Continuing our Open Access Week 2022 interview series is Alexandra Ketchum, Faculty Lecturer of the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies of McGill University and author of Engage in Public Scholarship!: A Guidebook on Feminist and Accessible Communication.
What’s your title and position?
Dr. Alex Ketchum.
Since 2018 I have been the Faculty Lecturer of the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies of McGill University
You recently published the open access book, Engage in Public Scholarship!: A Guidebook on Feminist and Accessible Communication which includes chapters on open access and open data. Why was it important to include chapters on these topics?
Open access and open data are important tools in making our scholarly work more accessible to the public (which can include scholars outside of our fields). However, it is just one tool. Throwing a PDF online or a poorly described table of data is not the same thing as accessible scholarship. While it is important to free knowledge from behind paywalls, accessibility requires more tools, strategies, and skills. I also want to emphasize and echo the work of many scholars, activists, and artists who are Indigenous, people of colour, queer, disabled, or from other marginalized groups, there should be limits to openness. Not everything should be open when, for example, sharing that data could harm the Indigenous community that you conducted your research with.
Open access books are much less common than open access journals- can you tell us about your experiences as an author publishing with an open access press? What did it mean for you to publish your book open access?
Definitely. There are a variety of reasons for this discrepancy– and it is something I talk about in Engage. Open access book publishing changes some of the market and business models of the university presses that publish most peer-reviewed books.
There was no way that I was going to publish a book on accessible scholarship and not have an OA version– to do so would have felt so hypocritical. So from the outset, I wanted to work with a press that had this commitment to OA and Concordia University Press does. To offset OA costs meant securing grant funds through my SSHRC Insight Grant and working with my press to win an ASPP Grant (Awards to Scholarly Publishing Project). I’m not sure everyone realizes that subventions are really typical in academic publishing. Subvention are when scholars use grants or other funding sources to provide money to their publisher to help offset costs. Many scholars do this for books that are not OA. There are some presses who do have a built in fund for OA costs, but even those presses often ask for subvention funds to cover other costs. These subvention funds are different from the funds scholars use to hire an indexer and/or secure image rights.
Some people might ask: well you have done all of this work. You’ve written a book. And now you are going to give your book away for free? In case folks don’t know, it is really rare to make any money from an academic book. Sometimes you are looking at royalties of 5 dollars total after 10 years. In addition to my open commitment to knowledge mobilization outside of the university, from a practical level, if I am not going to make any money on sales from this book, I might as well make it available for free.
More research has to be done to confirm my hypothesis, but I actually think that making a book open access will be better for book sales in the long run. When designing a syllabus for a course, I want to make sure that my courses are as financially accessible as possible, within the confines of the university. I make sure that there is a version of every text that we read in which the students can get a copy through the library or other avenues without needing to pay directly for it. Some students still choose to purchase hard copies of books, but I want to only assign books and texts where there won’t be an added financial barrier for my students to participate in class. I’m more willing to assign chapters from books that are available open access. I know there are other professors who share this ethos and as a result, I do think OA books might find themselves on more syllabi and thus have more readers.
You’ve deposited several of your articles/books in McGill Library’s open repository eScholarship. What has been your experience with this service? Why did you choose eScholarship?
Yes! It has been a great experience. I usually deposit a pre-print version of an article that has already gone through the peer review process but hasn’t been formatted and has a few other touch-ups that need to be done before the piece is published by the journal. While I seek out journals that make all of their pieces open access from the outset, sometimes I want my work to be in conversation with a specific group of scholars who are publishing in a particular journal. When these journals are not open access, there is no way I am going to pay the journal 5,000 CAD of grant money to make the piece open access when that money could go to support student researchers that I work with. Instead, I can publish a pre-print version that will still appear on google scholar searches.
What’s your advice to early career researchers looking to engage in open access/open scholarship?
Oh this is a big question. I think my simplest piece of advice would be to research out to the folks at your e-scholarship repository or the repository affiliated with your discipline and ask them about making some of your pieces available. That would be a good first step.
Any last thoughts?
OA week is great but OA is only a first step. You can read the OA version of my book with lots of practical tips for making your work more accessible.