Recently, Goodreads told me that I’d read 31 books in the last year. So I decided to check that for double counting as if anyone had asked me I suppose I would have said, “I don’t know, 12-15?”. I read most books these days on my Kindle and sometimes I purchase multiple editions by one author, e.g. Steve Parker’s ‘The Complete Paterson & Clocks Box Set (1-5)’. Goodreads registers all five books when completed, but sometimes I purchase another single edition or two before finding the cheaper box set. My audit confirmed that I had completed the reading for 32 books. I reckon I have Kindle to thank for all that reading because pre-Kindle me used to buy heaps of paper books and start many of them, but rarely finish any in recent years.
What follows is my quick review of what I read in 2021. That Goodreads link above gives you a quick summary if you don’t want to TL;DR edition …
I’ll use two codes: eB for ebook and pB for paper book.
First, a confession of sorts: two books were not actual ‘reads’ Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways (pB, 4/5) and Bruce Weber’s Bear Pond (pB, 5/5). Both are beautiful books, but I would not classify them as reads. I recorded them as ‘read’ this year as I’ve looked through TAoLS many times over the last decade trying to find various quotes or inspiration and I just felt that I should record it as complete on Goodreads. Similarly, I’ve looked at all the beautiful photos in Bear Pond quite a lot. It is a First Edition, published in 1990 to benefit the AIDS Resource Centre in NYC. I literally lusted after this book for many years before purchasing a pre-loved edition online. It is one of my most cherished possessions.
The other 30 books were actual reads and all but one were read on my Kindle. I guess I should start with the the only other book that I rated 5/5: Holden Sheppard’s Invisible Boys (eB). I actually wrote a review for this book on Goodreads, so I won’t repeat all that here. I guess it was the one book I could really identify with and it made me feel something.
Only three of the remaining books were non-fiction. Of these, I think Mark Johnston’s An Australian Band of Brothers: Don Company, Second 43rd Battalion, 9th Division (eB) was my favourite. I would’ve given it 4.5/5 if possible. I loved Stephen E. Ambrose’s Band of Brothers and the mini-series from about 20 years ago. Mark Johnston’s Australian history compares very well and is just as horrific. It is very well researched and even after working at the Australian War Memorial for many years, I was amazed at what these men and their families endured during and after the Second World War. Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: love and terror, and an American family in Hitler’s Berlin (eB, 4/5) is a frightening story of the coming war in the years immediately before 1939 in Berlin itself. I’m obsessed with Berlin and have read a few historical and many spy novels as well as histories of this fantastic city, so I really enjoyed this book and at times you almost cannot believe what you are reading. The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Secret Organisation that Changed the Course of the Second World War by Giles Milton (eB, 4/5) is another wonderful history, but I think it tries to put too many extraordinary stories into one volume and some deserved more details.
We are now down to 26 books, but for these there are only six authors. We should probably start with one of my favourite authors of all time, John le Carré. His second last book was Agent Running in the Field (eB, 4/5). I think I’ve read all the books he published before this one, but I’m yet to buy his last book Silverview. ARitF isn’t his best book, but I enjoyed it nonetheless as he was a truly gifted story-teller. le Carré also points you to the genre(s?) of fiction stories that I enjoy most: espionage/mystery/thrillers.
Like le Carré, I’ve read multiple books by each of the remaining five authors. In 2021 I only read the one novel by Karin Slaughter: The Silent Wife (eB, 4/5), but this is #10 in the ‘Will Trent’ series and I’ve read all of the others. Similarly, this year I read #5 & #6 in Gregg Hurwitz‘s ‘Orphan X’ series: Into the Fire and Prodigal Son (both eB and 4/5). I do love getting to know characters like le Carré’s George Smiley, Slaughter’s Will Trent and Hurwitz’s Orphan X. I was also a huge fan of Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson back in the day. See also Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole and Camilla Läckberg’s Patrik Hedström, but now we are way off the 2021 track.
A new author for me in 2021 was Steve Parker of ‘Paterson & Clocks‘ fame. I read #1-5 in the box set and then #6: Child Behind the Wall as soon as I saw it because I really like his use of the English language, particularly the many laugh-out-loud sayings of Detective Clocks. All were eB and 4/5.
Mark Dawson is another author who has given me some new favourite heroes: John Milton and Beatrix Rose. I was surprised to learn that this year I read #16-20 in the ‘John Milton’ series (yes, I’m addicted) and #1-3 in the Beatrix Rose series. Once again, all were eB and 4/5. I’ll eagerly read more when they’re available. I also read and enjoyed Mark Dawson’s The Vault, a stand alone espionage novel, early in 2021 (eB, 4/5).
