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Open Source Comes to Academic Publishing

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When we talk about the upheaval in educational publishing, we often focus on what students read, via digital textbooks, apps, and e-readers and tablets. But there's another side to all this, and that's the production of the scholarly works.

For most academics, publishing their work in scholarly journals is a part of their jobs. It's how you stake your intellectual claim. It's how your peers review and assess your work. It's how you earn tenure. Academic publishing has become high-stake for scholars.

Like the rest of the publishing world, the landscape of academic publishing has undergone immense changes recently -- financial pressures as well as institutional, cultural, and technological. But the academic infrastructure is slow to change. In many ways academia has yet to come to terms with the variety of informal publications that scholars are now engaged in -- blogs, for example, and other open, online journals -- while still demanding scholars publish in elite, peer-reviewed journals.

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University is unveiling a new project today -- PressForward -- that seeks to create a platform where some of the scholarly resources and publications scattered across the Web can be collected. With the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, PressForward hopes to highlight some of the scholarly communities that are (publishing) online.

PressForward will develop ways to both collect and showcase "orphaned or under-appreciated scholarship" including the sorts of academic work that never would have made it to a print journal: conference papers, scholarly blogs, and online projects. While the Web has made academic self-publishing easy to create and disseminate, much of it remains scattered across the Internet. The new publishing system aims to make it easy to find trusted and relevant content.


PressForward says that it will combine some of longstanding practice of peer review with new technologies like open-Web filtering as it creates this new publishing platform. That "open" element is important, as much published scholarship -- when available online at all -- is behind paywalls. It's also a step toward another model by which scholars can get credit for their writing -- most of it now online, not in printed journals.

PressForward says that it will make it open source and make the data and the code available for free on the site. The Center for History and New Media has a long history of open source digital projects, including the bibliographic tool Zotero and the cultural heritage database Omeka.

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