Wiki power, or the creative and destructive potential of Living Books

One of the editors has sent us the following (very apposite) query:

I’m glad to know that everything will be peer reviewed, but how does this ‘work’ with the nature of a wiki? I’ve assumed (and noted the various warnings about being ‘ruthlessly edited’) that, like Wikipedia, this means that anyone can go into the Intro to each Living Book and change it. But (a) how does this square with the initial peer-reviewed version (which might potentially not last very long – and where does this leave editors re possible REF inclusions or mentions of this piece of work?), and (b) how does it work in practice? Who checks the changes for accuracy and argues with them? Does this mean that the editor has continually to monitor the wiki ‘edits’?

Here is our reply:

We’re peer-reviewing the first version of the book put together by each editor, paying particular attention to the Introduction, the selection of articles and other sources (the majority of which have already been peer-reviewed, although often for science journals, so we’re looking at how they fit into the overall book project), and the legal side/copyright issues. We’re doing this to ensure that the experimental project we’re developing does not appear to be ‘less proper’ to more traditional academic bodies, and to demonstrate that we very much care about ‘quality’ and ‘rigour’. We’ll also be assigning ISBN numbers to these books, which will make them make them appear even more ‘legitimate’, despite the project’s avant-garde nature.

The above is also why we’re publishing the series with Open Humanities Press. It’s precisely the perception that online publication is somehow less credible than print, and lacking rigorous standards of quality control, that Open Humanities Press has been set up to counter. To this end OHP has an Editorial Board that includes, among others, Alain Badiou, Steven Greenblatt, Bruno Latour and Gayatri Spivak, and an Editorial Oversight Group consisting of a rotating body of 13 scholars drawn from the Editorial Board.

However, the ‘living’ nature of the book means that of course they can be edited – both by yourself as the editor and by any other person on the planet. This is both potentially exciting and potentially dangerous. There are two main issues here:

(1) First, we want to protect ourselves against vandalism, and that’s an easy thing to do. Each introduction, contents list and attributions list will be available as a ‘frozen’ pdf file. Also, the wiki retains a record of all the edits, so it’s always possible to revert to an earlier version. In addition, we have a rigorous backing up system, so we’ll have copies of all the books in their editors’ ‘original’ versions – which can always be restored.

(2) There is also a practical issue with regard to some possible threats and opportunities that Gary, Clare and Joanna can perhaps speak to, as we’ve been editing such wiki books, on a smaller scale, over the last few years. Our experience is that people (i.e., readers/users) tend to treat any published text, even on the web, as having a certain authority: too much authority, in fact. So, somewhat disappointingly perhaps, the most that the majority of people tend to do, to be honest, is post a comment. It’s relatively hard to get them to do much more than that. For all that everyone nowadays has read Barthes, Foucault et al., people tend to adhere to fairly conventional notions of the author – which is kind of interesting in itself. But this reluctance or wariness is also something we want to encourage users to get over with this project.

So, the short answer is:
- the potential to be both creative and destructive is there
- we can easily repair any damage, or changes we or our editors are not happy about
- but from our practical experience, there is not too much to be concerned about (perhaps disappointingly so…).

Living Books individual back-up instructions

As an additional security measure for the wiki, we’d like to suggest you consider making back-ups of your own wiki material every time you finish making an edit for the day, the same way you do – or at least know you should do ;) – with your Word files on your home computer. It’s more for peace of mind than anything else, since we regularly back up the whole database from our end, but it’s also for you to have an off-line record of your online work. There are two simple points:

1. When editing your wiki page, please keep clicking on the ‘Save page’ button frequently. This way, if there is a temporary disruption to your Internet provision (and most of us experience 5- or 10-second interruptions to our broadband provision, even if we don’t always notice them), or if the wiki throws up an error for whatever reason, you will only lose the last few minutes of work at worst.

2. When you have finished editing your page (either your Main Book Page, or your Introduction, or your Attributions) and have saved it safely:
- click on ‘Edit’ again (top bar, left-hand corner)
- make sure you’re *not* in the Rich Editor, but rather in the code one (even if you don’t use it for your own editing process). You toggle between the two editors by clicking on ‘Rich editor’ / ‘Disable rich editor’. You want the latter.
- copy all the text from the box (click anywhere within the box, then press two keys together: Ctrl-A on a PC, Command-A on a Mac – to select the text; then either right-click the text with your mouse and do ‘Copy’ or press Ctrl-C / Command-C to copy the text into the clipboard)
- exit the editing mode on the wiki – by clicking on ‘Read’ or ‘Save page’
- open Word, Notepad or another text editor you normally use on your computer, start a new document and paste the text from the clipboard into it
- save the file as plain text by clicking on ‘Save as’ and choosing the .txt extension to the file (not the usual .doc)
- do this for every file you’ve finished editing, every time you edit it (most of you will only have 3 files – Main Book Page, Introduction, Attributions – and you will rarely be editing all three of them at the same time).

