Curtin University: Data scientists turn a new page for open-access books

A Curtin University team of data scientists and software developers will help take open-access books to a sophisticated digital future through a pilot project that seeks to enhance the diversity of voices from small and medium book publishers across the globe.

The project has been awarded more than AUD$1 million by the prestigious Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest supporter of the arts and humanities in the United States of America.

The project is being led by Professor Lucy Montgomery and Professor Cameron Neylon, from the Curtin Open Knowledge Initiative within the University’s Centre for Culture and Technology.

Professor Montgomery said the project sought to address a growing analytics capability gap that was placing the diversity of the scholarly book publishing system at risk.

“For small and medium publishers to effectively share underrepresented and marginalised voices, they need access to the latest technology that is available to the bigger competitors,” Professor Montgomery said.

“Without this data, small and medium-sized publishers with fewer resources will simply be left out of the digital transition that is reshaping scholarly communication landscapes globally. There is a danger that open-access book publishing, which is currently notable for the role that small publishers play, will undergo the extreme concentration that has already occurred in the journal space: becoming dominated by a handful of commercial, multinational players.”

Professor Montgomery said the digital usage of open-access books was recorded in radically different ways by different platforms, making the task of interpreting the data time-consuming and technically complex.

Lead data scientist Dr Kathryn Napier, from the Curtin Institute for Computation, said the project had identified a compelling demand for shared services that would be useful to publishers across the globe.

“While the most immediate calls for support are in Europe and North America, and predominantly English-language publishers, we are focused on ensuring this digital infrastructure project will address broader locations and users to prevent any further inequities in scholarship,” Dr Napier said.

“The analytics gap is not merely a technical gap, but also one of capacities and skills to interrogate information, including its completeness and quality, in making strategic decisions. We also developed the initial technical infrastructure and workflows needed to underpin these services with the ultimate aim of giving small and medium publishers the same level of digital competency.”

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation was established in 1969 to support exemplary and inspiring institutions of higher education and culture to build just communities where ideas and imagination can thrive.

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