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Published onOct 19, 2021

This report explores how publishers and authors can promote, nurture, and facilitate interaction with openly available books. Open access (obviously) opens up scholarship, but it also offers scope to enhance interactions between books, scholars, publishers, resources, librarians, and of course readers. This might take the form of creating communities and conversations around books, of gathering comments and hyperlinks, or of enabling updating, remixing and reusing, translating, modifying, reviewing, versioning, and forking of existing books. Open access, in short can create additional value and new avenues and formats that go beyond openness, by changing how people interact with books. Research shows that making books available in open access enhances discovery and online consultation (Snijder, 2019), but the short outline above makes clear that there is still a lot to be done to stimulate, explore, and practice the full range of book interactions made possible by open access.

This report will explore some of the ways in which both publishers and authors can start to do so. The first part of this report provides a literature overview that identifies the opportunities that digital technologies and enhanced interactions with open access books can provide for scholarship; it outlines some of the main types of interactions around scholarship—and around and as part of open access books more in particular—that scholars are involved in; and it showcases some of the experiments within humanities book publishing with reuse and remix; finally it presents some of the main (technological and socio-cultural) inhibitions that have prevented further uptake of these practices. The second part of this report more closely explores the technical dependencies that the introduced interactions and affordances rely upon. Doing so, it outlines and showcases various open source tools,1 software, technologies, platforms, infrastructures, guidelines and best practices, that lend themselves to being adopted by publishers and authors (or by publishers and authors working in collaboration with each other) to facilitate interaction around their book(s). The third part of this report then summarises the findings of the previous parts and provides recommendations, guidelines, and strategies (again, both socio-cultural and technological) for publishers and authors to further open up their books and collections to community interaction and reuse.

Experimental Publishing and COPIM

This report has been written as the second research report coming out of COPIM’s work package 6 (WP6), which focuses on Experimental Publishing and Reuse and looks at ways to more closely align existing software, tools and technologies, workflows, and infrastructures for experimental publishing with the workflows of open access book publishers. To do so, it is co-producing several pilot projects of experimental books (which we are currently developing with communities of scholars and technologists and partner presses Open Humanities Press, Mattering Press, and Open Book Publishers), which are being developed with the aid of these new tools and workflows. As part of these pilot projects, relationships will be established with open source publishing platforms, software providers, and projects focused on experimental long-form publications, and outreach activities will be conducted with open access book publishers and authors to further promote experimental publishing opportunities. This work package also explores how non-experimental open access books are (re)used by the scholarly community, which is what this report focuses on. As such, it examines those technologies and cultural strategies that are most effective in promoting open access book content interaction and reuse. This includes building communities around content and collections via annotations, comments, and post-publication review (e.g., via the social annotation platform to enable more collaborative forms of knowledge production. As explained above, to achieve this this work package will map both existing technological solutions as well as cultural barriers and best practices with respect to reuse and other emerging book interactions enabled by open access.

COPIM’s WP6 will also produce an online resource to promote and support the publication of experimental books. The first report we wrote for WP6, Books contain multitudes: Exploring Experimental Publishing, is a three-part research and scoping report that has been produced to support the development of this online resource. The third part of this first scoping report reviews existing resources on tools, platforms, and software used in the production of experimental books, and sketches a roadmap and methodology towards the creation of the online resource mentioned previously. It also explores two key practices within experimental publishing and the creation of experimental books that will feature within this online resource, collaborative writing and annotation. The latter will also play an important role in this report, hence connections will be made between both reports as they further develop.

Similar to the variety of other reports and outputs produced in COPIM, this report will make use of PubPub’s advanced versioning functionalities. We will be updating this document over the next 1.5 years, thus allowing us to incorporate user feedback and new technological developments. We very much welcome feedback on the report. Please feel free to add comments to the PubPub version directly (account/login required), or contact us at


COPIM (Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs) is a 3-year project led by Coventry University as part of an international partnership of researchers, universities, librarians, open access book publishers and infrastructure providers and is funded by The Research England Development Fund and Arcadia—a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. COPIM is building community-owned, open systems and infrastructures to enable open access book publishing to flourish, delivering major improvements in the infrastructures used by open access book publishers and those publishers making a transition to open access. The project addresses the key technological, structural, and organisational hurdles—around funding, production, dissemination, discovery, reuse, and archiving—that are standing in the way of the wider adoption and impact of open access books. COPIM will realign open access book publishing away from competing commercial service providers to a more horizontal and cooperative knowledge-sharing approach.

As part of seven connected Work Packages, COPIM is working on 1) integrated capacity-building amongst presses; 2) access to and development of consortial, institutional, and other funding channels; 3) development and piloting of appropriate business models; 4) cost reductions achieved by economies of scale; 5) mutually supportive governance models; 6) integration into library, repository, and digital learning environments; 7) the re-use of and experimentation with open access books; 8) the effective and robust archiving of open access content; and 9) knowledge transfer to stakeholders through various pilots.

Who is this Report for?

The main communities we want to reach with this report are publishers and authors/scholars (or communities of scholars), to explore how they, by experimenting and often just making simple adjustments, can start to open up and stimulate interactions around their books. Larger (commercial) publishers often have the resources to develop tools and workflows for interaction in-house (which are often proprietary). Scholar-led publishers, although they have often been at the vanguard of more experimental forms of publishing, have indicated that they still lack expertise and familiarity with more experimental forms of publishing and with the tools available to support them (Adema & Stone, 2017). We therefore focus in this report on open source tools and openly and freely available resources and guidelines that can help small-scale and not-for-profit book publishers that cannot afford to build their own custom platforms, to stimulate engagement around books. We also show various examples throughout this report of how publishers, publishing collectives and platforms, authors, and scholarly communities already are stimulating interaction around books in interesting ways and the tools and practices they have adopted to do so.