Voila! Your book is now safe on your computer and we’ll be able to reconstitute it for you should any disasters strike (which we’re not envisaging…). This is a really simple and quick process, probably much simpler than our description of it, and should only take a couple of minutes.

Living Books project: a few more ‘how to’ bits

For your introduction (as agreed, 2000 words plus, unless you’re doing it in another medium, such as a video or podcast), we’d like to ask you all to use the Culture Machine style sheet for your references please:
We’re planning to have your introductions both embedded into the wiki and available as downloadable pdfs — as part of the ‘frozen’ version of your ‘living book’. See the Veterinary Science book for an illustration:

Now, this is really boring, but, hopefully, not too onerous. A the very end of the project, we you’ve got your book finished and uploaded, we’ll need you to provide licensing information for all your pieces in the book. Basically, we need an ‘attributions page’ for each book, providing – for each entry – an exact reference, a url address (if available) and information about its licence/copyright/permission you’ve obtained. Such information is normally available somewhere on each article, or you would have had an email granting you permission from the copyright holder. In most cases, it’s just a cut and paste job. As an example, here is an attributions page for Joanna’s Bioethics book:

The ‘Living Books’ wiki is up and running

We now have a project wiki into which you can start entering your 10+ articles as soon as you are ready. (A wiki is basically a website which allows you to create and edit any number of interlinked web pages, using an editor that looks a little like your word processor. Think Wikipedia.)

Here is the address for the wiki:

1. Go to <> and click on “To the Books”
2. Now you need to set up an account for yourself (Click on “Create account” in the top right-hand corner – you need to do it only once.)
3. Log in, using the username and password you chose for yourself above. (You need to do this every time you want to edit the wiki.)
4. Click on “Books” in the top right-hand corner.
5. Click on your own book area which we have created for you and, then click on “Edit” – top left of page, third button from the right. (As a reminder, please see a list of areas and allocated names in an earlier posting in the blog. Also, it’s still OK to change the name of your area if you wish. If so, please let us know by 10 July, as we need to design an appropriate book cover for you.)
6. You can now start adding your texts and constructing your books. There are two ways of editing your pages: through the basic editor you will see when you’ve clicked on “Edit” (which uses a simplified mark-up language – a bit like html, but simpler) and through “Rich Editor” – accessible through a button above the editing box (which looks very much like Microsoft Word).
7. Depending on the copyright for each piece, you can enter your articles directly into the wiki, by creating a new page for them and copying the text and the references, or just by providing a link to it.

For our wiki, we’re using MediaWiki software – which is basically the same software used by Wikipedia (although we’re trying to make ours look a bit more attractive). Here is a short video on editing wiki pages, which may be of help:

There are 3 examples of living books already there in our wiki (Bioethics, The in/visible, Veterinary Science). Please bear in mind that they’re still work in progress.

At the moment, the wiki itself is looking quite bare because we are still developing it. We’re working on a number of things, such as designing individual book covers for each book, having an attractive image-led splash page for the whole project, and installing plug-ins for embedding sound into the books. We’ll also be obtaining ISBN numbers for every book, so that it looks ‘proper’ on your CV. The wiki itself may feel a little slow – we’ll be transferring it to a different server next month. Last but not least, it’s possible for these living books to exist in different formats (for example, at the moment Joanna Zylinska’s Bioethics books exists in two formats: as an online book [still incomplete] and a pdf book – which can be read on any computer, iPad, Kindle, etc. Although for a pdf book, you need to have permission cleared for all the material included. Also, it’s possible for your online book to have more pieces than your pdf book.) For more information on copyright, see our earlier blog entry:

By the way, it’s probably a good idea for your book to have both a theme and a title (e.g., Joanna’s book’s theme is Bioethics, its’ title is BioethicsTM: Life, Politics, Economics).

