Monday, March 22, 2010

Proposals for Australian Research Publishing

This is to propose the Australian Computer Society (ACS) use its ACS Digital Library for free open source publishing of research material. The existing journals and conference publications should be incorporated into the library, made freely available and in paper format by subscription. The aim should be to make the publications profitable and self sustaining, so that new publications can be created. While I have previously been director of publications and chair of the ACS scholarly publications committee, these views are expressed as an ordinary member of the ACS.

ACS Publishing Background

The ACS produces three research publications:

  1. Conferences in Research and Practice in Information Technology (CRPIT),
  2. Australasian Journal of Information Systems (AJIS),
  3. Journal of Research and Practice in Information Technology (JRPIT) .

These are available online as free open source publications, via the ACS Digital Library. JRPIT is the oldest of these, having been created in 2000 by renaming the Australian Computer Journal, which had been published by the Australian Computer Society continuously since November 1967 (making it one of the oldest computer journals in the world).

These publications are all peer reviewed, so as to meet standards for academic publishing. However, they try to maintain a balance between articles that are of interest both to practising information technology professionals and to university and industry researchers. In particular, ACS has encouraged papers that report on activities that have successfully connected fundamental and applied research with practical application. Some publications have more emphasis on emerging research and others on professional practice.

Current production processes

While the publications are available via a digital library, only AJIS has all papers indexed in the library and is created using the library software. JRPIT and CRPIT are developed and indexed using separate production processes and software. JRPIT is provided on paper free to members on request and to subscribers. CRPIT is provided in bulk on paper to the relevant conference for distribution to delegates and by subscription.

During my term as Director of Publications and chair of scholarly publishing, web sites were set up for JPRIT and then for the newly established CRPIT. The designs of these publications were standardised, with the aim of using the same online support system later and being able to use print-on-demand for paper copies. Later the ACS digital library was created using the open source Open Journal Systems (OJS) software. The aim was to have all the publications placed in the library. AJIS was the first, and so far only, publication in the library. In 2006 I described the process to provide "Quality e-Publishing Support for the ICT Profession" at several events.

Later the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) expressed interest in having a digital library. For the ACS I cloned the ACS DL, using the same OJS software to create the IFIP Digital Library. After configuring OJS for IFIP, I handed over maintenance of the system to the Australian National University, under contract to the ACS.

Problems with the current process

Production of JRPIT is time consuming and expensive. Currently the production process of requesting reviews and producing papers is done manually. In addition paper production is done via traditional, production processes. CRPIT is less of a problem, as the editorial process is carried out by the conference organisers and there is bespoke software to handle online distribution. AJIS is produced using the OJS software used for the ACS Digital Library, but suffers from limited support as this is the only journal using the system.

Some Publishing Insights

After several years experimenting with publishing systems, teaching it to students at the ANU, and implementing systems for ACS, several points have become reasonably clear:

  1. Journals and conferences can use the same process: While journals and conferences have different aims, the academic papers published from the look very much the same and be produced and distributed using the same online support system. The developers of OJS modified it to produce Online Conference Systems (OCS). But for an organisation producing a series of conference publications (not just one), each conference can be treated essentially as a journal volume. For this reason I chose to use OJS to support the IFIP DL, even though it contains conference proceedings, not journals.
  2. Administration costs can be lowered with automation: Much of the time an effort with publishing is taken up with keeping track of drafts and reviewers comments. This process has been automated by the OJS software and saves a lot of time and effort, especially where this work has been done by volunteers or scarce academic staff. The automated system produces a better result, never forgetting to remind an author, or reviewer that their material is due and keeping track of their response times.
  3. No one cares about paper: There is no requirement to produce paper publications in order to meet academic standards. The standards are based on the content, not what format they are in. It is useful to have paper copies of publications available for marketing purposes and for those who want them. But when shown the cost of paper production, most people opt for an electronic copy. In practice you only need one paper copy to show people it is a real publication, they will then happily use the cheaper electronic version.
  4. Open Access works: Making publications freely avialable considerably increases the readership of the material.
  5. Location Doesn't Matter: Producing "Australian" publications in the online age makes little sense. People from around the world are happy to publish in JRPIT. With the advent of online conferences, they will be happy to take part. What matters is the reputation of the editorial team, the timeliness and rapid production of the publication.
  6. You can sell and give away the same thing: Professional organisations do not aim to make money from their publications, but can aim to at least cover costs. It is possible to give away publications online and still sell paper copies and special compilations. Also academic conferences publishing provides a useful "author pays" model.

Proposed solution: use online production and distribution

  1. Retain current publications, with current names and editorial policies,
  2. Lower the cost by using the ACS Digital Library for production of JRPIT and CRPIT (as is done by AJIS),
  3. Cancel free paper distribution to members of JRPIT,
  4. Retain paper distribution to subscribers of JRPIT and CRPIT, (increasing the charges, if needed to cover the cost)
  5. Introduce POD (Print on Demand) to allow automated sales of one off copies of any of the publications.
  6. Investigate ebook formats for distribution of publications.
  7. Investigate electronic conferences, where delegates provide a podcast presentation and enter into an online discussion, instead of meeting in person. The OJS system already supports includsion of multimedia material, but its discussion facilitites may need suplimenting with something like the Mahara system used for ACS education.
ACS can first transfer JRPIT over to the production process used by AJIS, then CRPIT and lastly consider the development of new publications. This will require enhancements to the current system.

On a recent visit to Australia, Richard Charkin (Executive Director of Bloomsbury Publishing, London) pointed out that academic publishing had traditionally been very profitable and argued that it still could be. Richard also showed how Bloomsbury was now providing free online copies of academic books, as well as selling paper copies. Therefore I suggest ACS aim to make scholarly publishing self sustaining and profitable by 2015.

There may also be the opportunity for support from the Australian Government. As the Minister for Education has pointed out, education is now Australia’s third largest source of overseas earnings, at $15.5 billion in 2008 and supporting 125,000 jobs. Australia's ability to attract students is, in part, dependent on being seen as a place where there is excellence in research, particularly in the technical disciplines popular with the Indian and Chinese markets. Having both technical and professional papers published online and accessible from the computer screen of people in India and China (and published in by people in India and China) will help keep Australian educators credible.

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Blogger Duncan Unwin said...

Good idea. This would revitalise these journals. 'Peer review' does not have to mean old and boring.

March 23, 2010 6:43 PM  

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