Reflections on COVID-19 and OA: materials now, advocacy later

Reflections on COVID-19 and open access, March 23, 2020:

The need to address common problems affecting all or much of humanity is one of the compelling reasons for open access. Given major issues of concern today, particularly climate change (and the short-term need to focus on the current pandemic), this makes OA, along with open data and other innovations in scholarly communication, urgent.

The immediate need is to open up access to scholarly material and data that is directly relevant to the epidemic, as well as to freely share cultural materials that will help people cope with social isolation. Many of my colleagues are already doing this. Thank you!

In my opinion, the best time to have a broader advocacy-oriented conversation for the public at large will be in a few months (except in countries like China and South Korea that are ahead in addressing the pandemic). This is because the immediate focus for most of us needs to be slowing the pandemic (flattening the curve) to avoid overwhelming health systems as much as possible, address shortages of medical equipment and supplies, and to allow time for research on treatments and development of vaccines. People in my country are undergoing unprecedented massive social change in a short period of time. Collectively, we need time to grasp that this really is serious, learn about the illness, how to prevent and deal with it, and adjust to the need for social distancing and isolation.

For the benefit of colleagues in the OA movement, following are copies of 2 posts that I wrote on this subject on The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics (in 2007, and 2012), with some links (that I haven’t checked).

Needed: Open Access, Open Science

Jim Till’s post on Open Access Science and Science Policy on Be Openly Accessible or Be Obscure, nicely sums up one of the most important reasons why we need open access.

The most rapid advances in science come with open sharing of information, and collaboration. That is how the world’s scientists accomplished the mapping of a human genome in a matter of years. If traditional publishing practices had been followed instead of open sharing, it seems likely that mapping the human genome would have taken decades, if not centuries.

Our world shares some issues on a global basis; some of these are, or will become, urgent. One example is global warming; surely this needs the kind of open sharing and focus on the problem that went into the human genome project.

Another example is bird flu. The more our neighbours know about viruses, the better equipped they are for early identification and dealing with an epidemic, the lesser the chances that the epidemic will arrive at our shores.

We will save money with an open scholarly communications system, as preventing people from reading has significant costs. However, even if it did cost more, the question would not be how could we afford OA, but rather how could we not.

Cite as:  Morrison, H. (2007). Needed: open access, open science. The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics
(If citing Jim Till, please cite Till / Be Openly Accessible or Be Obscure.

Why accelerate discovery? reasons why we need open access now

One of the benefits of open access is accelerating discovery. This benefit is most evident with libre open access (allowing for re-use and machine assistance via text and data mining), and particularly in evidence with little or no delay from time of discovery to time of sharing of work.

There are always many reasons for accelerating discovery – here are just a few examples of why we need full, immediate, libre, OA, and why we need it NOW:

Multiple drug resistance: we have developed a range of drugs that has worked for us in the past few decades to combat bacteria, tuberculosis, and other diseases. Now we are seeing increasing levels of resistance to antibiotics and others drugs, including anti-malarial drugs. Maintaining the health gains of the past few decades will take more than continuing with current solutions; we need more research, and the faster we can do this, the better the odds of staving off the next epidemic.

Another example of why we need to accelerate discovery, and we need to move to accelerated discovery fast, is the need to find solutions to climate change and cleaner, more efficient energy. We literally cannot afford to wait.

So as much as some of us might wish to give current scholarly publishers time to adjust to a full libre open access environment, this is a luxury that we cannot afford.

These examples of acceleration will likely provide new business opportunities, too. If this happens, it is a welcome, albeit secondary, benefit.

Cite as:  Morrison, H. (2012). Why accelerate discovery? Reasons why we need open access now. The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics

Cultural Workers Shouldn’t Pay for the COVID-19 Pandemic in NL

We are reposting this anonymous open letter meant to address Dutch cultural organisations, institutions of education and research, and government bodies. Its goal is to raise concerns regarding freelance and remote work during the COVID-19 emergency. Feel free to circulate, appropriate and adapt this text. Here’s the source:

We are freelancers working in schools, universities, art academies, museums and cultural organisations. Many of us are hired as freelancers not because we asked for it, but because this has become the default in the Netherlands. Coronavirus is now showing us the limits of freelancing. Precarity is becoming even more apparent. Often, we have regular and continuous labor relationships with our institutions: we are like employees, however we lack the same leverage and safety. We are part and parcel of the organisations we work for. We don’t deliver a service to these institutions, we are these institutions. The fictitious autonomy that was projected on us came out of the 2008 financial crisis, where budgets for education and culture were slashed, never to recover despite 10 years of significant economic growth. Precarity has been there for a long time, now it is just more visible.

