In exploring the complexities and speculative futures of academic publishing the HPL is developing new tools, systems, infrastructures and ideas within a problem space that is both trapped within feudal academic knowledge exchange system, and rapidly changing everyday. From the death of Aaron Swartz to the scurrying realignments of the big academic publishers with their digital counterparts; there is an urgency for new ideas to develop new systems that question the exclusivity, inaccessibility, narrowness, and conservativism of the feudal systems to take on a more democratic form. Knowledge managed by the few will, by necessity become knowledge managed by the many. While there are many reasons why knowledge needs to be opened, I agree with Brian Whitworth and Robert Friedman when they say the major drive for this movement will be that ‘only democratic knowledge exchange can scale up to support the breadth, speed and flexibility modern cross–disciplinary research needs.’We now find ourselves between a print past and a digital future characterized by hybrid, transitional, and in perpetual negotiation; a condition that that requires us to engage with other researchers and practitioners and to anticipate constant reinvention, and to anticipate a multiplicity of ideas. The Hybrid Publishing Lab was developed to begin tackling some of these big issues through trandisciplinary research (and design).

Starting in April, Christina Kral, Helge Peters, and I began organizing a workshop series to discuss potential directions and projects at the HPL. We called it The Big Brainstorm, as the goal was to mix up our existing working groups and discuss common themes and potentialities. Up until now, the workshop,our existing groups were CDC Press, Hybrid Publishing Consortium, HyperImage, and Lifelong Learning. Each group has been working in differing stages in the process of developing their concepts and implementation plans. For example the HyperImage Team is in the process of establishing their business, promoting their idea. Meanwhile, other teams are steadily making progress in executing empirical research, researching business models, implementing new platforms, and detailing the infrastructures of their product, service, or system offerings. While there is plenty of intermingling of groups within the Centre for Digital Cultures, our hope was to open the process for a more situated cross-pollination of ideas among our four working groups, to share research findings and discuss potentialities, together, in the hopes of developing new project groups while adding exercises in divergent thinking to our existing working groups. Out of our initial research activities, we developed three thematic frameworks to discuss as a group. Three themes were developed, described below, and were mapped collectively by each of the three groups who rotated and contributed to each of the three topics. They themes were:

  1. Beyond the Monograph The digital turn has produced both a disruptive environment for publishers, as well as entirely new fields of generating value for digital natives and born digital content through collaborative publishing, writing, research. Living Books and Book Sprints express changed conditions for what is publishable, where the written word is no longer static, but designed to be altered, repurposed, remixed, and open to new forms of peer review, and collaborative developments across the humanities, art, media, and technology.
  2. Disrupting the Disruptors We are constantly being told a story about disruptive innovation ubiquitous technologies enable utopian scenarios of democracy, freedom, and access to information. We seem to be facing a situation where the production, dissemination, consumption and conversation about written material is mediated by increasingly monopolised commercial platforms. This raises issues about privacy and data protection, new regimes of appropriating user labour and capturing value, discoverability of and access to knowledge, and the prospects of diversity in the informational environment.
  3. Beyond Open Access Given that new business models of publishing are now becoming more prevalent through policy changes, what will the ecology of publishing become once the battle for Open Access is won? Can we broaden the notion of ‘open’ once restrictions on access are no longer an issue? For instance, openness could mean including new publics beyond the academy. Moreover, if we understand Open Access and emerging practices of analysing large quantities of texts and data in the Digital Humanities as converging trends, we might think of developing new ways of reading, curating, organizing and assembling research.

At the end of this stage, we developed three mind maps on each of the themes and the facilitators analyzed our mappings and did some sense-making and grouping of our ideas and presented them back to the HPL team members. The ideas and questions raised within the exercise were certainly a reflection of the team’s diverse backgrounds. Unsurprisingly, what resulted was a combination of theoretical and practice-based research perspectives to further examine and explore. What was most useful here is that researchers were able to parse out their ideas and individual interests and connect them with others with similar interests. Through connecting our individual ideas, we are able to better understand where our core values and principles intersect as a group—a crucial part of interdisciplinary collaboration. The synthesis of our discussions resulted in the following categories.