I read seven books by the final author, Peter May. The first six were the ‘China Thrillers’ #1-6 featuring Beijing Detective Li Yan and his partner and lover, the US forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell (all eB, 4/5). These were good, but I think I enjoyed his ‘The Lewis Trilogy’ more some years ago. In early December I finished reading Peter May’s Extraordinary People (pB, 4/5), a book that I purchased some years ago. It is the first of his ‘Enzo [Macleod] Files’ and I’m already committed to continuing with that series.
That’s all for 2021. I hope I can live up to this standard in 2022!
In The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly discusses every surface becoming a screen in the Screening chapter, but this technological force isn’t just about converting surfaces into screens. He also discusses the possibility for libraries to become platforms for cultural life within their communities and he writes of the importance of encouraging contemplation and how online activities can provoke action. I think we’ve done some of this with our Artist-in-Residence and Curations programs. They’ve both led to ongoing actions and we think they inspire contemplation and further thought with at least some of our users. These programs have certainly had Interactive elements, with the current Artist Timo Rissanen actually creating his work in the central library stairwell over several weeks. Our Artists have asked questions of us and what we do that we’d not have asked of ourselves. This has enabled some reflection on our part and led to improved services, including with our search and discovery platform and our way finding signage.
At UTS Library the influence of Chris Gaul (our first Artist) cannot be overstated. He has had a significant impact on how we view our collections and this has led to ongoing improvements to discovery as well as search interfaces. His pioneering Spectogram has been recognised and reflected upon by several of our subsequent artists. He played a significant part in establishing a design-led visual identity for UTS Library.
Elisa Lee and Adam Hinshaw were asked to artistically interpret the use of our new Library Retrieval System in 2014. This ambitious project resulted in a truly amazing live data visualisation of the requests and returns to this huge robotically served underground storage system. Their work was inspirational and playful. It also added an important dimension to our identity as experts in data at a time when UTS was focussing itself on the importance of data and data analysis.
Zoë Sadokierski followed Elisa and Adam in 2015. She has been a long time collaborator with the Library through her design work on various experimental formats for ePRESS, in her artistic installations within the Library and by sharing her research on the intersection of print and screen technology (as opposed to the myth that circulates about these two being competitors). Her Residency explored the very nature of the book through research and by producing artist’s books. She also conducted a very interactive and collaborative production of a book live at the 2015 Sydney Writer’s Festival. Like previous artists her work has had a very significant impact on our visual and physical identity as a library.
Starting in late 2016, we added digital literacy kits to our collection. Including low cost technology like Sphero, Makey-Makey and basic VR, these kits have been incorporated into both our own staff development and our educational programs for academics and students. They represent a playful way to introduce technology literacies, expanding on our traditional role in developing information literacy skills.
Open Access is something we strongly believe in at UTS Library. We have taken action in many dimensions: to improve our institutional repository; as an advocate for OA at UTS (& the sponsor of our institution’s OA policy); through our active OA publishing arm – UTS ePRESS; by participating in various OA related events and initiatives; and though our advice and assistance on all things OA to students, researchers and academics at UTS. UTS ePRESS has experimented with new forms of scholarly publishing that harness the potential of the web and digital communications and therefore question the very nature of traditional publishing. We’ve encouraged and modelled more open licensing to permit reuse and we continue to support the early days of the OA movement. Some examples of all of this are found in the following images.
Our institutional repository was substantially remodelled and fully integrated with the University’s research management system recently. We established new workflows to decrease or eliminate manual processes and the ingest outputs, made UTS research outputs far easier to find on the open web and have substantially increased our reach accordingly.
The Anatomy Quizbook was our first OER. This was also our first experiment with interactive text and importantly we were learning while making this happen. We have more OERs planned and will build on this initial adventure.
Lace Narratives was an ambitious and complex publication: it incorporated multi-media and was a major experiment in offering several different formats for a creative and scholarly work. An artistic process was openly shared through this publication and in a very limited edition high-quality hard cover version we were able to offer fabric swatches of the author’s textile art. This was one of our first experiments with different business models and distribution methods.
Project Management Research and Practice is a journal that is both unique in its field and which has evolved over time. The editorial board believes in OA research output and like our other journals have now achieved rigorous COPE and DOAJ standards. Their latest innovation is to publish as articles are submitted and reviewed. This “unbundling” of publishing containers reduces delays in research articles getting published and is much like the unbundling of albums on iTunes or the streaming of movies and series on demand like Netflix.
