Wednesday 8 July 2015

GUEST POST: open access & art books (Stuart Lawson)

Today's Guest Post is by librarian and researcher Stuart Lawson about the relevance of open access to Artists Books. Stuart will soon begin a PhD on the Politics of Open Access.

Open access is when scholarly research is made openly available online for anyone to read with no access barriers and minimal restrictions on reuse. With most of the world’s research behind paywalls and only available to those at educational institutions that can afford to access it, open access poses a radical solution to making the scholarly record available to all.

So far, the academics, librarians, and publishers who have been trying – with growing success – to make all research open access have primarily focused on journal articles rather than books. This is for multiple reasons: the science and technology focus of many advocates, who publish in disciplines where journal articles are the main unit of scholarly transmission; the fact that articles are mostly online anyway, whereas a significant proportion of books are not; and the simple fact that a book is a much more complex thing than a journal article. However there have been humanities scholars working to address the problem of open access books such as Open Book Publishers, Open Humanities Press, and Knowledge Unlatched.

Open access is relevant to artists, particularly those working with the book, not only if they work within academia; it is also an interesting space for experimentation in itself. This experimentation is partly driven by the permission-based approach to intellectual property. Open licenses such as Creative Commons licenses allow people to do a lot more with books than usual copyright law permits. Unless a non-derivative clause is attached these permissions include the ability to ‘remix, transform, and build upon the material’. So the potential for altering and combining existing work is now possible in a way it never was before, posing a challenge to notions of authorship.

There is also experimentation with the human processes involved in producing a book. Mattering Press is dedicated to ‘publishing with care’:

Mattering Press provides a platform to experiment with ways of producing academic books that encourages shared scholarship and mutual support as well as novel book formats … An aim is to begin to reshape the social and material relations surrounding the production of relational work.

In ‘The political nature of the book: on artists' books and radical open access’ Janneke Adema and Gary Hall have discussed the parallels between the role of artists’ books as a political medium and the current reimagining of long-form scholarly work. The culture of academia is in many ways very conservative and slow to change, so hopefully there will be a growing number of creative interventions in realm of open access books to catalyse the imagination of humanities scholars and publishers.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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