  1. Activating the Archive + Learning As Yuk Hui writes in his Archivist Manifesto, “We are archivists, since we have to be. We don’t have choice. This decision is already made, or determined by the contemporary technological condition. The ubiquity of information in digital, calculable forms has created a new situation of work and exploitation, we entered an endless process of data production, and then we also enter an endless black hole of data navigation.” Archiving is about creating context. It can be an act of selection, care, and creating new forms of knowledge and public engagement. What new forms of knowledge creation and learning can evolve from its activation?
  2. Connecting and Creating New Publics Much like the unbounding of the newspaper, the digital book will fall apart and give way to different publics. In the digital age, the discussion about the public sphere has at the same time become increasingly relevant with open data and open science and increasingly problematic. Pervasive computer–mediated communication and issues such as media ownership and commodification pose serious threats to the free flow of information, thereby escalating the importance of connectivity and connective practices.
  3. Improving Editing and Logistics of Collaborative Writing With the rise of team work across cloud platforms, new kinds of peer-review systems, collaborative writing as an emerging form of knowledge in practice is becoming a necessary skill. There are many issues and concerns with this practice ranging from the  quality of writing to upskillng and training users on new software programs. We are exploring this issue further in the form of Book Sprints, which integrates both the performative nature of its participants, and emerging digital tools for collaborative writing and editing.
  4. Open Books Database  What if open science connected to its open data more effectively while adding more useful data of relevance to individual works, authors, or projects? Could a more robust knowledge management system (somewhat like IMDB) be designed to maintain metadata, statistics, mapping, and reader comments while connecting to major open publishing networks?
  5. Non-Market ‘Book’ Circulation and Localisation Academics rely on pirate and personal collections as much as journal articles from their University Libraries. How might these pirate libraries and repositories be deployed, shared, and activated in unexpected ways?
  6. Alternative Entry Points + Alternative Metrics How might the stream of open science be more dynamic and meaningful to authors, faculty, and the general public beyond the academy? And how might authors and readers collectively benefit from effectively designed entry points, aggregation strategies, and metrics that open up insights to traveling theories and scientific discourse?
  7. Remixing Modular Elements to Create New Publics With the opening of access to a wide range of multimedia formats, ranging from images, sound clips and video coupled with cultures of creative remix and reuse, what new kinds of archives can be created through modular reformations and participatory digital culture?
  8. Post-Digital Scholarship Technical systems and re-skilling have, of course, been a staple of scholarly life, allowing for new modes of textual production, epistemological inquiry, the generation of concepts and the pursuit of speculative aesthetics. However, there is arguably something distinct about the historical present, when networking is understood as an individual investment, when the use of personalized services relies on the expropriation of user-data, and when disposable technologies are experienced with their inevitable obsolescence already built-in.

From Thought to Action

The above topics, though abstract and loose in form, create a foundation of research themes for possible interventions, experiments, and further exploration. This is what designers call the ‘fuzzy front end.’ The facilitation team developed tools and guides for the other HPL team members to develop their ideas further and to transform our theories and ideas from thought to action. This includes being explicit about target groups, being explicit about one’s assumptions, and thinking about potential values, potential impacts, and crafting a clear ‘theory of change.’ As soon as ideas start moving from the abstract to the concrete, one can begin to define the product, system, and or service elements in greater detail. We can then begin giving form to our ideas, by developing prototypes, scenarios, or running small experiments to test our assumptions, which will either yield further insights for our designs. The new knowledge and publics we need to cultivate in publishing are an ability to code and craft new experiences, and to do all of this with sensitivity of experiencing content through form.

While building new digital tools are important, what remains clear is that our work at the HPL is also about crafting new experiences, which means testing new forms of dissemination and integrating these new forms into our own process. We need to walk the walk and integrate digital tools into our own scholarly research. We need to begin to test and try new forms of active public engagement beyond the typical seminar and workshop format. We will need to develop new ways to engage with our participants and stakeholders so that we can develop interventions, together. If we are truly opposed to the corporatization of everything, then we must not only devise new tools and technologies, but devise new ways of working together across new formats. The future of scholarly publishing will be a one that is dynamic with a multiplicity of ideas that will require added attention to both products, systems, services as well as process. It will be dynamic and inclusive, not exclusive. It will be current and on-demand. And it’s sole purpose is not ‘to be Open’, but it will be to support the growth of knowledge. Towards this end, academics and researchers working in the digital humanities should be working closely with the new generation of ‘makers’ across art, media, design, and technology, so that this body of research connects to individuals and organizations who will not simply research the future of scholarly publishing, but will actually change it in unexpected ways.

Minuette Le

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Minuette Le is a Design Researcher at HPL with an interest in open innovation systems and public services. She has an MFA in Transdisciplinary Design from Parsons the New School for Design with a focus on design research, systems thinking, and service design. Her practice involves design across disciplinary fields and social innovation ranging from urban and community development, food systems, public space interventions, and digital futures.

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