Our OA advocacy continues as suggested in the image above. We help others to understand OA, collaborate across boarders with like-minded people and organisations, and we raise awareness of the benefits and processes surrounding the OA movement.
End of Part 2. And Part 3 is right here. Don’t stop now.
On 14 February I was on a panel talking about the future of academic publishing for ALIA Information Online 2017. As there was no time for me to explain all of this I thought I’d post it all here with all the relevant links.
Essentially, I’m exploring the following key issues that need to be dealt with if we are ever to substantially improve, let alone revolutionise, academic publishing: speed (to access); improved reach (wider audience, not just the privileged); transparency of process; openness (for access); an expectation to use multi-media (sound, video, images); appropriate metrics; better facility and recognition for collaboration across disciplines; and interactivity.
And as a university librarian (i.e. not a scholar), I can’t stop myself from thinking that maybe we also need to decide whether scholarly publishing is really about the sharing of knowledge or just a competitive game where points are scored for individual and institutional reputations.
I must also thank some of my colleagues at UTS for their advice and suggestions, but what is written here is my personal view and it is not necessarily reflective of our institution.
I am aware of the frustration (particularly) of younger researchers with the time-lag in traditional publishing, especially when their research relates to topical issues – I’ve heard US academics talking about it in relation to issues like Black Lives Matter, and medical research, but climate change is another case in point. It really points to the need for changes around how we measure the quality of journals, especially accepting new types of peer review and editorial control. F1000Research videos are good on this – scientists say that every day the research is delayed somebody dies. A further example is Aggregate – an online platform to support the production, peer review, publication and discussion of innovative scholarship in architectural history. Places Journal seeks to combine serious journalism and open scholarship in their online free platform. They focus on the environment, social inequity, climate change, resource scarcity, human migration, technology innovation and the erosion of the public sphere. They have many academic partners across North America, Europe and now at UTS.
Transparency of process
Some researchers are very frustrated by the agonising process of peer review (and know that could be addressed more easily in the digital age with ongoing peer review). They also know that currently most peer review is NOT transparent (i.e. anonymous). See F1000 again – science should be transparent and open. In most cases, the effort put into peer review or editing is not currently recognised. This is not to suggest that we should throw the (quality) baby out with the bathwater, so an alternative is something like Publons which helps to link peer reviewers to publishers/editors and track/verify/showcase their efforts, leading to recognition for reviewing and editing.
F1000Research also say that in traditional publishing a lot of science remains unpublished, wasting the time and funding of those researchers, so they say publish everything, including dead ends – it stops other wasting years on the same nonsense.
The frustration of younger researchers with the lack of interactivity is something that could be solved by adding things like hypothesis.is – which we are now adding to our UTS ePRESS journals. Some of the examples cited above like Aggregate, F100Research and Places also seek to include more open debate, discussion and feedback well beyond the initial date of publication.
Better facility and recognition for collaboration across disciplines
Some researchers are frustrated that traditional publishing is more “siloed” in an age when most people think that complex problems need to be solved by collaborative work across several disciplines. It is also useful to have the insights of people from different fields and from actual practitioners. So, they seem to be approaching Open Access publishers to start new trans/cross disciplinary journals and the like.
This often becomes a bit of a problem because journals and research publications are still measured by traditional bibliometrics and impact factors and they are classified by fields of research which tend to categorise journals via single subject areas or disciplines. Some close-to-home examples include our Gateways: International Journal of Community Research and Engagement and the relatively new journal Project Management and Research Practice.
Openness (for access)
There are genuine frustrations surrounding scholarly publishing NOT being able to reach the objective of the research (e.g. the poor, the sick, the less privileged, the third world, etc.). Around the time of the Zika virus, there was some discussion about this which basically demonstrated that open and immediate access to information is critical to public health: eg. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v533/n7604/full/533469b.html
In Australia, almost all of the research done in universities is funded by the tax payer. I think the community deserves to have access to that research when published. Traditional scholarly publishers were not built to do this and now to meet funders’ mandates for open access they are levying fees on the authors. I think we need to dramatically rethink that model and to encourage more open access publishers within universities because it is now more feasible than ever in the digital age. Perhaps initiatives like the Open Library of Humanities (@OpenLibHums), UTS ePRESS, ANU Press, University of Adelaide Press, and Monash University Publishing, are better indicators of more open publishing platforms.
