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Looking back at Year 1 of the Open Book Futures project: Reflections from the Experimental Publishing Group

Published onMay 23, 2024
Looking back at Year 1 of the Open Book Futures project: Reflections from the Experimental Publishing Group

April 2024 marked the end of the first year of the Open Book Futures project, which started on 1st May 2023 and will end on 30th April 2026. OBF’s Experimental Publishing Group (Janneke Adema, Simon Bowie, Rebekka Kiesewetter, and Julien McHardy) have been very active during this first year. We have moved forward with what was achieved during the COPIM project (e.g. the Experimental Publishing Compendium) and have initiated new things, including funding three new pilot projects of experimental books and book publishing workflows. In this blogpost, we want to look back at what we have done over the last year, and provide a sneak peek of what is still to come in year two of Open Book Futures.

The Experimental Publishing Compendium

Screenshot of the front page of the experimental publishing compendium listing tools, practices, and books

The Experimental Publishing Compendium is a guide and reference for those who want to challenge, push and redefine the shape, form, and rationale of scholarly books, bringing together tools, practices, and books to promote the publication of experimental scholarly works. We initially launched the Compendium at the end of April 2023 in a beta release as one of the final deliverables of the COPIM project. Since then, we have further developed the Compendium: we have added new practices (including translating, licensing, rewriting, and references), new tools, and new experimental books, and we have finalised the remaining development and design elements (with back-end coding by Simon Bowie, front-end and back-end coding by Joel Galvez, and design by Joel Galvez and Martina Vanini). In December 2023, we felt the Compendium was ready for a formal launch (and a release out of beta), which we celebrated with a promotion campaign and a series of festive tweets and toots. Since then, we have released a promotional walkthrough video of the Compendium, and presented it at talks and conferences, including at Linköping University, the Centre for the Study of the Networked Image (CSNI - London South Bank University), Utrecht University Library, the Alan Turing Institute, Northumbria University Library, the Multimodal Appreciation project (Berlin), the Sonic Screen Lab (London College of Communication – University of the Arts London), the Centre for Practice Research in the Arts (CePRA – Leeds University), as well as at our matchmaking workshop. The Compendium was also nominated for the Digital Humanities Awards 2023 in the category ‘Best DH Tool or Suite of Tools’.

Experimental Book Pilot Projects: Call for Funding

During the COPIM project, we supported three experimental book pilot projects, which we documented on COPIM’s PubPub platform. We are supporting three more pilot projects as part of the Open Book Futures project. Support for the pilot projects includes 1) funding for pilot project teams to run their projects and 2) support and expertise (including technical support) from the Experimental Publishing Group and Coventry University alongside specialist input from other OBF work packages (WPs). The aim of these pilot projects is to promote the publication of experimental books. Through these pilot projects, we want to foster sustainable communities of authors, publishers, developers, editors, reviewers, and open source technology providers interested in engaging in more experimental forms of book publishing. Our focus is specifically on the publishing process and on adapting academic publishers' existing workflows and processes to better accommodate the multiple forms and formats academic long-form research can take.

To allocate the funding, we developed a grant application and assessment process, which was overseen by the Open Book Collective (OBC) and developed in collaboration with OBF’s WP2. We drew inspiration from the OBC development fund and in turn provided input to their current call for applications for funding. After initially releasing a pre-call in April 2023, we released our Open Call for funding for three experimental book pilot projects in October 2023. The release was accompanied by a blogpost that offered more background information on the call. The call and blogpost were distributed widely, resulting in nearly 50 applications. The high number of applications we received highlights the enduring apetite amongst scholars and publishers to experiment with book formats, and the lack of resources and support for them to do so. Our call was open to individuals looking to collaborate and to already formed project teams (consisting of an author or group of authors, a publisher, and an open source technology provider). We designed a two-stage application process to enable an as large a group of applicants as possible to apply to our call. After checking initial submissions for eligibility, we supported eligible applicants without a complete project team to find additional project partners (or to ‘match’ with another project looking for partners). Applicants who assembled a complete project team could then submit their final submission a couple of months later.

Matchmaking Workshop and Assessment

In January 2024 we organised a matchmaking workshop for the authors, publishers, and platform/software providers that submitted a project proposal to our Open Call. Anticipating that many applicants might struggle to bring a complete team together as required by our eligibility criteria, we organised a matchmaking event to try and bring potential team members together. For the workshop, we invited presses and technology providers to help establish connections and make introductions with potential project partners. Around 40 people attended the workshop, resulting in several ‘matches’ and the formation of several full project teams which submitted finalised pilot project proposals.

Based on the assessment criteria and procedures we developed together with WP2, we convened an assessment panel consisting of members of the OBC Board of Stewards, the Experimental Publishing Group, and OBC members. Three pilots were selected for funding. We aim to stay in touch with the other unsuccessful applicants and remain available to them for questions and support.

Experimental Book Publishing Pilots: Launch

At the end of April 2024, we were very pleased to announce the launch of three experimental book pilot projects:

Servpub – A Collective Infrastructure to Serve and Publish expands the idea of books as networked objects towards the infrastructures facilitating their creation & distribution, a collaboration of Slade School of Fine Art, CSNI, SHAPE, Minor Compositions, In-grid, Syster Server, and Creative Crowds

Deep Maps: Blue Humanities, a digital-first monograph which will explore deep mapping in content and form in collaboration with James Louis Smith, University of Westminster Press, and JSTOR Labs.

Database as Book and Lively Community Archive, an experimental book project which will build a “database as book” to support an emergent collective of critical STS scholars in Kenya in collaboration with the Research Data Share Collective, African Minds, and Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography (PECE).

Looking forward to year 2

In year 2 of Open Book Futures, we look forward to supporting these pilot projects as they get started and to document this process along the way. Stay tuned for more information about the documentation process and for updates from the pilots. We will also organise an outreach event (or series of events) to promote the work we have been doing with the pilots and the Compendium and experimental book publishing in general. Finally, we will work on implementing a governance structure for the Experimental Publishing Compendium (currently maintained by the Experimental Publishing Group) and publish a scoping report to explore what form of governance might fit the Compendium best. Do contact us if you want to know more about any of the above, would like us to present on experimental book publishing, or would like to work with us!

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