The design of ebooks and ereaders

Here is an excerpt from Sarah Hromack’s interview with James Bridle — who has extensive experience of book publishing and experimenting with new publishing formats. It has just been published in rhizome.

SH: In thinking about the mimetic attempts of Apple’s iPad/iBooks app here, in particular, I’m curious about the various ways in which e-reader hardware replicates the physical book in size, shape, and even surface—the physical dimensions of the book are represented digitally by a beveled edge; its animated pages turn with the flick of the user’s thumb. As someone who considers electronic publishing from a futurist’s perspective, how do you see the physicality of the virtual reading experience changing?

JB: I used to think that the skeuomorphism of most electronic book readers was a deliberate, or at least emergent and therefore temporary, phase. I thought people were designing ebook readers like natural mimics: they just had to look enough alike the physical book to kill it, and then they could look like anything.

And yet, so much of that design is still with us. The almost-ubiquitous page flip animation is an abomination. Apple’s iBooks is a particular offender: it inserts the image of a stack of pages to the right of the page that implies you’re always on the recto and you’ve always got 200 pages to go, regardless of what you’re reading. This is bad design, not only because it cleaves to irrelevant artifacts of the physical book while ignoring the affordances of the physical; it actively impedes them. Electronic reading will be improved the sooner we escape the convention of the “page”, but current formats reinforce this.

SH: Agreed on the iPad page flip animation-abomination. I catch myself feeling actively embarrassed by it while reading on the train, accidentally skipping multiple pages and then thumbing furiously to find my spot. How can we escape “the convention of the ‘page,’ ” though? Where do we go next? Do you feel like certain online reading environments or apps—Flipboard comes to mind here—are helping de-emphasize the page-based reading experience?

JB: It’s a matter of letting go of physical concerns about the book. Books are written in sentences, paragraphs, chapters and sections; they’ve never been written in pages. The web shows that text works as a continuous flow at any length or format: I prefer reading Instapaper’s accessible, addressable scroll than any fake codex.

For some time I’ve argued that the physicality of the reading experience is a red herring: what matters is its temporality. This has historically been embodied in the book itself, because it has nowhere else to go, but increasingly, with the free flow of electronic texts through the network, with our ever-diverting attention, and the development of new tools for social reading, for annotation and sharing, our experience of the book is separating from the physical object, and with it our focus on the material will pass away.

To read the full interview, visit the rhizome website.

How much ‘real science’ do these living books actually need?

The aim of our Living Books about Life project is to develop a series of edited, open access books about life, with life understood both philosophically and biologically. These ‘Living Books about Life’ will repackage and recontextualise existing open access science-related research content by clustering it around topics, chosen by the individual editors, whose unifying theme is life’. In this way, they will provide a bridge between the humanities and the sciences.

So, part of the task with this project is for humanities scholars to use some actual hard/’proper’ science texts (drawn, for example, from the open access science repositories we’ve provided links to) for their books. All the editors we’ve invited for the LiviBL project are already very comfortable in using scientific ideas and texts in their work. But with this project we want to take this ‘engagement with science’ thing one step further by actually producing a series of books, edited (or ‘curated’) by the humanities scholars who feel at home (to a larger or smaller extent) with science, and then showing to other people in the discipline: look, it is possible, science is not that scary, and if you want to look at life and say something interesting about it, it really makes sense for humanities scholars to get their teeth (and their critical apparatuses) deep into the sciences ‘proper’.

Having said all that, the actual scientific texts are not the only ones that can be included in those living books. The selection of articles can also include texts from social sciences / philosophy / art, on top of the science ones.

Also, the number of articles each editor can have in their volume is open-ended, really; we’re only using the figure of 10 to give people a *general* idea of size.

The whole project is experimental so we’re also in the process of constructing some of the rules as it develops, and people have been coming up with some really interesting ideas… Keep ‘em coming!

Fancy a book-in-a-book?

If you are editing a digital ‘living book’, you don’t have to include just articles in it. You can include whole books too (licenses permitting). That’s the magic of the digital medium!

