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Digital Technologies in Academic Publishing: Thoughts of a Journal Managing Editor

Posted on October 13, 2015 by Alison Fox

Today's guest post is by Diana Richards, outgoing Managing Editor of the UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence.

I have just completed my year mandate as the managing editor of the UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence. Those who know me are aware that I dip my toes both in academia and the tech startup world. And that gives me a rather unusual perspective on both. If one would ask “What were the two things that made you most proud at the journal?” I would simply say switching to open access and developing a social media presence. Both bring the powers of the digital in the service of research, making it faster, more relevant, and more connected to the outside world.

The switch to open access was made in collaboration with UCL Press, dubbed the first fully open-access university press in the UK. We implemented the Open Journal Systems (OJS), which means the submission, editing and publishing processes are now transparent, scalable, and above all else, incredibly quick. We are done anonymising manuscripts, sending dozens of e-mails and docs back and forth, or doing DTP. The work of the academic editor or the reviewers’ has suddenly been simplified and all that could be automated is now automated. We receive dozens of submissions per month now, and we are not snowed under anymore. We are accepting less than a third and keeping the journal high quality.

But the advantage of OJS was not just for us, on the inside. This sounds grand, but it is a great progress for the scientific advancement of knowledge. With this kind of system, it does not take years to get an article published. The slow and cumbersome review process often made research and publications obsolete. This is now a story of the past. It now takes just a few months from start to finish. But what’s even more important, it is open access. Anyone can read it. You don’t have to be in education or pay thousands of pounds for access. You can do so for free, from the first second of it being published by us.

For my clients in the London tech startup environment, it takes me two months to conduct dozens of qualitative interviews and to get quantitative data on millions of users. And it takes me a few days to prepare and present a report. In academia, that kind of research could take half a decade to gather and present to the public. This is completely unacceptable and needs to change. Some visionary initiatives, like Academia.edu, sought to change this. We did it too, at a smaller level, but it works. And it feels damn good.

In addition to open access, using social media to communicate with our audiences only contributed even more to bringing academic research in the now. We are among the most active UK academic journals on Facebook and Twitter, and we used that to keep everyone posted on the latest research available.

With open access and social media, the academic publishing world is changing. This is our chance as researchers to become relevant again, by regaining dynamism.

About the Author

Diana Richards is currently finishing a doctorate at UCL Laws and has been consulting in the digital sector since 2010. More info at http://www.dianarichards.co.uk. The UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence can be found online at http://ojs.lib.ucl.ac.uk/index.php/LaJ.

This post was originally posted in UCL Press news in October 2015.

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The Museum, The Centenary, The Book

Posted on June 04, 2015 by Alison Fox

Today’s guest post is written by Alice Stevenson, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology.

About a year ago, it dawned on the staff of UCL’s Petrie Museum that the centenary of our opening was not far off. To mark the occasion the team decided that a souvenir publication would be fitting tribute for such an internationally renowned collection. Time to produce such a book, however, was short. Fortunately, UCL Press received the proposal positively and the scramble to pull together the volume began.

With upwards of 80,000 objects in the collection, more than a century of important discoveries and thousands of years of history to engage with, finding suitable content wasn’t hard. Deciding what could fit into 120 pages was. All that we could do was sketch out the contours of the museum’s holdings, from the Stone Age axes to the medieval and Islamic artefacts, and from the smallest trinkets to the largest monuments. We also wanted to challenge assumptions about the nature of the collection because it is far broader than the term ‘Egyptian archaeology’ might popularly suggest: there are objects from Sudan, Korea, China, Greece, Palestine, Syria, India and Iraq for instance. Additionally, we sought to showcase the unusual: artefacts made from extra-terrestrial materials, objects fished out from dark, flooded burial chambers and long-lost things rediscovered in unlikely places.

Image from Petrie book

What really drove the story-telling, however, were the characters whose lives became entangled with the museum’s history. They include the adventurous Flinders Petrie, a man who Lawrence of Arabia once described as ‘enormous fun’ and who Howard Carter credited as turning him into a true excavator; Margaret Murray, an Egyptology lecturer at UCL and a significant influence on the development of Wicca; Gertrude Caton-Thompson, a pioneering archaeologist who went on to prove that Great Zimbabwe was the work of indigenous Africans; and Ali Suefi, Flinders Petrie’s Egyptian right-hand man and discoverer of many of the most prized objects in the museum.

To even attempt to do justice to this eclectic assemblage and history requires many voices and a range of expertise. It is therefore thanks to all of our contributors for swiftly penning their sections, to UCL Press and Media Services for their professionalism and to the Friends of the Petrie Museum for financial support, that this publication has come together in such good shape and on such a tight deadline. And with over 1300 Open Access downloads in the first week, we’re off to a great start!

Alice Stevenson, Curator, The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

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