional way. There are plenty of knowledgeable open-access articles and books available online. Most of these have been written by academics and other experts in the field; many went through the ‘peer-review process’: which means that they have been validated by other experts in the field as valuable and original. Curating an interesting list of texts on your chosen topic is not that different from curating a ‘playlist’ of songs on your computer or phone. (See Appendix for a list of repositories of open access material.)

8. Decide how open/closed you want to make your book

We’ve explained above how to include open-access material – be it text or images – in your book. However, the assumption so far has been that readers will come to your online book the way they come to a traditional book, i.e. to read it, and then they leave it intact. But maybe you would be interested in making all or at least parts of your book open, for readers to add material to the existing content, update it, comment on it, re-mix it or make their own versions? (You can think of it as an educational exercise, an artistic experiment, or simply as embracing the much more creative model of engaging with media by younger generations, where the roles of the producer and the consumer of culture become more blurred.)

For example, in the Living Books about Life project all the books in the series are themselves ‘living’, in the sense that they are open to ongoing collaborative processes of writing, editing, updating, remixing and commenting by readers – as long as those readers have registered on the site first. This possibility of keeping the books open in this way is both potentially exciting and potentially dangerous. There are two main issues here: (1) First, we wanted to protect ourselves against vandalism, and that was an easy thing to do. Each introduction, contents list and attributions list of each living book is also available as a ‘frozen’ pdf file. Also, the wiki retains a record of all the edits, so it’s always possible to revert to an earlier version. In addition, we have a rigorous backing up system, so we have copies of all the books in their editors’ ‘original’ versions – which can always be restored. (2) But there is also a practical issue with regard to some possible threats and opportunities. Our experience is that people (i.e., readers/users) tend to treat any published text, even on the web, as having a certain authority: too much authority, in fact. So, somewhat disappointingly perhaps, the most that people tend to do is post a comment. It’s relatively hard to get them to do much more than that. Indeed, people tend to adhere to fairly conventional notions of the author and the book as an object that shouldn’t be messed around with – which is interesting in itself. But this reluctance or wariness is also something we want to encourage users to get over with this project.

In Photomediations: An Open Book, alongside the introduction and four ‘closed’, read-only chapters on photography and other media, we have also included three open chapters – which take the format of three separate web pages:

  • Photomediations: An Open Reader – a collection of academic essays on photography and other media, which can be edited and expanded upon by any anyone
  • The Social Space – a Tumblr blog called ‘The Book Alive’, exploring the book as a living and dynamic medium via the posting of images of books present and past
  • The Exhibition – a space that encourages users to creatively experiment with images from our book and from the whole of the Europeana online collection of digitised items (or, more accurately, a single gathering place of data, allowing you to access material in a variety of European collections), and that displays the results of these experiments

9. Think whether you also want a printed version

Alongside your web-based book, you may also decide to publish a printed version. This could be the exact copy of all the online material included; it could include a selection of texts and images from your online book; or it could be an entirely new publication, mixing the online material with the newly sourced content.

For example, as part of our work on Photomediations: An Open Book, we entered into collaboration with the scholarly publishers Open Humanities Press to publish a version of our chapter 6 as a separate, stand-alone book. Titled Photomediations: A Reader, it includes 20 academic essays on the dynamic relationship between photography and other media, some of which are not available online. The book, looking very much like a traditional academic textbook, and illustrated with some images, was published open access, as a freely downloadable pdf. Printed versions can also be purchased.

It is very easy to print short runs of text- and image-based books, in very good quality, these days. Companies such as Blurb and Lulu provide their own online software which allows you to design the book for printing, even if you have no prior knowledge of book or web design. They also convert it for you into various e-book formats. You may also want to check out this website:

10. Get social

It is important to identify your readership by connecting to the existing online resources, be it social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Basecamp, Github) or personal blogs. You may want to attach a Twitter account to your book, so that each day you can publicise a different element from it. However, it’s not just about using social media to publicise your content. If you want to achieve real reader engagement, and get people involved in sharing, remixing and creatively reusing your content in some way, or even co-create content with you, you need to work with existent online communities. You can also attempt to build a new community around a particular educational, cultural or artistic project. See this article on co-creation from the EU RICHES project:


More on licences and copyright

  • Europeana Space – Copyright Tools for Cultural Heritage: Here you can access guidelines and tools for clearing copyright and find information about the development of business models for the creative reuse of digitised cultural heritage.
  • Out of Copyright: determining the copyright status of works:

More on academic publishing For a taxonomy of various forms of academic publications see this website by the Hybrid Publishing Consortium:

Selected Open Access image repositories:

Open Access Directories (i.e., meta-lists of various worldwide repositories):

  • OpenDOAR (Directory of Open Access Repositories) – Authoritative directory of academic open access repositories. Includes a tool to search the repositories’ contents.
  • Directory of Open Access Journals – Categorized, searchable links to free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals. There are more than 5000 journals in the directory.
  • Open Culture – the best free cultural and educational media on the web:
  • ROARMAP (Registry of Open Access Repository Material Archiving Policies) – Directory of the open access mandates of institutions worldwide, with links to their open access repositories.


This Guide was put together by Gary Hall, Kamila Kuc and Joanna Zylinska, as part of the activities of Europeana Space, a project funded by the European Union’s ICT Policy Support Programme under GA n° 621037. December 2015. Licence: CC BY.

A pdf version of this guide can be downloaded from here.