- Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access ed. by Martin Paul Eve and Jonathan Gray
I received the offer to review this book with some trepidation. Although active as an open access advocate, I have neither a scholarly background as a researcher and student of scholarly communications nor a background in the humanities, which is the disciplinary home for most of the collection's contributors. I feared reading a long screed with very complicated terminology and little obvious relevance to anyone, such as myself, with a background in mathematics and the natural sciences. Also, I have been suspicious of the motives of those who study ad nauseam an issue such as open access without doing anything to change the world for the better.
Despite my initial reservations, I am glad I accepted the task. This book, an edited collection, makes a distinct contribution, and its short and varied chapters contain a wealth of interesting content that should engage anyone with even a passing interest in open access and scholarly communications. I cannot envisage many readers going through the entire book linearly—it is more suited to being dipped into one chapter at a time, allowing serendipity to break us out of the algorithmically enforced 'filter bubbles' that threaten to isolate us all.
The editors explain their purpose clearly: 'Pithy, shorter chapters … would serve as introductions to different perspectives, as gateways to alternative approaches,' coupled with a historical approach. They have succeeded admirably. The book has six sections under the headings of [End Page 190] 'Colonial Influences,' 'Epistemologies,' 'Publics and Politics,' 'Archives and Preservation,' 'Infrastructures and Platforms,' and 'Global Communities.' These sections comprise twenty-five chapters, each by a different author or authors. The introduction by the editors is very good, and contains an elegant and insightful description of the economic difficulties underlying public goods, such as scholarly publications, by means of a parable about conference talks. There is an excellent glossary and list of abbreviations and acronyms, unfortunately essential assistance for anyone reading about scholarly communications these days.
The variety of material is impressive, and the writing overall is clear and interesting, although every reader will find exceptions to the latter claim. The historical approach is very useful and will extend the length of time for which the book remains relevant. Almost every chapter contained something new and interesting to me. The chapters that I found most valuable may give an idea of the breadth of topics covered: John Willinsky surveying the history of copyright back in England in the late seventeenth century and the Statute of Anne in 1710; Martin Eve discussing the need for digital reading of research outputs when faced with a superabundance of possible articles and books to read, and the relation of open access to research evaluation; Aileen Fyfe covering the Royal Society's history as a publisher and the little-known fact that for most of its 350 years, the philosophy of supporting and subsidizing wide access overshadowed the more recent approach of using journal sales to subsidize the Royal Society's other activities; Abel Packer and Dominique Babini surveying Latin American open access initiatives such as SciELO and Redalyc; and Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudou discussing the many challenges to implementing open access in Africa. There are also contributions discussing trends in peer review, politically sensitive archives, the history of public libraries, and the relevance of a medieval how-to manuscript to modern readers.
No book is perfect, and it is necessary to nitpick, no matter how good the book is, in order to retain credibility as a reviewer. I was surprised to find some English errors even in the contributions by the editors: What does comprise really mean? What is the simple past tense of the verb spring? I also conjecture that the book took substantially longer to finish than expected (of course, Hofstadter's Law shows that this must happen), which means that...