As the pandemic escalates, strict countermeasures are introduced. Many events are cancelled while schools, universities and museums are now closed. While unavoidable and necessary, these measures also result in a significant loss of income for anyone working under such precarious conditions. Now these conditions are clearly revealed. And we shouldn’t be the ones paying for it.

For ZZP’ers (self-employed), the pandemic falls under category of “business risk”[1]. Well, fuck that. Cultural work is not our “business”. We didn’t choose to be a business, we never asked for the risk, so it shouldn’t be offloaded on us. This shift of structural responsibility to the individual is a neoliberal favourite and we should expose it for the fraud that it is.

As much as possible, we are asked to organise our work to be carried out remotely, while facing the anxiety and the mental load provoked by the current state of exception. We are asked to actively dedicate extra time and energy to keep things running during the emergency. But we need some guarantees from the cultural organisations and institutions we work for, and from the government.

We demand cultural organisations & art academies:

  • to accommodate and devise solutions to allow remote work or work from home, allowing for truly flexible ways to deal with the consequences of the pandemic (e.g. taking care of the elderly and kids). At the same time, performing remote work shouldn’t be the condition to be paid for a previously agreed plan.
  • to maintain agreements with the staff even if events, classes and lectures are cancelled or postponed. To make sure that despite any emergency measure, cultural workers are paid unconditionally.
  • to postpone lectures, classes and events only in agreement with the freelancer, as they might have other commitments.
  • to ensure that any measures deployed in this moment of crisis are not there to stay. e.g. online classes are a temporary solution to a measure where people are asked to stay home; when universities reopen, so too should normal classes.
  • to agree to accommodate these demands in written, official form.

When discussing remote work, we demand the cultural organisations & art academies:

  • to not consider it as the first concern right now.
  • to not see remote work as a condition for teachers to be paid.
  • to not make remote work mandatory for both teachers and students.
  • to consider the time students and staff need to spend with household members these days.
  • to not offload the research and testing of methods and tools for remote work solutions onto individual workers.
  • to keep in mind that predatory Big-tech industries will instrumentalise this crisis for their own gain. The current crisis shows our dependence on digital infrastructures. In order not to become fully dependent on them, it is important to talk about the alternatives to these offers which uncritically promote technology as a solution to everything. Neither students nor teachers should be required to open social media accounts or install software against their own will.
  • to ensure that any measures deployed are temporary.

If remote work is being organised, we demand:

  • to take into account the home situation of both students and staff, to not be blinded by the illusion that everyone can work and concentrate at home. This situation will be increasingly difficult for families to handle as more and more private and public locations, spaces, outlets, venues, shop, schools will be closing. Likewise, many may contract the virus or take care of someone who has contracted it.
  • to not impose synchronous work. Students and staff might not be able to show up at a specific time for anything, as they might have to prioritize their days differently. At the same time, asynchronicity shouldn’t mean that the workday exceeds the agreed boundaries. Bottom-up and considerate self-organisation should be prioritised over top-down managerial plans.
  • to not forget that internet connection is unstable and at times unavailable for some, which means that personal data-bundles need to be used. Also, to not forget how frustrating and counter-productive it can be to talk over a stuttering video connection.
  • to acknowledge the circumstances and turn remote work into an exercise of collective care taking for all. Sometimes this means to cancel classes, decrease workload and allow disconnection. This is more important than the continuation of the routine.

We demand the government:

  • to defer the payment of mortgages installments for unprotected cultural workers and precarious workers in general. This is already happening in Italy[2].
  • to support freelancers and students (who are often working on the side to pay their studies) with a “pandemic allowance” to still be able to afford the minimum requirements for stable living (rent, food, etc).

These demands do not only concern the welfare of cultural workers, but they are meant to preserve the quality of education and the cultural sector in the long run. What maintains these fields alive is the trust among the parties involved. Ignoring these demands means eroding that trust and therefore contributing to more atomised and individualised cultural organisations.

Some steps in the direction of our demands are already being taken: a majority in the House of Representatives proposed “a support package for the cultural sector” because of the corona crisis.[3] The Kunstenbond opened a website where freelancers in the cultural and creative sector can report their cancellations due to the corona virus.[4]

As previously mentioned, the current emergency has only made more apparent the precarity inherent in the education and cultural sector, where structural risk is often disproportionately shouldered by the individual. If the limits of such a system were not already apparent, this moment of crisis should allow us to reconsider it and foster the struggle against the flexibilization of working conditions with renewed urgency.



Listen now: Zine renaissance and hyperlocal news – Eurozine podcast

Listen to “Eurozine Podcast Part II: Local journalism in the digital age” on Spreaker.

