Data scientists leverage the digital future with open-access books

Prof Lucy Montgomery, Curtin Open Knowledge Initiative

A Curtin University team of data scientists and software developers will help take open-access books to a sophisticated digital future through a pilot project that seeks to enhance the diversity of voices from small and medium book publishers across the globe.

The project has been awarded over AUD$1m by the prestigious Andrew W. Mellon  Foundation, the largest supporter of the arts and humanities in the United States.

What is the purpose of the project?

The project is being led by Prof Lucy Montgomery and Professor Cameron Neylon, from the Curtin Open Knowledge Initiative within the University’s Centre for Culture and Technology.

Professor Montgomery said the project sought to address a growing analytics capability gap that was  placing the diversity of the scholarly book publishing system at risk.

“For small and medium publishers to share underrepresented voices, they need access to the latest tech that is available to the bigger competitors,” Professor Montgomery said.

“Without this data, small and medium-sized publishers with fewer resources will simply be left out of the digital transition that is reshaping scholarly communication landscapes globally.”

“There is a danger that open-access book publishing, which is notable for the role that small publishers play, will  undergo the extreme concentration that has already occurred in the journal space: becoming dominated by a handful of commercial, multinational players.”

Prof. Montgomery said the digital usage of open-access books was recorded in different ways by different platforms, making the task of interpreting the data technically complex.

Who will be able to access the tech?

Lead data scientist Dr Kathryn Napier, Curtin Institute for Computation, said the project had identified a demand for shared services that would be useful to publishers across the globe.

“While the most immediate calls for support are in Europe and North America, and English-language publishers, we are focused on ensuring this digital infrastructure project will address broader locations and users to prevent any further inequities in scholarship,” Dr Napier said.

“The analytics gap is not merely a technical gap, but one of capacities and skills to interrogate data, including its completeness and quality, in making strategic decisions. We also developed the  initial technical infrastructure and workflows needed to underpin these services with the ultimate aim of  giving small and medium publishers the same level of digital competency.”

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation was established in 1969 to support inspiring institutions of higher education and culture to build communities where ideas and imagination can thrive.