Here is a list of open access presses:

Amsterdam University Press
ANU E Press – Australian National University
AU Press – Athabasca University
Bloomsbury Academic
DigitalCultureBooks – University of Michigan Press and the Scholarly Publishing Office of Michigan’s University Library
Firenze University Press
Flashpoints series – University of California Press
Manchester University Press
MediaCommons Press
Monash University Publishing
National Academies Press
Newfound Press – University of Tennessee Libraries
Open Book Publishers
Open Humanities Press
Romance Studies series – Penn State University
Signale – Cornell University

There’s another list online here:

Janneke Adema complied a more detailed list, complete with information on some of the different models they’re using, for a report on Open Access Models for eBooks in the Humanities and Social Sciences, published by OAPEN in March, 2010. The full report can be downloaded at:

The OAPEN library has details of contributing publishers experimenting with OA (see left column, browse down:, while also has a book section:

China and India are experimenting with OA books too (see, for example,

Thanks to Janneke Adema for pointing us to these last three sites.

The Living Books Project: Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is making academic research and scholarship available on an open access basis in the way the LiviBL project is doing important? Why should we bother with this whole ‘open access’ thing at all?

Open access is a means for academics, researchers, publishers, librarians and interested others to take ‘advantage of the global reach and relative inexpense of internet publishing to make peer-reviewed scholarly materials freely available’ to all those who wish to use it, including those in less affluent parts of the world — rather than restricting access to scholarly research and publications merely to those who can afford to buy it.

The open access movement has arisen largely as a response to the attempt by many for-profit presses to fence off and enclose academic research. Journal publishing has consolidated from 8 key players in 1998 to 4 key players by 2008. These 4 players — Reed Elsevier, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, and Taylor & Francis/Informa — have a stake in 62% of all peer-reviewed scholarly journals (the others being produced by non-profit publishers, learned societies, scholarly associations, university presses and so on, some of which of course publish only one or two titles). While they are not funding academic research, these 4 key players are nevertheless making huge profits by selling access to the results of research back to the very academics and institutions who produce it; and by limiting access to research only to those institutions and individuals who can afford to pay for it.

One of the aims of the LiviBL project is to draw attention to this situation and to encourage academics in the humanities to look for and use open access alternatives that are freely available to all when it comes to their own teaching, learning and research practices and procedures.

2. What is the difference between something being freely available on the internet, and something being published open access?

Most open access publications ‘go through normal refereeing and editorial processes, and are thus fully academically certified.’

3. What about copyright?

This quote from the Open Humanities Press’ website should clarify the situation:

Open access journals typically allow authors to retain copyright of their work. Many also permit the full rights enshrined in the Creative Commons Attribution licence that allows users free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship.

4. I would like to include in my Living Book a text which is not available via JSTOR, MUSE or similar journal archiving system, but which is available and free to access via the author’s personal webpage. Can I consider including this piece?

The first thing to do would be to take a look at the author’s website, to see if there is any information there about a Creative Commons (or similar) licence that allows users free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to, and a licence to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose.

If the author’s website doesn’t contain such information, then the next thing to do would be to contact the author, ask her/him if they retain the copyright to the version of their text that is on their website and if so, whether they would be willing to give you copyright permission clearance to include a copy in the living book you are putting together. (You will probably have to explain the LiviBL project to the author a little, and say something about why you would like to include their piece, how important it is for your overall volume, etc.).

Certainly, some of the editors in the LiviBL series are already doing that: contacting the actual authors of pieces they wish to include in their living books – especially if they have been unable to find the material in question online.

If the author does not retain the copyright, property, or proprietary rights to the copy-edited and published post-print version of their text, they may still have a pre-print draft you can use.

If the author does not retain the rights even to that, then you need to determine who does, and under what basis, and, if needs be, contact them to seek copyright permission clearance.

If the author does retain copyright, property, or proprietary rights to the version that appears on their website, and is happy for you to include it (and there is no reason they shouldn’t, as you’re only going to be promoting their work for them, providing them with more potential readers, while not making any profit from their work), then you can include the paper itself. If the author is not willing to grant you copyright permission clearance to use the paper itself, then as a last resort you may be able to simply include a link with the kind of citation the author suggests as to where the piece was first published.

5. You sent round a link to the online the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). If a journal is not included on this listing does that mean it is automatically outside of allowable use?

If a journal is not included in the Directory of Open Access Journals, all it really means is that it has not registered with the DOAJ for inclusion in their list. So no, it’s not automatically outside allowable use.

The task then would be to find out why they have not registered with the DOAJ. It could be that the journal in question is publishing on an open access basis with a Creative Commons (or similar) licence that will allow you to include/reuse their material in a living book, but either those running the journal haven’t heard about the DOAJ, or aren’t interested in registering their journal with it. There are many open access journals that fall into that category.