Globalization was supposed to connect people, but instead ended up connecting the powerful. Local news is rapidly disappearing and leaving crucial stories unreported, communities unrepresented and disconnected, a side-effect of digitalization and the ownership concentration in media markets. But local and hyperlocal media play an important role in sustaining robust and resilient regimes of public service. In an age of technological changes and political pressure, niche publications and a renaissance of zines lead the quest for new, sustainable models in publishing.

In the second instalment of the special edition Eurozine podcast series, produced by Talk Eastern Europe, Eurozine editor-in-chief Réka Kinga Papp talks media models old and new with Rachael Jolley, editor of Index on Censorship and philosopher Miriam Rasch of the Institute of Network Cultures.

The podcast was recorded in November 2019 at the 30th European Meeting of Cultural Journals.

Out Now: ToD#34 The Age of Total Images: Disappearance of a Subjective Viewpoint in Post-digital Photography

pdf of the Media Do Not Exist book inc_icon_lulu_@2x

In The Age of Total Images, art historian Ana Peraica focuses on the belief that the shape of the planet is two-dimensional which has been reawakened in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and the ways in which these ‘flat Earth’ conspiracy theories are symptomatic of post-digital image culture. Such theories, proven to be false both in Antiquity and Modernity, but once held to be true in the Medieval Period, have influenced a return to a kind of ‘New Medievalism’.

By tracing visual representations of the planet across Western history and culture, Peraica provides support for a media-based explanation behind the reappearance of flat Earth theories. Through an adventurous exploration of the ways the Earth has been represented in sculptural globes, landscape painting, aerial photography, and even new media art, she proposes that a significant reason for the reemergence today in the belief that the world is flat lies in processes and practices of representation which flatten it during the compositing of photographs into ‘total images’. Such images, Peraica argues, are principally characterized by the disappearance of the subjective point of view and angle of view from photography, as the perspectival tool of the camera is being replaced with the technical perspective of the map, and human perception with machine vision, within a polyperspectival assemblage. In the media constellation of these total images, photography is but one layer of visual information among many, serving not to represent some part of the Earth, but to provide an illusion of realism.

Ana Peraica is an art historian whose research focus is on post-digital photography. She is the author of the books Fotografija kao dokaz (Multimedijalni Institute, Zagreb, 2018) and Culture of the Selfie (Theory on Demand #24, 2017), among others, as well as the editor of several readers, including Smuggling Anthologies, Victims Symptom (PTSD and Culture) (Theory on Demand #3, 2009), and Žena na raskrižju ideologija. She teaches at Danube University near Vienna, Austria, and is a visiting lecturer at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, in addition to continuing to run a photographic studio in Split, Croatia, founded in 1932 by her grandfather.



Series: Theory on Demand #34

Author: Ana Peraica

Editor: Devon Schiller

Production: Sepp Eckenhaussen

Cover design: Katja van Stiphout

Publisher: Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, 2019

ISBN: 978-94-92302-54-0

Copyright: This publication is published under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDer- rivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) licence.


Get the book

Print on demand:



Listen to yourself!: Spotify, Ancestry DNA, and the Fortunes of Race Science in the Twenty-First Century

If you could listen to your DNA, what would it sound like? A few answers, at random: In 1986, the biologist and amateur musician Susumo Ohno assigned pitches to the nucleotides that make up the DNA sequence of the protein immunoglobulin, and played them in order. The gene, to his surprise, sounded like Chopin.

With the advent of personalized DNA sequencing, a British composition studio will do one better, offering a bespoke three-minute suite based on your DNA’s unique signature, recorded by professional soloists—for a 300GBP basic package; or 399GBP for a full orchestral arrangement.

But the most recent answer to this question comes from the genealogy website, which in Fall 2018 partnered with Spotify to offer personalized playlists built from your DNA’s regional makeup. For a comparatively meager $99 (and a small bottle’s worth of saliva) you can now not only know your heritage, but, in the words of Ancestry executive Vineet Mehra, “experience” it. Music becomes you, and through music, you can become yourself.

screencap by SO! ed JS

As someone who researches for a living the history of connections between music and genetics I am perhaps not the target audience for this collaboration. My instinct is to look past the ways it might seem innocuous, or even comical­—especially when cast against the troubling history of the use of music in the rhetoric of American eugenics, and the darker ways that the specter of debunked race science has recently returned to influence our contemporary politics.