I think we could increase the impact and reach of the research by thinking outside current scholarly publishing methods and formats (e.g. articles and monographs), particularly for the humanities and social sciences. This was recently brought home to me thru my obsession with podcasts … I was listening to James Weirick on Military Justice and in introducing his new podcast in December he said he had been inspired by the three “pod-mothers” who have shown what podcasts can achieve. Here he was referring to the work of Julie Snyder, Sarah Koenig and Rabia Chaudry who did so much to bring the plights of Adnan Syed (Serial S1), Bowe Bergdahl (Serial S2) and Joey Watkins (Undisclosed S2) to many MILLIONS of podcast subscribers all over the world. Weirick (that’s what he likes to be called) said that if those three women had just written newspaper or journal articles, not so much would have happened, but now much has happened and a lot of people have donated funds or written letters of support for those three people. So, I think the mediums of knowledge exchange and storytelling need to be re-examined, especially in the digital age.
I’ve noticed that quite a lot of law academics are now getting involved in those legal/justice podcasts, or being interviewed on them. There was a little bit of that here in Australia too with Dan Box’s Bowraville podcast, which probably had a good deal to do with the retrial of a suspect that is happening right now. Podcasts can go much deeper than just an article or even a segment on 60 Minutes and I think that element of weekly story telling in sound is a really powerful thing that academic publishing could benefit from.
Within improved reach we will need improved metrics that show the impact of the research. I think we need to start using services like Kudos to help research get read more widely and for the research to be applied where it is most relevant. Some large publishers are already using Kudos to extend their audiences. It can also help track the networks and improve metrics for impact, showing the reach of the research publications in the community and industry. It can help reveal what is essentially hidden research.
(See also collaboration across disciplines, above.)
An expectation to use multi-media
I recently attended a Sydney Festival Big Thinking event at UTS in which a panel of Australian Indigenous people spoke about different ways of knowing, preserving and exchanging knowledge (customs, dance, art, storytelling, languages, objects, places designed to encourage this, etc). I think the contemporary academic publishing world is still stuck in the age of the printing press (via what are essentially still pretty strictly limited textual documents in monograph or article form – on the bloody internet!).
It is now so much easier and there is an expectation for better story telling and different media to be used. For me, it is almost like we are re-learning lessons lost from the age before Gutenberg when illuminated manuscripts contained, preserved (very well) and shared songs, art, music, traditions, laws, dance, science, knowledge, commentary and stories. Is this not what we are currently struggling with in the form of “new” scholarly multi-media formats? I think a lot of social sciences and humanities “knowledge” needs non-textual forms for it to be shared and preserved, yet scholarly publishers seem not very interested in this kind of thing. Do we have something or maybe a lot to learn from the traditional owners of this land?
The panel of elders and others at the Sydney Festival event also mentioned that since Australia was first settled and claimed by the British a little over 200 years ago, we’ve managed to create major problems with the soil, the forests, the waters and the general civilisation of the continent. Indigenous Australians seemed to have managed quite well for about 50,000 years before we arrived – so they must have had ways of sharing that knowledge and known how to live more gently and cooperatively in this environment, yet this was all done without books and journals. So, are traditional monograph and journal models such a great way of sharing and publishing knowledge or just more convenient forms we can point to, measure and count?
I guess someone should at least raise the issue of open data. Major publishers are now “buying” this up and major researcher funders have been slower to react, partly because it is harder for us to meet such a mandate for open data and partly because the necessary infrastructure isn’t there yet. The longer we leave it, however, the harder it will be to catch up. There must be some initiative to start attaching open data to research outputs. The data is really important. Data is not less valuable than conclusions and discussions. It should be available to others. Falsification of open data would be easier to detect.
A somewhat related matter is the question of data and text mining: yet another issue we need to look at. Most publishers have strict controls over text mining their published content and the mechanisms to get permission to do so are clunky. The Right to Read is the Right to Mine campaign that grew out of EU copyright reviews and reform is a useful reference here: http://www.leru.org/index.php/public/news/the-right-to-read-is-the-right-to-mine/
I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question and I will not even try to put a timeline on it nor estimate a rate of success against any of these issues. I do think, however, that attitudes towards and expectations of academic research publishing are changing. People are now more aware of new possibilities in the digital age, they expect immediate access to everything, everywhere and they will not want to pay for it if it is publicly funded. Many other industries have been dramatically changed or completely reinvented because of similar attitudes and expectations. Eventually scholarly publishing will change too.
Note: All images used above are mine except the Open Access diagram and they are all covered by CC licenses.
Here is a link to a recent radio interview that I did with 2ser 107.3 on a range of topics concerning libraries. At nine minutes it is not that long and the wonderful producer Jake Morcom has edited out all of my incoherent mumblings and ramblings.
And here is a totally irrelevant image that I took on the weekend, just because I can: