On Editors, On Writing about the Making and Using of Open Digitised Cultural Content

I want to get back in the habit of blogging about my research articles as they come out, to cover the back story of how they came into being. First up? Opening Access to Collections: the Making and Using of Open Digitised Cultural Content.

In the Autumn of 2014, I was approached by Gary Gorman, a leading, very well published professor in Library and Information Studies, who was putting together a special issue of Online Information Review for open access week 2015, dealing with all kinds of issues in the open access debate. It was at this point I had a total fan girl moment – there are a lot of people in academia who write books and research papers, but very few natural writers, and I’ve been a huge fan of Gary’s published work on information science for years, particularly Qualitative Research for the Information Professional which we routinely recommend to MA and PhD students, not only for what he says, but for the way he says it. However, I’d never had the chance to meet or talk to him in person.  Gary asked if I would consider writing a piece for his journal special issue, and we kicked around a few ideas regarding the research I’ve been doing on digitisation of library and museum and archive content, and licensing, and copyright, and how that sits with the open access agenda. Of course! I said, I’d be happy to write this up! How wonderful to be in a special issue edited by you!!! Did I say fan-girl?

I knew exactly what I was going to say, and it would only take me a few days to say it, I thought. And then it fell to the second or third place in the to do list, and I said, oh well…  – I have aaaaages to put this together…

Spring comes around, and Gary checks in to get the paper. Which I hadn’t written, as I hadn’t taken note of the deadline. I had been so lax and unprepared, and he was so kind, and gracious, and generous, (and funny!), and we sketched out a revised plan given my travel schedule and the turnaround needed for the special issue. Time was tight, and although I knew what I wanted to say, I had to wait til I had a few days free to write it. I sent the piece to Gary at the close of play on a Friday: he had lined up peer reviewers ready to go, so I had full peer review comments plus his editorial remarks back by the Monday, and I did corrections and it went into press by the Wednesday, with proof reader questions and final proofs by the end of that week. Fastest turnaround from writing to peer review to publishing I’ve ever experienced – and all because Gary was helpful and understanding and really very generous regarding the fact I had totally ignored the original timetable, and he wanted to have a piece from me considered for inclusion in this special issue. At this point, I had even more of a fan-girl moment. His editorial guidance (plus the super- helpful, super-speedy peer review comments) made this a piece I’m really proud of. It’s also timely, given it wasn’t actually written just a few months ago…!

The whole special issue of Online Information Review is available now, up in open access for a short spell (I had presumed it would be open access forever given it was a special issue on open access. Turns out you should never presume things will be open access forever: grab the contents before they turn the paywall on!!!!) but my paper is available for free from now on, up in UCL Discovery:

Opening Access to Collections: the Making and Using of Open Digitised Cultural Content (PDF), Online Information Review, Vol. 39 Iss: 5, pp.733 – 752

And then, sadness. Just as the issue goes up for Open Access Week 2015, we get an email from the press, to say that Gary had passed away. There is a lovely eulogy from a colleague who knew him well over at the IFLA Asia and Oceania group which he was very involved in,  and my thoughts go to his family. I didn’t get to know him well, but I’m glad I got the chance to work with him this once, and I’m appreciative of the time he took to get a piece from me, and to keep me included when I had been less than the perfect contributor. For the story behind the scenes of academic publishing is often about people: people with patience, people with persuading skills, people who forgive and cajole and support to get something not only to the finishing line,  but to the finishing line in good shape. Our working relationships in this are often “only” over email, but they become relationships nevertheless. Without Gary’s people skills, this special issue would never have come together, and I certainly would not have been included, and I’m thankful for Gary’s advice and humour, and grateful I got to know him even a little, while remaining in awe at both the quality and volume of his writings over his career, and the evident care he took while aiming to get the best out of others.

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