SCOOP: Open Source at Atla Open Press, A Peek Inside the Toolbox/
February 28, 2020
Readers of the books and journals produced by Atla Open Press experience our commitment to open access every day through the wealth of knowledge and experience in theological librarianship that we make freely available. What is not always obvious is our commitment to open source software in the tools we use to bring every book and journal issue to life. It is a commitment that we share with many partners and colleagues across the scholarly publishing space (and beyond), who are contributing to an ever-expanding universe of innovative tools and platforms.
Why Open Source?
Every installation of software is derived from “source code” — the basic instructions that define what the application does. The source code to many common programs is the intellectual property of its developer, and the ordinary user is prohibited from modifying it, redistributing it, and in some cases even viewing it.
“Open source” software makes its source code available under an open license that guarantees the user’s right to view, modify, and redistribute the code. “Free of license restrictions” doesn’t necessarily mean “free of charge,” but in practice much open source software is also available to download and run at no cost, and reducing expenses is a major reason why publishers (and many other kinds of institutions) have been moving toward open source solutions. The opportunity to customize the software for specialized tasks or workflows and the ability to fix problems in-house without being dependent on the software vendor or third-party support services are also major attractions.
While open source adopters save money upfront as against the purchase costs and licensing fees of commercial software, they have to be prepared to invest in other ways. While there are major open source projects that have achieved “turnkey” status, most are not out-of-the-box solutions. Open source software requires time and effort to implement and maintain, as well as teamwork and communication between users, developers, and system administrators.
Open source initiatives foster community and, where proprietary software models often relegate the user to a passive role as “customer” and “consumer,” open source opens space for scholars, librarians, and stakeholders of all kinds to come into the development process.
Those demands are also opportunities, however. Open source initiatives foster community and, where proprietary software models often relegate the user to a passive role as “customer” and “consumer,” open source opens space for scholars, librarians, and stakeholders of all kinds to come into the development process. Feedback, input, and contributions arrive from diverse quarters and often make software more responsive to user needs and more equitable in its representation of the communities that employ it. Open source is not just a new way of distributing and using software; it’s a way to pull new seats up to the table when making it.
The Tools Behind the Atla Open Press
One of our most exciting partnerships is with the Coko Foundation, which is leading the development of a platform for academic monographs and edited collections called Editoria. While there are excellent tools scholars use to write and edit journal articles or individual chapters together in the cloud (such as Fidus Writer or Overleaf), there have been few options for collaboratively creating whole books. Editoria offers a system in which multiple editors and authors can work together directly on the text from the first blank page all the way through to automated output of PDF and EPUB, without ever leaving their browser.
Read the first published Atla Open Press monograph in partnership with the Coko Foundation, Information Literacy and Theological Librarianship: Theory & Praxis.Read
For managing book proposals, hosting published books online, and taking our journals from first submissions through to published issues, we employ two platforms from the Public Knowledge Project — Open Journal Systems (OJS) for journals and Open Monograph Press (OMP) for books. Both enable us to manage review processes, version control, and internal Press communications in one place. Both also power the outward-facing websites, hosting publications in multiple formats, maintaining archives, tracking analytics on downloads and readership, and receiving communication from readers and contributors.
Other Tools and Projects
OJS has worked well for our journals, but Janeway offers an alternative platform fitted for Python-based, rather than PHP-based, environments. Similarly, while Editoria better suited our needs, Pressbooks is another strong platform for open book creation. Built on WordPress, it offers an accessible and flexible environment for structuring diverse kinds of books and exporting them to PDF, eBook formats, or interactive online installations. Many of Pressbooks’ pre-configured theme options make it especially attractive for projects that focus on open educational resources (OERs).
Another WordPress-based project using commonplace tools to approach open digital scholarship in extraordinary ways is the journal Southern Spaces, which uses its platform to synthesize rigorous scholarly content with a journalistic style that makes new work public-facing, approachable, and eminently social-media-shareable. Their digital-first approach to publishing also supports content with integrated, dynamic digital features, such as GIS mapping, that enrich the text and offer opportunities for readers to interact with datasets directly.
Several projects are pushing the boundaries of interactive “digital monographs” in the same way. Scalar and Fulcrum are major tools in this area, offering features that support long-form outputs that are multimedia-rich, involve live data inputs or interactive engagement with data sets, present in nonlinear formats, or otherwise benefit from the unique possibilities of a digital-first publishing philosophy. Manifold is a similar multimodal publishing platform, with an emphasis on reader engagement and tools for creating community and driving conversation around published work.
The PubPub platform likewise aims at what it calls “community publishing,” borrowing ideas from software development (users of GitHub will find PubPub’s workflows familiar) to promote collaborative approaches to integrated and ongoing drafting, reviewing, and publishing. The platform has a strong presence in communities that incorporate extensive pre-print and public review practices into their workflow, as in many fields in the sciences, and it is often used for collaborating on technical documentation as well.
The projects highlighted here barely scratch the surface of developments in open-source tools for scholarly communication. MIT Press released its Mind the Gap: A Landscape Analysis of Open Source Publishing Tools and Platforms last summer (using PubPub). This report provides the most recent big-picture treatment of all available open-source publishing software today. Charles Watkinson’s guidance on navigating the array of options is quite helpful also when trying to select a tool, particularly for eBook creation.
The Library Publishing Coalition’s Library Publishing Directory takes metrics on the use of different platforms across library publishing programs every year, and thus offers a valuable resource for seeing adoption patterns, use cases, and generally gauging the activity level of different development communities.
From a more strategic viewpoint, the open access advocacy coalition SPARC has put out both a Landscape Analysis of current trends in scholarly publishing infrastructure (especially among major commercial players in the space) and a Roadmap for Action for scholar-led and community-driven approaches to developing infrastructure.
The SCOOP, Scholarly COmmunication and Open Publishing, is a monthly column published to inform Atla members of recent developments, new resources, or interesting stories from the realm of scholarly communication and open access publishing.
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