During the launch window of the Spotify collaboration, the purchase of a DNA kit was not required, so in the spirit of due diligence I handed over to Spotify what I know of my background: English, Scottish, a little Swedish, a color chart of whites of various shade. (This trial period has since ended, so I have not been able to replicate these results—however, some sample “regional” playlists can be found on the collaboration homepage).

screen capture by SO! editor JLS

While I mentally prepared myself to experience the sounds of my own extreme whiteness, Ancestry and Spotify avoid the trap of overtly racialized categories. In my playlist, Grime artist Wiley is accorded the same Englishness as the Cure. And ‘Scottish-Irish’, still often a lazy shorthand for ‘White’, boasted more artists of color than any other category. Following how the genetic tests themselves work, geography, rather than ethnicity, guides the algorithm’s hand.

As might be expected, the playlists lean toward Spotify’s most popular sounds: “song machine” pop, and hip-hop. But in smaller regions with less music in Spotify’s catalog, the results were more eclectic—one of the few entries of Swedish music in my playlist was an album of Duke Ellington covers from a Stockholm-based big band, hardly a Swedish “national sound.”  Instead, the music’s national identity is located outside of the sounding object, in the information surrounding it, namely the location tag associated with the recording. In other words: this is a nationalism of metadata.

One of the common responses to the Ancestry-Spotify partnership was, as, succinctly expressed by Sarah Zhang at The Atlantic: ‘Your DNA is not your culture’. But because of the muting of musical sound in favor of metadata, we might go further: in Spotify’s catalog, your culture is not even your culture. The collaboration works because of two abstractions—the first, from DNA, to a statistical expression of probable geographic origin; and second from musical sound and style characteristics, to metadata tags for a particular artist’s location. In both of these moves, traditional sites of social meaning—sounding music, and regional or familial cultural practice—are vacated.

Synthetic Memetic / Matthew Gardiner (AU): Gardiner composed a DNA sequence in such a way that the series of nucleotide bases in it correspond to the letters of the song title “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley, and then integrated them symbolically into a pistol. Credit: Sergio Redruello / LABoral Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There is a way in which this model could come across as subversive (which has not gone unnoticed by Ancestry’s advertising team). Hijacking the presumed whiteness of a Scotland or a Sweden to introduce new music by communities previously barred from the possibility of ‘Scotishness’ or ‘Swedishness’ could be a tremendously powerful way of building empathy. It could rebut the very possibility of an ethno-state. But the history of music and genetics suggests we might have less cause for optimism.

In the 1860s, Francis Galton, coiner of the word ‘eugenics’, turned to music to back up his nascent theory of ‘hereditary genius’—that artistic talent, alongside intelligence, madness, and other qualities were inherited, not acquired. In Galton’s view, musical ability was the surest proof that talents were inherited, not learned, for how else could child prodigies stir the soul in ways that seem beyond their years? The fact of music’s irreducibility, its romantic quality of transcendence, was for Galton what made it the surest form of scientific proof.

Galton’s ideas flourished in America in the first decades of the twentieth century. And while American eugenics is rightly remembered for its violence—from a sequence of forced sterilization laws beginning with Indiana in 1907, to ever-tightening restrictions on immigration, and scientific propaganda against “miscegenation” under Jim Crow—its impact was felt in every area of life, including music. The Eugenics Record Office, the country’s leading eugenic research institution, mounted multiple studies on the inheritance of musical talent, following Galton’s idea that musical ability offered an especially persuasive test-case for the broader theory of heritability. For 10 years the Eastman School of Music experimented on its newly admitted students using a newly-developed kind of “musical IQ test”, psychologist Carl Seashore’s “Measures of Musical Talent”, and Seashore himself presented results from his tests at the Second International Congress of Eugenics in New York in 1923, the largest gathering of the global eugenics movement ever to take place. His conclusion: that musical ability was innate and inherited—and if this was true for music, why not for criminality, or degeneracy, or any other social ill?

From “The Measurement of Musical Talent,” Carl E. Seashore, The Musical Quarterly Vol. 1, No. 1 (Jan., 1915), p. 125.

Next to the tragedy of the early twentieth century, Spotify and Ancestry teaming up seems more like a farce. But scientific racism is making a comeback. Bell Curve author Charles Murray’s career is enjoying a second wind. Border patrol agents hunt “fraudulent families” based on DNA swabs, and the FBI searches consumer DNA databases without customer’s knowledge. ‘Unite the Right’ rally organizer Jason Kessler ranked races by IQ, live on NPR.. And, while Ancestry sells itself on liberal values, many white supremacists have gone after ‘scientific’ confirmation for their sense of superiority, and consumer DNA testing has given them the answers they sought (though, often, not the answers they wanted.)

As consumer genetics gives new life to the assumptions of an earlier era of race science, the Spotify-Ancestry collaboration is at once a silly marketing trick, and a tie, whether witting or unwitting, to centuries of hereditarian thought. It reminds us that, where musical eugenics afforded a legitimizing glow to the violence of forced sterilization, the Immigration Acts, and Jim Crow, Spotify and Ancestry can be seen as sweeteners to modern-day race science:  to DNA tests at the border, to algorithmic policing, and to “race realists” in political office. That the appeal of these abstractions—from music to metadata, from culture to geography, from human beings to genetic material—is also their danger. And finally, that if we really want to hear our heritage, listening, rather than spitting in a bottle, might be the best place to start.

Featured Image:  “DNA MUSIC” Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Alexander Cowan is a PhD candidate in Historical Musicology at Harvard University. He holds an MMus from King’s College, London, and a BA in Music from the University of Oxford. His dissertation, “Unsound: A Cultural History of Music and Eugenics,” explores how ideas about music and musicality were weaponized in British and US-American eugenics movements in the first half of the twentieth century, and how ideas from this period survive in both modern music science, and the rhetoric of the contemporary far right.

tape reelREWIND! . . .If you liked this post, you may also dig:

Hearing Eugenics–Vibrant Lives

In Search of Politics Itself, or What We Mean When We Say Music (and Music Writing) is “Too Political”–Elizabeth Newton

Poptimism and Popular Feminism–Robin James

Straight Leanin’: Sounding Black Life at the Intersection of Hip-hop and Big Pharma–Kemi Adeyemi

Publishing an Open Access Textbook on Environmental Sciences: Conservation Biology in Sub-Saharan Africa

Publishing an Open Access Textbook on Environmental Sciences: Conservation Biology in Sub-Saharan Africa

By Richard B. Primack and John W. Wilson.

Publishing an Open Access Textbook on Environmental Sciences: Conservation Biology in Sub-Saharan Africa
The book contains hundreds of photographs from Africa, such as this cheetah family, which are published as CC BY 4.0. Photograph by Markus Lilje, CC BY 4.0.

For the past six years we have been working to produce the first conservation biology textbook dedicated entirely to an African audience. The need for this work has never been more pressing. Africa has some of the world’s fastest growing human populations. This growth, together with a much-needed push for economic development, exerts unsustainable pressure on the region’s rich and unique biological treasures. Consequently, Africa is rapidly losing its natural heritage; without action, there is a real chance that the world’s children may never have the opportunity to see gorillas, rhinoceros, or elephants in the wild.

To address this alarming loss of Africa’s natural heritage, there is an urgent need to produce the next cohort of well-trained conservation, wildlife, and environmental leaders, able to confront challenges head-on. To facilitate this capacity building, we aimed to write a comprehensive textbook, designed for conservation biology courses across Sub-Saharan Africa, and as a supplemental text for related courses in ecology, environmental sciences, and wildlife management. Our aim was to strike a balance between theory, empirical data, and practical guidelines to make the book a valuable resource not only for students, but also for conservation professionals working in the region.

Publishing an Open Access Textbook on Environmental Sciences: Conservation Biology in Sub-Saharan Africa
To help in its teaching mission, the book provides numerous examples of conservation in action, such as this biologist from Guinea instructing citizen scientists on wildlife monitoring. Photograph by Guinea Ecology, CC BY 4.0. 

But we faced a major challenge: how can we effectively reach our target audience, even in the most isolated corners of Sub-Saharan Africa? Print publishers would be unable to produce and distribute this type of book across dozens of African countries. At 694 pages and with hundreds of color photos, most African students would also not be able to buy such a substantial book, so the project would neither be profitable nor feasible for a print publisher.  For this reason, we concluded that the textbook would reach the widest audience and have the greatest impact if it was produced under an Open Access license, which guarantees free distribution rights to anyone who may benefit from the work.

The textbook, eventually published under a Creative Commons (CC BY) license by Open Book Publishers, was a resounding success. As evidence of how much the work was needed, the book was viewed nearly 7,000 times within six months of publication.  There is no question: this remarkable reach, and the impact this book is having in making conservation training more accessible, could only have been achieved through Open Access publishing.

Conservation Biology for Sub-Saharan Africa was recently published as Open Access. Click here to read and download this title for free. You can also follow @ConsBioAfrica or join the textbook discussion forum here.

Why is open education resource creation, management and publishing important? Reflections for Open Book Publishers on Open Education Week 2020

Why is open education resource creation, management and publishing important?                                                
  Reflections for Open Book Publishers on Open Education Week 2020

Photo by Leyre Labarga on Unsplash

The suggested subject for this reflection was "why it is important to publish educational resources in Open Access," but I'm not happy with that emphasis on the end point. It's important that learning resources are not static once published, rather on publication a resource enters an iterative cycle of revision-reuse-evaluation-reflection.

My starting point for sharing educational resources was that high quality teaching and learning resources are difficult and time consuming to create; and like anything that is difficult and time consuming they are costly in terms of money or, more frequently, unpaid effort. To me, OER made sense as a means of sharing the effort of creating learning resources, dividing work between partners with different skills and viewpoints. It also made sense to get input from a wider range of contributors in such a way that the result is of use to a wider audience, providing a greater return for this effort.

This view has consequences not just for publishing, but for authoring and resource management during an extended lifecycle. Key among these are the need for collaborative authoring processes, tools that support these processes, and publication in formats that are interoperable with these tools. So, it is important to publish educational resources in open access because this supports a sustainable approach to the creation and widespread use of quality educational resources.

Phil Barker, Cetis LLP, Contributor of Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education, edited by Patrick Blessinger and TJ Bliss. To read/download this title or read Phil Barker's co-authored chapter Technology Strategies for Open Educational Resource Dissemination', visit

The first problem with traditional textbooks is that they are too heavy. They are lumps in your school bag and impossible to read on your phone. The second problem is that they are too expensive. Thirty, forty pounds or more. The third problem is that traditional textbooks turn our common knowledge into private profits. They tell you that "2+2=4" and charge money for it. Open source books, on the other hand, are light, free and for everyone's benefit. Insist that your teachers use them.

Professor Erik Ringmar, author of History of International Relations: A Non-European Perspective. Click here to read and/or download this book for free and visit to access the author's research blog,

After publishing a textbook with Open Book Publishers, I have become even more convinced that educational materials, more than any other text, need to be made available to everyone as Open Access resources.

There is still a certain stigma associated with “free” books and open publication, as if texts that are made freely available should have less value or quality than the books printed by large publishing houses for a profit. But Open Book Publishers’ publication model, which is founded, as I have personally witnessed, on a very rigorous review and a highly professional editorial process, shows that it is possible to offer high quality textbooks and other educational materials at no cost for students.

Being a strong believer in the need for society to provide free and open education to everyone, not just in terms of access to learning materials, but also to classes, teachers and institutional support, I was naturally inclined to distribute my textbook under an Open Access license. My very positive experience working with the editorial team at Open Book Publishers has reaffirmed my commitment to this model. I will certainly try to make freely accessible any other educational materials that I produce in the future.

I just wish that educational authorities and institutions, as well as private donors, would increase their support for small but very professional editorial projects like OPB. It would be a way to ensure that good education is not the privilege of wealth, but the gift of intellectual curiosity.

Professor Ignasi Ribó, author of Prose Fiction: An Introduction to the Semiotics of Narrative. Click here to read and/or download this book for free. You can also watch an interview with the author in which he discusses the background of this project at

The development of Open Educational Resources, which includes Open Access publications, is growing in popularity as more faculty realize the benefits in not only the use of OER in their own teaching, but also the benefits of developing and sharing of these resources for peers. In addition to the obvious cost savings to students when incorporating OERs, revising and developing OERs allows a faculty member to create a highly targeted resource that speaks specifically to the content they want students to have that is relevant, flexible, and adaptable.

The biggest hurdle we have to face in the Open Education area is the time and resources it takes to develop and distribute these resources. As Open Education is a newer trend in the field and divergences from the typical pathways of faculty publishing and presenting, some faculty and institutions have been slow to support and recognize Open Education as a viable and rigorous form of academic publishing.

If many faculty in a field all started developing complementary resources and sharing them, then it could drastically reduce the current needed individual investment for each individual faculty member. We need to create a culture shift in education focused on openness and sharing of resources in order to distribute the workload of this OER production and open published materials across many people in the field thereby creating a diverse and rich network of easily adaptable content that is relevant, targeted, and best of affordable to the students who need it!.

Nathan Whitley-Grassi, Ph.D, Associate Director for Educational Technologies, State University of New York, Empire State College. Contributor of Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education, edited by Patrick Blessinger and TJ Bliss. To read/download this title or read Dr Whitley-Grassi's chapter 'Expanding Access to Science Field-Based Research Techniques for Students at a Distance through Open Educational Resources', visit

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 sets out several  ambitions. One is to extend learning opportunities to everyone at all  levels of education. The challenge of educating everyone appropriately  at all levels is massive. Sir John Daniel, former President and CEO of  the Commonwealth of Learning, calculated that to bring all countries up  to the higher-education participation levels of the best-performing  countries would require opening a new university  campus every day for the foreseeable future. The economic and social   impacts of doing that alone appear enormous, let alone deal with  schools and lifelong learning. A considerable expansion of open  education in the form of open educational resources with  an open license attached seems an obvious way to limit the economic  impacts, but the social impacts depend on how inclusive and accessible  the educational opportunities are. Unfortunately, openness and  digitalisation do not, in themselves, make it easier to  access, afford or find the educational opportunities that open  education can offer; these aspects all depend on who is deciding what is  open, when and for whom, whether an open license is used, and how  digital technologies and infrastructure are implemented  and managed. Several issues can arise for potential learners: local  bandwidth may mean the resources are difficult to study; the costs of  using Internet or mobile data networks may be prohibitive; the materials  may not be formatted for the learner’s digital  device; or the resources may be in a learner’s second or third  language, to name but a few challenges. Eliminating inequalities in  access to education requires systemic changes in how education is  organised at all levels more than systematic changes in the  way we currently do things. Thus the open access publication of  educational resources is a necessary but not sufficient response to  extend learning opportunities to all.

Andy Lane, Professor of Environmental Systems, The Open University. Contributor of Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education, edited by Patrick Blessinger and TJ Bliss. To read/download this title or read Andy Lane's chapter 'Emancipation through Open Education: Rhetoric or Reality?', visit

The Environmental Impact of Open Book Publishers

The Environmental Impact of Open Book Publishers

At Open Book Publishers, we are working to minimise our environmental impact. In 2020 we have undertaken to shrink our carbon footprint using various methods, including not travelling by plane and making our offices more energy efficient. (See here for more information.)

All the paperback and hardback copies of our books are printed using Print on Demand (PoD) services. This cuts down on energy and material waste since books are only printed after a purchase has been made—there is no excess stock.

Lightning Source UK Ltd runs our PoD printing. They print and ship from the UK, US and Australia, and they also have printer partners who print for them globally. Individual copies of our books might be printed by Lightning Source or by one of these printer partners.

Information about Lightning Source UK Ltd's environmental commitments and their certifications can be found here:

Open Book Publishers would like to be able to give more concrete information about the environmental impact of our book production, and we remain in dialogue with Lightning Source about this issue.

Is prestige a problem? Considering the usefulness of prestige in academic book publishing

Is prestige a problem? Considering the usefulness of prestige in academic book publishing

This is the full draft of an article published in Research Europe's 05 March 2020 issue. The edited article is free to read on Research Europe's website, and they kindly agreed that we could post the full version here under our blog's CC BY licence.

At the 14th Munin Conference in November last year, prestige was raised on multiple occasions as a drag on progress in Open Access (OA) publishing. Traditional legacy publishing—the model by which academic books and journals are published in print or closed-access digital formats at high cost and low volume—plainly does not take full advantage of digital developments that enable us to distribute content much more efficiently and effectively to many more readers. But authors, by and large, value these more prestigious legacy outlets extremely highly, particularly when it comes to books–those presses with the longest histories, the most stellar backlists, and the highest rejection rates.

Although such publishers have made gestures towards Open Access, they tend to be highly conservative in their approach: slow to adjust their business and production models to embrace OA, offering only a limited version (e.g. a PDF of a book designed for print), and imposing exorbitant charges on authors (prices vary, but between £10,000-£15,000 is common for an academic monograph to be published Open Access under a Book Processing Charge model).

While authors continue to flock to the legacy presses, there is little incentive for them to change their approach, regardless of its effectiveness.

There is, though, an alternative ecosystem of non-profit, scholar-led and university presses who have embraced Open Access for books (in fact they are often born-OA publishers). Adema & Stone (2017) note the existence of four Open Access university presses and thirteen scholar-led Open Access publishers operating in the UK or publishing for the UK market.

These are presses invested in getting high-quality research to as many readers as possible, and in developing business models such that cost is not a barrier either for readers to read, or for authors to publish. Examples include Open Book Publishers and punctum books, who have a growing reputation for innovative processes and publications (whether in terms of business model, content, or format), high standards in research and production quality, and a focus on the wide dissemination of academic work in the service of the scholarly community.

This non-profit and collaborative approach has led easily to cooperation, and therefore to the creation of partnerships like ScholarLed—a consortium of five academic-led, non-profit OA book publishers developing powerful ways for small-scale OA presses to flourish—and the COPIM project, a major £3.5 million international partnership of researchers, libraries, the ScholarLed presses and infrastructure providers, which is building  open, non-profit, community-governed infrastructure that can support a wide range of publishers of different sizes to create a resilient and diverse ecosystem for OA book publishing.