Alternatively, it could be that the journal in question is openly available online but not an open access basis complete with a Creative Commons (or similar) licence that will allow you to include/reuse their material in a living book. So it is their licensing and copyright policy that you need to check.

Most journals and publishers will provide details of their policies, licensing and copyright agreements on their website. If you cannot find this information, you could always drop the editors/publishers of the journal a quick email, letting them know what you would like to do, emphasizing that you’ll reference the material and where it first appeared and that no one is going to be making any profit from this, and asking if they will give you their permission.

Worst case scenario: if the journal is already available online then you simply provide a link to the material instead of including a copy of the material itself in your living book.

6. If I can access an article from my computer at work, does this mean it is free to use?

No, it doesn’t automatically mean this. You may be able to access it because your institution has taken out a subscription to a particular journal. But other people whose institutions have not taken out such a subscription, or who are not affiliated to an institution, may not necessarily be able to access it at all. (See Questions 3, 4, 5 above for more information.)

7. If an article can be accessed at Google Scholar for no cost, can we use that, or would we just be able to provide a link to it?

Google Scholar is primarily acting as a search engine. They do not host the material themselves. What they are doing is providing a page of ranked results for a search for academic work on a given topic. The academic work itself, however, is hosted elsewhere.

This is why they give the following advice to anyone who wants to include their work in Google Scholar: ‘If you’re an individual author, it works best to simply upload your paper to your website, e.g.,; and add a link to it on your publications page’.

So what you need to do is find the original website that is hosting the article you’re interested in including, and see what licence it is published under there. (See Questions 3, 4 and 5 for more information).

Liquid reading in the digital era

Read Where I Am contains visionary texts about the future of reading and the status of the word. We read anytime and anywhere. We read from screens, we read out on the streets, we read in the office but less and less we read a book at home on the couch. We are, or are becoming, a different type of reader. The question remains what shape reading will take in the future and what experience one wants from it? I Read Where I Am collects 82 diverse observations, inspirations and critical notes on this topic by journalists, designers, researchers, politicians, philosophers and many others.

• How will we grapple with compressed narratives and the fluid bombardment of text?
• What is the dialectics between image and word?
• How will our information machines generate new reading cultures?
• Can reading become a live, mobile social experience?

Editors: Mieke Gerritzen, Geert Lovink, Minke Kampman
isbn: 978-90-78088-55-4

The book includes contributions by two of the founders of Open Humanities Press:
Gary Hall on Ambient Scholarship
David Ottina on Jumping Frames

All texts are available online:

How to find open access publications for a ‘living book’

Living Books About Life

Book series published by Open Humanities Press
Series editors: Clare Birchall, Gary Hall, Joanna Zylinska

Finding open access publications for your ‘living book’[i]

As an editor of a ‘living book about life’, you will need to find 10 or more scientific or science-related articles on your chosen topic. The actual process of choosing the texts shouldn’t take too long as the LiviBL project is about (re)using texts that already exist and are freely available online. It’s just a matter of browsing through some of the open access repositories we’ve provided links to below, focusing on those that are particularly relevant to your field and topic, and selecting the texts you want to include in your living book. You should also feel free to draw on some other articles, excerpts, images, podcasts, video clips, etc. you find yourself or are already familiar with – as long as they are available under appropriate Creative Commons licences or are copyright-free, or as long as you can get permission from the copyright-owner (which may often amount to you just asking a friend).

Open Access Directories (i.e., three meta-lists of various worldwide repositories):

  • OpenDOAR (Directory of Open Access Repositories) – Authoritative directory of academic open access repositories. Includes a tool to search the repositories’ contents.
  • Directory of Open Access Journals – Categorized, searchable links to free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals. There are more than 5000 journals in the directory.
  • ROARMAP (Registry of Open Access Repository Material Archiving Policies) – Directory of the open access mandates of institutions worldwide, with links to their open access repositories.

Selected Open Access Repositories (i.e., links to individual archives that may be of interest to our project):

  • – Open access repository comprising of e-prints in physics and its related disciplines, such as mathematics, non-linear sciences, and computer science.
  • BioMed Central publishes over 200 peer-reviewed open access journals.
  • Cogprints – Repository of self-archived works predominantly in the areas of the cognitive sciences, including psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, computer science, philosophy, biology, medicine, and anthropology.
  • E-LIS – International open access archive for preprints, postprints and other documents in the field of library and information science.
  • JISC content – UK-based digital collections and archives provided in association with publishers including The British Library, The National Archives, British Film Institute, The History Data Service, Royal Society of Chemistry, Thomson Reuters, Oxford University Press and many other leading research institutes, museums and universities.
  • NDLTD – Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations. This is a collaborative project between universities worldwide, which disseminates and preserves electronic theses and dissertations.
  • HAL (Hyper Article on Line) is designed for authors to deposit their research, and thereby offer publicly available scholarly documents from all academic fields. The repository is run through CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) in France. Registration is required to contribute.
  • PubMed Central – provides free access to a stable and permanent online digital archive of full-text, peer-reviewed, health and life sciences research publications.
  • PubMed Central Canada provides free access to a stable and permanent online digital archive of full-text, peer-reviewed, health and life sciences research publications. It builds on PubMed Central in the U.S. through the submission of Canadian-funded research.
  • Social Science Research Network (SSRN) – Repository of current social science research. “Encourages the early distribution of research results by reviewing and distributing submitted abstracts and by soliciting abstracts of top quality research papers around the world.”
  • The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a nonprofit open-access scientific publishing project aimed at creating a library of open access journals and other scientific literature under an open content license.
  • WikiVet – Veterinary Education Online: a collaborative initiative between the UK Vetschools to develop a comprehensive on-line veterinary knowledge database authenticated by expert reviewers

[i] Information assembled by with the help of McGill University Library Services’ website

The Living Books series: editors and topics

Air: Monika Bakke (University of Poznan, Poland)
Agriculture: Gabriela Mendez Cota (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK)
Exobiology: Sarah Kember (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK)
Bioethics: Joanna Zylinska (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK)
Biosemiotics: Wendy Wheeler (London Metropolitan University)
Cognition and decision: Steven Shaviro (Wayne State University, US)
Consciousness: Alberto López Cuenca (Universidad de las Américas, Puebla, Mexico)
Cosmetic surgery: Bernadette Wegenstein (Johns Hopkins University, US)
Energy: Manuela Rossini (td-net for Transdisciplinary Research, Switzerland)
Evolutionary psychology/natural selection: Mark Amerika (University of Colorado at Boulder, US)
Extinction: Claire Colebrook (Penn State, US)
Human genomics: Kate O’Riordan (Sussex University, UK)
Medical experiment: Melinda Cooper (University of Sydney, Australia)
Medianatures: Jussi Parikka (Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, UK)
Neuroengineering: Tim Lenoir (Duke University, US)
Neuroscience: Anna Munster (University of New South Wales, Australia)
Open science: Gary Hall (Coventry University, UK)
Partial life/the semi-living: Oron Catts & Ionat Zurr (SymbioticA, University of Western Australia, Australia)
Pharmacology: Dave Boothroyd (University of Kent, UK)
Symbiosis: Janneke Adema and Peter Woodbridge (Coventry University, UK)
Surveillance: David Parry (University of Texas at Dallas, US)
The in/visible: Clare Birchall (University of Kent, UK)
Veterinary science: Erica Fudge (Strathclyde University, UK) & Clare Palmer (Texas A&M University, US)

‘Living books’ as innovative teaching materials

The LiviBL project will encourage more focused and imaginative approaches to teaching and research, using open access content – in this case open access ‘living’ books, which repackage, cluster and represent digital research content that is already available in a range of open access repositories. Although it will initially offer resources to support the teaching and researching of science subjects in the humanities, the longer-term aim will be to apply and transfer this model to situations in the wider HE sector, thus building a self-sustaining community of practice and enabling more focused and lasting engagements with digital content.

Moving beyond the conventional, closed book format, the LiviBL books will engage humanities students in a dynamic pedagogic process of using and subsequently re-editing, as part of the curriculum, a fluid, open-access, online ‘book’ which will function as an innovative course reader. The content and form of the book will be negotiated, updated and altered by students themselves, under the guidance of the tutor. In this way, these LiviBL books will function as student-centred, customisable learning tools which will engage students in curriculum design. Since they will be easily disseminated online, free of cost, across the academic and non-academic community nationally and internationally, they will also promote the socially significant issues of ‘open scholarship’, ‘open learning’ and ‘open access’. As these living books can be updated year on year, they will enable a more strategic and lasting engagement with digital content.

