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An interview with Dr Rose Harris-Birtill

As part of International Open Access Week 2019, we are delighted to present an interview with Dr Rose Harris-Birtill from the School of English, University of St Andrews. Rose shares her experience of publishing her own research Open Access, and on her new role as Editorial Officer at the Open Library of Humanities (OLH), an academic-led gold Open Access publisher based at Birkbeck, University of London.

Dr Rose Harris-Birtill
Dr Rose Harris-Birtill

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What does publishing Open Access mean to you as a researcher in the humanities? Do you think this view has changed over time?
In a space of ever tighter funding for academic research in the humanities, publishing Open Access – where anyone can read the published research without having to pay – is incredibly valuable. Free-to-publish, free-to-read Open Access models like the Open Library of Humanities also mean that this can now be offered without the author having to pay to publish their work, so that the research is freely accessible worldwide. Whilst this is financially sensible, it’s also ethically commendable: research can be used by whoever needs it, whether researchers, students, teachers or the public – whatever your means, and wherever you live.

Researchers are rightly concerned about securing the right space to publish in. After projects that can take years, decades, or even a lifetime, the suitability of the publication output isn’t something to neglect. As Open Access publishing models and platforms continue to develop, and attract growing academic attention and prestige, my hope is that such models will continue to improve the landscape of international knowledge production and dissemination for researchers and readers alike.

Can you tell us a little about your research background and your role organising a conference on the work of David Mitchell?
My own research background is in modern and contemporary literature, and I completed my PhD in English at St Andrews in 2017, while my academic monograph, David Mitchell’s Post-Secular World: Buddhism, Belief and the Urgency of Compassion was published in 2019. This research investigates the complete works of British author David Mitchell, analysing the reworked Buddhist influences that draw his novels, short stories and libretti into an interconnected ethical world, and the other contemporary writers also reworking religious influences as part of a shared response to the crises wrought by late capitalism.

During this research project, I served as the lead organiser for the David Mitchell Conference, which took place in the School of English at St Andrews, with a visit to Special Collections to see an exhibition of rare works by the author held there. It was a brilliant day that sold out nearly three months in advance, and brought together twenty speakers from ten countries – as well as David Mitchell himself! – with participants travelling from across Europe, the US, Canada and New Zealand to take part.

I believe you were very keen to ensure an open scholarly discussion in the field of contemporary literature. Did this influence your choice to publish a Special Issue based on the conference in the Open Access OLH journal C21 Literature?
Absolutely! Part of the challenge of researching living authors is that they can (and do) read and comment on their own experiences of being critiqued, which as a researcher can be slightly uncanny. Yet this is also a fascinating and unique facet of research in the contemporary, and as part of the conference I wanted to embrace this – both as a literary theorist, and also as a reader.

To address this, I dedicated a slot in the conference for all the participants, speakers and the author to come together for an open discussion about this strange experience of our very different positions in the literary space. It was fascinating to share the usually hidden anxieties of our roles – the scholar’s fear of being proven ‘wrong’ in front of (or even by) the author; the author’s anxiety about when and how to contribute; and the participant’s anxieties about whether involving the author in the discussions was allowed (it was!) It was an intellectually invigorating session for all involved, I think, and a useful way to confront and contribute to ongoing debates on the evolving relationship between author and critic.

One of the aspects of the day that I was most proud of – and there were many – was seeing such an inclusive and open discussion continuing throughout the day and beyond. I am a firm believer in the value of Open Access in making research freely and widely accessible where possible, and so when I was invited to guest edit a Special Edition of the Open Access OLH journal C21 Literature on the author’s works as the associated conference publication, it fitted as the right thing to do, and the right place to do it (see the final published C21 Literature David Mitchell Special Edition).

From your experience, what attracts colleagues or researchers to publish Open Access with OLH or other OA publishers? What would you say to fellow researchers at St Andrews to encourage them to publish Open Access?
There are many different reasons why researchers decide to make their work Open Access (including REF compliance!) so I’ll just mention a few highlights. One very useful aspect about ‘born-digital’ Open Access publishing – as is the case with the OLH model – is that the publication timeline can be much shorter than with print presses. This is especially useful where timely publication is particularly important, but it’s also useful for researchers who want to disseminate their research as early and as widely as possible.

Another advantage is that it allows you to quickly and easily see how many views and downloads an article has and share the work with others freely; these metrics form useful data to evidence the reach of your work. Making scholarship available more widely also facilitates greater academic dialogue, which in turn helps prompt advances in the field, and as researchers have found, publishing Open Access increases your citation rate.

