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Open Access Week Interview with Ross Higman

The Copim team talks with Ross Higman about his experience working with Thoth as a Software Engineer.

Published onOct 24, 2023
Open Access Week Interview with Ross Higman
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The Copim team talks with Ross Higman about his experience working with Thoth as a Software Engineer.

Tell us a little bit about yourself! When did you join the Copim community? How’s your experience been at your position?

I’m a software engineer who has been working on the Thoth open metadata and dissemination system, and related projects, since late 2020. It’s been a pleasure to join this community of thoughtful and passionate open access advocates, and to be so closely engaged with the people who use what we’re building.

How do you interpret the theme "Community over Commercialisation" in the context of Open Access Week 2023 and your work, and why is it important for the field of open scholarship?

Many important contributions to open scholarship are published by small open access presses, perhaps staffed by as few as one or two people part-time, motivated by the desire to contribute to the scholarly community. For presses that have so few resources, commercial publishing solutions are often out of reach, and yet the publishing and distribution process requires a great deal of admin which is challenging to manage manually. Software developed by the open source community, such as Thoth, provides a vital alternative to commercial packages. It helps small presses to publish more efficiently, increasing the amount of open scholarship that’s available, and also to ensure that what does get published can reach a wide readership.

In your opinion, what are the key challenges and drawbacks when commercial interests take precedence in knowledge production, as opposed to prioritizing researchers and the public?

When scholarly outputs are managed by commercial organisations, there is always a danger of the organisations treating them as assets to exploit, rather than knowledge to be shared. Work that’s openly accessible to researchers and the public now might be only one bad quarter away from being placed behind a paywall. This can happen even when the organisations start out with the best of intentions, as commercial pressures force them to do whatever they can to survive. Outputs that belong to the community as a whole can’t be exploited to serve individual interests in this way.

Is there a scenario where commercialization can be aligned with the public interest in the field of open scholarship? If so, what might that look like?

Open scholarship production can be commercially viable without being ‘commercialised’ – in the negative sense where the commercial aspect itself becomes the end goal. Financially sustainable and stable open access publishers mean continued and increasing access to knowledge for the public. The Copim community has investigated and developed multiple models for achieving this, building on the efforts of existing small publishers who have been self-sustaining for decades. Business models which rely on community funding, rather than charging individual authors fees, avoid the pressure to ‘commercialise’ by maximising those fees – and thereby preventing those with less access to funding from enriching open scholarship.

Quality Reviews:

Ross Higman, a software engineer at Thoth, shares his journey with the Copim community, highlighting the joy of being part of open access advocates. Since late 2020, he's been deeply involved in projects supporting open scholarship.

Reflecting on "Community over Commercialisation" for Open Access Week 2023, Ross emphasizes the significance of software like Thoth for small presses. These entities, often low on resources, benefit from open-source solutions, enhancing efficiency in publishing and widening the reach of open scholarship.

Ross underscores the risks when commercial interests prioritize knowledge production, potentially leading to open content being restricted. The fear is that openly accessible work might end up behind paywalls due to financial pressures on commercial entities.

However, Ross sees a positive scenario where commercialization aligns with the public interest. He envisions financially sustainable open-access publishers that don't exploit content but rather contribute to continued and increased knowledge accessibility. Copim explores models, such as community funding, to support open scholarship without relying on individual author fees, preventing the negative impact of excessive commercialization.