Notwithstanding these encouraging developments, publisher prestige continues to act as a powerful restriction on author choice. Many researchers who might otherwise wish to publish with an OA press think twice because of a concern that they or their work will be judged negatively in consequence—that their CV won’t look as gilded in comparison to colleagues; that they will be overlooked for prizes and promotion.

What do we mean when we talk about prestige?

There are several threads woven through the concept of prestige. One is quality: a prestigious publisher will have published research of distinction in the past, and their books might have high production values. Another is reputation: they are known for their previous good work, and they have attracted more talented authors as a result. Prestigious presses are often attached to renowned universities, with acclaimed academics participating in their peer-review processes. Their reputation has grown to such a degree that they are taken as a byword for excellence.

The problem with prestige, however, is that it has the capacity to overwhelm continued critical engagement. Prestige is a kind of currency, with transferable value for others—for those authors, say, whose work is published by a prestigious press and therefore judged more favourably in a competitive research environment.

It also sets the conditions of its own value. A press might have a record of past distinction, but is it continuing to maintain that record in the present—or has it, by virtue of the prestigious reputation it has acquired, created the conditions for its activities to be seen as the best or only proper way of proceeding?

Prestige is necessarily restrictive; it dilutes as it is shared. In signalling to the overburdened academic community what is supposedly the ‘best’ work in the field, it performs a winnowing function—but in a research environment in which more and more monographs are being published (indeed in an environment that incentivises this activity, thanks to the emphasis universities place on the monograph when hiring) how much work is not being given its due because it is published by a less prestigious press, or, worse, not published at all?

Of equal concern, particularly given that most legacy publishers are so unsatisfactory when it comes to Open Access and other innovations in publishing, is the imposition of artificial scarcity when it comes to the author’s choice of publisher: I feel I must publish with a more prestigious outlet, even if my work will be much less widely read or appropriately presented. There is a kind of ‘Matthew effect’ in action as authors choose the more prestigious press, even if it dissatisfies them.

The veneration of prestige in academic publishing therefore limits the choice of authors and the accessibility of research; in signalling that a publisher will be valued today on what it achieved in the past, it deadens innovation. What might we replace it with?

Borrowing the term from Moore, Neylon, Eve, O’Donnell and Pattinson (2017) in their discussion of the fetishisation of excellence in higher education, I wonder if we might do better to think about the ‘soundness’ of a publisher—to focus on practices, rather than prestige. How is research chosen for publication by the press? What are its editorial and production standards? How does it engage with new developments in book production? How widely are its works disseminated, and is its business model sustained by hefty charges levied on authors or readers?

These are all valid ways to begin to think about the qualities of a press—although each one might be contentious to evaluate. But the point is precisely that they should be up for debate—that we are critically engaging with the terms on which research is distributed and assessed, rather than embracing the inertia engendered by a reliance on prestige.

Open education is key to the future of learning

Open education is key to the future of learning

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Education is the key to human development and social mobility. Education is also the engine that drives economic growth and social development. Thus, education is essential for human progress. Education, and the knowledge that it produces, builds on itself from one generation to the next, making the human knowledge base ever-expanding and self-reinforcing. However, fast changes in technology have created increasingly complex and uncertain social orders. All these factors, in turn, have put a premium on lifelong and lifewide learning and on the ability to respond to fast-moving economic and social conditions, such as rapidly changing career fields and labor markets.

Because lifelong and lifewide learning have become a reality of the modern era, news types of education have become available in recent decades, including open education. Open education operates along a spectrum with open universities (i.e., formal learning) at one end of the spectrum and open courseware (i.e., semiformal learning) in the middle of the spectrum and open education materials at the other end of the spectrum (non-formal learning). Examples of open education include Open University in Great Britain, MIT’s OpenCourseWare, and Khan Academy. Thus, today there exists many types of open education to address the diverse needs of learners.

Open education platforms and practices are based on a philosophy that every person has a right to learn throughout their lives. The driving force behind open educational practices is the democratization of knowledge, which, in turn, is based on the principles of equity and inclusion.

Thus, open education is based on the notion that educational materials should be freely accessible to the public without onerous copyright or reuse restrictions. These ideas are discussed in the book, Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education.

Open education provides learning beyond that provided by traditional time and place-based education systems. Because digital technology helps to eliminate time and place constraints, e-learning and distance learning is typically the provisioning mode of choice for open education. The key point is that educational systems should be more flexible in how they address the needs of learners. Since all learners have a right to learn during all phases of their lives, learning in the modern era needs to be flexible, accessible, and personalized.

Professor Blessinger's two previous posts on open education, visit: 'Enabling lifelong learning through open education' & 'Strengthening Democracy Through Open Education':