For researchers who are considering Open Access publishing more broadly, there are a lot more options than you’d imagine. The Directory of Open Access Journals lists over 13,000 Open Access journals in 130 countries at the time of writing, so it’s well worth checking what’s going on in your field. One thing to note here is that there are various different models of Open Access publishing, and some require the author to cover Article Processing Charges, which can be around £1,000 – £1,500. The OLH model means that all its journals are free to access, and free to publish, with costs covered by a consortium of libraries. But this isn’t the case with all Open Access platforms and publishers, so check this before submitting.

Can you tell us a bit more about your experience of publishing with the Open Library of Humanities Press?
My experience of publishing the C21 Literature Special Edition was overwhelmingly positive. The journal’s Managing Editor was happy to allow me to oversee the entire process, from selecting peer-reviewers to final publication, which was great in allowing me to shape the editorial ‘vision’ for the collection. As this was my first Open Access publication experience I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the team were incredibly professional and punctual, helping to create a beautiful and lasting final edition.

What influenced your decision to apply for the post of Editorial Officer with OLH? Please tell us about your exciting new role!
My previous experience of editing the C21 Literature special edition and working with the OLH team were big factors here, as was my previous career as a professional writer in London, my experience as an academic researcher and author at St Andrews, and as an editor for the International Society for the Study of Time’s journal KronoScope. My role at OLH allows me to use my skillsets from both industry and academia, and it’s an incredibly varied and enjoyable job for a cause that I believe in. I am fortunate indeed!

As part of this role, I serve as Managing Editor across the 27 journals, and Editor of our flagship journal Open Library of Humanities, overseeing the editorial processes and working with the international teams of editors for each journal. It’s great to be part of OLH’s stellar and hardworking team, and the vision and dedication of the founders, Professor Martin Paul Eve and Dr Caroline Edwards, is impressive to say the least.

We would be delighted if you could share your experiences and help colleagues in St Andrews understand the opportunities for Open Access publishing. Is there more information you could point us to?
There are lots of different opportunities and resources to help: there’s a collection of useful Open Access resources here, while you can find the full list of OLH Open Access journals here. You can also learn more about the free, open source publishing platform Janeway that OLH uses, which is also constantly under active development, while the free-to-stream film, Paywall: The Business of Scholarship (dir. Jason Schmitt, 2018), also gives an informative overview of the wider industry of subscription-based access.

How can institutions and libraries support the OLH publishing model?
I’ll start by saying that we’re incredibly grateful to libraries and institutions for the ongoing support that allows OLH to function, and to the University of St Andrews for being a member of OLH’s Library Partnership Subsidy model since 2015.

Institutions and libraries that want to get involved can join OLH individually or through the OLH Open Consortial Offer, which offers discounts for consortia, societies, networks and scholarly projects that want to join together. The OLH is a charitable organisation that is strictly not-for-profit and prices are set to be fair, so small institutions pay less than larger ones. There’s also a referral scheme for members, where both the existing member and the referee get a discount. Members are entitled to a voting position on the Library Governance Board, effectively allowing supporting libraries and institutions to collectively govern the OLH.

Are there any new developments in the OLH platform or in its hosted publications that you think St Andrews researchers might find interesting?
The full list of OLH journals gives an overview of the 27 different titles that we publish and support, and the list is growing all the time. As well as our flagship journal Open Library of Humanities, we’re proud to have a mix of both traditional subjects and new approaches. For example, as well as 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, Glossa: Journal of General Linguistics, Ethnologia Europaea: Journal of European Ethnology, we also have Open Screens, the journal of the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies, and Journal of Embodied Research, the first peer-reviewed open access journal to pioneer scholarly video articles.

A particularly vibrant feature of the Open Library of Humanities journal is its Special Collections, which allows experts to apply to produce their own collections of articles around a particular theme, often from a conference, an established network or an open or invited call for papers. Existing Special Collections are on topics as diverse as Freedom After Neoliberalism, Muslims in the Media, Postcolonial Perspectives in Game Studies, and The Medieval Brain; you can find more info about applying to edit an OLH Special Collection here.

We also run an Advocacy Network and the #EmpowOA series of blogs and social media activity to help spread the word about Open Access. This is quite a lot for OLH to have achieved since its launch in 2015, and we’re incredibly proud and humbled to have just won an Open Publishing Award this month, so it’s a very exciting time for us at OLH. Watch this space!

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