This report focuses on interactions with books and on books within the humanities and social sciences in particular. Many of the types of interaction and interactive practices we describe within this report (such as for example open peer review and data mining), are being used and adopted more commonly within the STEM fields (where their uptake is also more widely researched). The humanities (and to a lesser extent the social sciences) in general have lower adoption rates where it concerns these types of practices and also have field specific preferences (as well as prejudices) towards many of these practices, which will be taken into account and further discussed in this report.

Note on Terminology

This research focuses on interaction with books as we deem this term sufficiently overarching to capture the various practices that we explore and promote within this report. Similarly, a term such as engagement with books would work well to capture the general attempt to promote the “Great Conversation” of scholarship that we want to stimulate and build upon within the humanities and social sciences. Within these fields, theories around intertextuality (Kristeva, Bakhtin) and the social text (McKenzie, McGann) have already explored in depth on a theoretical level how texts respond to each other, are connected and interwoven, and how social and dialogical links are made between them. Within a print context a clear and well-established research and publishing workflow and apparatus has already been set-up to enable and stimulate this conversation and make these connections visible and transparent, from citations and footnotes to bibliographies and indexes, and from book reviews to response articles and review essays—not to mention the elements of feedback we have set up through conferences, seminars, mailing lists etc. In an online environment this is increasingly supplemented by social media and by personal websites and blogs, but digital tools offer us the opportunity to also interact more directly with the books themselves. From annotations in the margins to open peer reviews, our scholarly conversations can increasingly be connected to, feedback into, and perhaps even reorganise our (networked) publications.

Beyond “interaction”, terms that are often used to characterise further engagement practices are “reuse” and “remix”. These terms, drawn from open culture and music production, have become familiar to many authors and publishers due to their use within Creative Commons licenses, especially those that allow the “reuse” of a work (depending on the licence, e.g., commercial reuse or derivatives), or through the focus within the open access movement on the difference between gratis and libre access (Suber, 2008). This ties in with another focus within open communities, namely that on open and social scholarship, which focuses on stimulating the conversations around open scholarship. The issue is that for a long time within the open access movement, strategically the focus has been on providing access to books where reuse and interactive elements as well as a “rigorous critical exploration of the form of the book itself” have seen less uptake (Adema and Hall, 2014). We will explore this in more depth in part 1 of this report.

Community Knowledge Production and (Alt)metrics

This lack of a more rigorous engagement with what our system of knowledge production could be in a digital environment, i.e., one that doesn’t simply duplicate the forms and practices (quality control procedures, preservation structures, textual format) we are accustomed to from a print environment, might have to do with the lack of benefit scholars derive from more communal and interactive forms of knowledge production within our standard research quality and assessment systems. Although the main form established within a print environment to showcase scholarly interaction (i.e., references/citations) has been heavily quantified and metricised, new forms of digital interactions around texts have not necessarily been quantified in the same way (yet). Although many scholars have welcomed the development of altmetrics, or even humetrics, to capture these forms of digital social engagements around texts, many others have seen this transition period as an opportunity to further question the quantification (and monetisation) of the conversations we have around our research (Eileen A. Joy, 2018).2 This report focuses on and promotes communal and commons-based forms of scholarship and knowledge production, away from (a focus on) metrics and impact-based assessments and a view of scholarship or books as a commodity. However we are not naive to the importance metrics continue to play within reputation and reward systems, also within the humanities, and especially in the perception of (humanities) scholars to what constitutes quality scholarship, which will be reflected in what follows.

Interaction and the Publishing Function

How is it in the interest of or the responsibility of publishers or authors to enable, support, and stimulate interactivity around books—does this need to be a shared interest and responsibility? As we will outline more in depth at various points in this report, the roles and responsibilities of authors and publishers are changing in an online environment, and especially smaller and scholar-led publishers might have an important and advantageous role to play in rethinking publishing workflows when there is (depending on their open access business model) less commercial pressure to sell print books or derive revenue from digital ones, which is what most marketing endeavours within a print or commercial environment have traditionally focused on. The “marketing” function in this respect could be rethought to focus our endeavours much more on interactions with the publication, which we perceive in this context as a shared function that publishers and authors might want to take on, where scholars and their social networks have already started to play a large role in promoting and facilitating interactions around research.

Types of Interaction

As part of our research we have identified several types of scholarly interaction taking place around books. The first part of this report is structured around some of the more common kinds of interaction that open access books afford: open annotations, open peer review, remix and reuse, open and social scholarship, and emergent practices (including versioning, forking, and computational interactions). This report doesn’t aim to cover all forms of interaction around books but has chosen to focus on the kinds of interactions that publishers and scholars would be able to promote and recreate with relatively simple adaptations to their workflows, systems, practices, and licensing. Each of the above identified types of interaction around books will be discussed in the next section, including how we can stimulate them and what obstacles currently exist towards their more general implementation. Throughout the next part of this report we will also be providing examples from within humanities book publishing to illustrate the different kinds of interaction.

Header image: Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash


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