Italy in Berlin: The Fiesole Collection Development Retreat 2015

Project Team Member Nick Canty visited Berlin last month for the annual meeting of the Fiesole Collection Development Retreat Series. In this post he reports on the Retreat, and some of the emerging themes, issues, and developments with relevance to the academic book and its contexts.

The Fiesole Collection Development Retreat is an annual gathering of those with an interest in the future of scholarly communication who want to share in the debate. The two day conference has no accompanying exhibition or major sponsorship – the focus is on an open exchange of ideas across libraries, publishers and researchers – not always groups that see eye to eye, and often with different vocabularies. What follows is a discussion around presentations which closely relate to the academic book and this research project. But why Fiesole? This lovely town outside Florence was where the original conference was held in 2000 and although the conference now travels around the world, the original title has stuck.

The theme of the 2015 gathering was ‘Competing in the digital space: evolving roles for libraries and publishers’. The conference started with a focus on collection development. The University of Lille outlined public initiatives in relation to HSS research. A monograph in France now sells approximately 300 units and is still seen as central to excellence and part of the identity of the researcher. The CAIRN project (cairn.info) is looking at improving access to French schools of thought in English and French and has been running since 2005. Some 3000 articles have been translated in HSS. The OpenEdition project is a publicly funded research infrastructure based on a freemium model, moving from plain HTML to added value PDF and epub versions, with two thirds of the revenue going to the publishers and one third to the platform developers. The final French project was Persee, a digital library built by researchers and publicly funded, giving free access to HSS journals. Persee contains over 500,000 documents including books. Half of Persee’s audience is domestic to France and the rest is international. Persee is looking to include grey literature and give access to iconographic material.

The Max Planck Institute, Berlin (History of Science) explained how they have launched digital journals and run virtual exhibitions (Pratolino Garden Project) based on the resources around the construction of the Florence cathedral. The journal ‘Years of the Cuppola’ contains peer reviewed articles based on original documents which detail the construction of the cathedral with insights into the lives of the workers, their pay and eating habits as well as design and engineering elements. These journals were set up and run by the department, generating several questions about resourcing and staff time. We were assured that this publishing operation was run on a limited budget from the department and resourced by an administrator and a student. Future plans for the collections include visualisation of historical data, eg treaties in the fourteenth century based on small world network theory which shows the spread of treaties across Europe and the expansion of knowledge from this.

Lluis Pastor from the association of Spanish university presses (Unión de Editoriales Universitarias Españolas) outlined the work of the association. There are 66 university presses in Spain covering public and private and research institutes publishing over 60,000 books, representing 7% of all publishing in Spain and 25% of all non-fiction titles making the association one of the largest publishing groups in the country. To increase visibility of their work they have launched a portal which gives access to their members’ catalogues (unebook.es) and over 55,000 documents with plans to open to this to university presses in South America. A challenge for the association is demonstrating quality to research funders, quality agencies and government when there is a belief that commercially published books are of a higher standard than those published by the university presses. To counter this they are encouraging their members to specialise in disciplines and work to attract authors from overseas.

Alison Mudditt from the University of California Press addressed sustainable Open Access publishing based on community approaches practised by the press. The first model, Collabra, charges $875 per article. After Press costs $250 can be paid forward into a research community fund or taken as a cash payment. Their research shows just under half of their respondents take the sum as payment with the rest paying it forward either towards their institution/library fund or future author waiver fees. The Luminos monograph model has a baseline publication cost of $15 which increases with complexity of the content. The author’s institution is expected to contribute $7500 per title. The Press is currently losing approximately $10,000 per monograph and sees the Luminos model as a sustainable way forward.

Other relevant presentations worth mentioning includes that by Charles Watkinson of the University of Michigan Press. Watkinson looked at open access monographs and the incentives for authors. He made the point that while HEFCE, OAPEN UK and others describe the benefits for publishers, funders and libraries they are vague about why Humanities authors would really want to publish an OA monograph. The University of Michigan Press has two Mellon Foundation projects running, one looking at how authors feel about OA books, and a second creating a platform to meet these requirements. The projects are concentrating on the Michigan OA series ‘Digital Culture’, and a white paper with results should be available in September.

Adriaan van der Weel of Leiden university asked how digital the book of the future should be, and identified a clash of interest between reader and author interests. The author interest was intellectual first (scholarly communication, publication) and then economic (tenure, promotion etc) while for the reader intellectual interest, discovery, access and finding information were priorities, and economic issues were around the economy of attention and reading as little and as efficiently as possible.

Finally, Thomas Stacker considered the use of books beyond reading, looking at distant reading (Sosnoski), machine reading (Hayles) and hyper-reading (Moretti). Assuming the necessary requirements were in place (full text, metadata, semantic encoding and open access among others) he demonstrated how analysis tools, specifically stylometry, topic modelling, cluster analysis and voyant tools can be used to analyse a text or corpus.

All presentations are available here:

http://www.casalini.it/retreat/retreat_2015.html

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