Project objectives

The objectives of the LiviBL project are as follows:

  • Bring together three highed education institutions and an international online publishing house to deliver an innovative and sustainable new framework/model for delivering science-based teaching and research resources across very diverse disciplines within the arts and humanities
  • Cluster already existing digital resources – text-based and audio-visual – from a wide range of subject areas and repackage them in interesting and engaging ways so as to maximise their use both within higher/further education and other fields, including schools, policy-makers in government agencies and general public
  • Expand and discover new audiences for these resources by publishing them on an open/libre basis, and by offering readers an opportunity to respond to, debate with, edit and amend these resources
  • Make these documents ‘living’, so that the material they contain will remain and open to continuing updating and improvement, and thus have continuing relevance to readers and users
  • Develop a community of users of the resources which will build and cement open, two- and three-way links between higher education, external partners such as OHP and their audiences, and the wider reading public
  • Establish methods which will support the use of these resources in teaching and learning
  • Share the outcomes of the project via a range of dissemination methods which will raise awareness of the ‘living books’ model and its potential to generate further innovations in teaching and research – thus also ensuring the project’s long-term use and sustainability
  • Promote the LiviBL project widely, thereby providing students, tutors and researchers with access to high quality research content, in order to stimulate the development and use of more digital resources, and of more imaginative ways of using such resources.

Project Team

Gary Hall (project leader) BA (Hons), MA, PhD, is Professor of Media and Performing Arts in the School of Art and Design at Coventry University. He is the author of the Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now (Minnesota UP, 2008) (widely reviewed book in humanities, science and professional journals), as well as many journal articles on open access publishing and the use of digital resources in the humanities. Hall also has extensive practical experience of setting up and leading open access publishing projects and platforms: he is founding co-editor of the open access journal Culture Machine, director of the cultural studies open access archive CSeARCH, co-founder of the Open Humanities Press and co-editor of OHP’s Culture Machine Liquid Books series.

Joanna Zylinska BA, MA, PhD, is Reader in New Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. The author of (most recently) Bioethics in the Age of New Media (MIT Press, 2009), she works on questions of ‘life’ understood as both a philosophical problem and a biotechnological phenomenon. Her research into ‘life’ draws on humanities as well as techno-scientific resources. Zylinska also has experience of working with online resources and alternative forms of publishing that involve students, her project ‘The Liquid Reader’, having been funded by the Art- Design-Media subject centre of the Higher Education Academy in 2010.

Clare Birchall BA, MA, PhD, is Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Kent University. She is the author of Knowledge Goes Pop (Berg, 2006) which considers the encounter between legitimate, scientific knowledge and unofficial popular knowledge and co-editor of New Cultural Studies: Adventures in Theory (Edinburgh University Press, 2007). She is currently writing about transparency as a trope and strategy in public and political life, and is particularly interested in the way in which the ‘transparency movement’ and open access is shaping the online datascape. In line with this interest, Birchall is also co-editor of the Culture Machine Liquid Books Series.

Peter Woodbridge, a lecturer in the Coventry University’s School of Art and Design and the Project Manager, has expertise in online distribution networks, database implementation, digital media production and large-scale digitisation projects.

Paul Ashton, a co-founder of Open Humanities Press and the Publishing Coordinator at NMIT’s Bachelor of Writing and Publishing, acts as an industry consultant on book publishing to the Living Books About Life project. In addition to his teaching and consultancy work, Paul is also an editor of the academic journal Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy. Paul’s publishing specialty is in digital and emerging forms and academic publishing. His doctoral work is on the presentation of revolutionary thinking using the work of philosopher G.W.F. Hegel as its theoretical orientation. He has co-edited two books—The Praxis of Alain Badiou and The Spirit of the Age: Hegel and the Fate of Thinking—and journal articles as part of this project.

Sigi Jottkandt, BA, MA, PhD, is Lecturer in English at the University of New South Wales. She is a co-founder (with Paul Ashton, Gary Hall and David Ottina) of Open Humanities Press, an academic publishing initiative whose mission is to make leading works of contemporary scholarship freely available to a global audience. She is a member of the board of the European Commission funded project, Open Access Publishing in European Networks (OAPEN) and is the co-founding editor of S: Journal of the JvE Circle for Lacanian Ideology Critique (Holland). Sigi is author of several books, including most recently First Love: A Phenomenology of the One (2010), edited collections and numerous journal articles on literature, aesthetics, psychoanalysis and open access.