PKP: From Scholarly Open Access Movement to Institutional Player

The Public Knowledge Project (PKP) recently held its 3rd international conference in Berlin, marking the ‘ coming of age’  of what started as a movement for open access publishing in the late 1990s. Then, a loose coalition of professors, librarians, and graduate students reacted to the increasingly expensive and closed character of many academic journals, and prepared a system for open access publishing called Open Journal Systems (OJS). The PKP 2011 Berlin conference reflected the maturity of the original open access initiative and mirrored the professional organization and quality content found at major discipline-based conferences.

Screenshot from PKP website; founder John Willinsky in photo

This conference was attended by some 150 librarians, scholars, and publishers coming from institutions located in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. The diversity suggested the extensiveness of interest in open access scholarly publishing, and the presentations ranged from cases describing the launch of open access journals to reflections on new directions for access to scholarship, such as enhanced publications and data repositories. The program schedule includes the slides and papers for many of the contributions to the conference, making it easy for persons unable to attend the event to gain an impression.

One of the most impressive cases presented during the three-day event was about the range of e-journal publishing services offered by the University of Pittsburgh. Since 2007 some 27 open access journals have been launched and supported by the Pittsburgh University Library System. All of the titles follow the accepted and expected conventions of peer review and involvement of recognized scholars in journal editorial boards.  The editors of these titles are located around the world and not just at the host institution. Although open and free, the UP staff has developed  rigorous selection procedures for taking on a new titles and candidate editors must demonstrate clearly formulated editorial policies, interest by specialists in the proposed titles, and sufficient organizational structure to ensure sustainability. In return, staff from the UP Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing provide technical and publisher-style support to the titles taken on board. See the abstract and slides of this presentation for further details.

Pittsburgh criteria for supporting journal initiatives

The titles supported by the University of Pittsburgh, like most of the titles employing OJS software, publish articles in conventional pdf-file format without the many forms of article enhancement now being developed by commercial publishers such as Elsevier and SAGE – pop-up windows with abstracts and references, enlargement of article illustrations, dynamic updating of citation data in bibliographic entries. A few presentations at this PKP conference, however, did consider enhancing scholarly publications. Marnix van Berchum from Utrecht University and the SURFfoundation, for example, suggested that incorporation of such features may be easier than most think in his presentation  appropriately entitled “Enhanced Journals…Made Easy”.


Advice from Van Berchum’s presentation on enhanced publications

 Whether the challenges involved in enhancing scholarly publications are “easy” may be a matter of background, prior experience, and the peculiarities of the publication. Another presentation on forms of enhancement of scholarly monographs suggested a wide range of challenges far from simple. This presentation, delivered by eHumanities Group members Clifford Tatum, Andrea Scharnhorst and Nick Jankowski considered some of the trials and tribulations in preparing enhanced versions of book monographs. The abstract and paper is available on the PKP conference website.

One of the difficulties these researchers encountered was maintaining interest among chapter authors to prepare supplemental material for the websites complementing the traditionally published monographs. Another challenge this team faced was interlinking materials from one book to other titles with similar topics – achieving interoperability among book ‘objects’. These challenges aside, the initiatives at enhancing scholarly publications undertaken by this group are being extended to other eHumanities initiatives, some of which might merit presentation at a future PKP conference.

Schema representing interoperability among publication ‘objects’