Full Disclosure pt. 2

Last week’s Twitter chat with Adeline Koh and the Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker group made for a spirited and productive public conversation about the need and the place for a digital publisher’s imprimatur in the humanities. (See the Storify version of the discussion here.) It also led to some equally spirited and productive talk behind the scenes.  In the interest of opening up these backstage conversations to the public, I thought it might be useful to address some of the questions remaining from the chat and some of the answers we’re working toward.

Luckily Jack Dougherty, Associate Professor of Education Studies at Trinity College, Hartford and co-editor of Writing History in the Digital Age, synthesized some of the most salient stuff to come out of the conversation. His blog piece, “Anvil, Authors, and Some (Un)Answered Questions,” is staged as a Q&A about Anvil operations and goes a long way toward highlighting (and gently nudging us to articulate) some of the critical decisions we’re in the process of finalizing at Anvil.

I’m going to borrow some of Jack’s questions and offer our own potential answers:

Does Anvil envision a more centralized digital publishing model (where all works will be hosted on its platform), or a more decentralized model (where authors host individual works on their own platforms)?
As Fred mentioned in his Twitter response, Anvil doesn’t see platform development as its primary goal…at least not in the near term. There are already several promising multi-modal authoring platforms in the works: Scalar, Sophie, CommentPress, and MPublishing’s digital publishing workflow tool mPach come to mind as a few leading examples. What we need is not another competitor to these models, but a mode for accrediting and accelerating the pioneering work that comes out of (and will come out of) new spaces like these.

Given that fact, Jack wisely asks a follow-up question:

Do prospective authors fully understand the broader implications of the answer above?
The implications of not offering our own proprietary model means, to some extent, that Anvil won’t be in complete control of the backend shape of the projects it will ultimately sponsor, review, distribute, etc. (though we’ll obviously be involved at the consultation level throughout the process). To an analogue publisher this might sound a little scary (or crazy), as it cedes production ground to authors.

And, frankly, it’s not altogether comfortable for digital publishers either. In a scholarly communication environment characterized by questions like “Publishers–What are they good for?” willingly giving up the game of full-service production seems dangerous…maybe even regressive.

One answer: The new publishing environment we live in demands experimentation—and not simply replication and amplification of old solutions. Digital humanities scholarship is still in a let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom period of growth. While data and metadata standards and scalable (rather than one-off) user interfaces are certainly in the offing, forcing authors and institutions into a one-size-fits-all platform would not only be foolhardy, it would be counter to the ethos of experimentation we hope to take part in and foster. So, really, it’s of mutual benefit for Anvil to actively grant production control (and experiment control!) to authors, their databases, UI’s, and the institutional infrastructure that shapes how their stuff gets made. This does mean that authors and their institutions would have to take on the responsibility of site upkeep (though it’s worth mentioning that Anvil aims to develop preservation strategies in partnership with institutional supporters). But ultimately it avoids the headaches and the hamstringing of forcing in-the-works projects into proprietary architectures. All that said, we’re certainly not ruling out a near(ish) future when Anvil could offer such platforms as one publishing option. But handling something like this at scale will require a dedicated development team, which is why, right now, we’ve put this option in the “down the road” column.

Another answer: Anvil’s goal as a digital publisher is to quicken the pace of DH project reception and institutional legitimacy. How we do this is one part cultural and infrastructural–making sure the platforms for authorship make sense to promotion and tenure committees by offering comprehensive reviews of these platforms and their products. The other part is about accelerating the critical canon surrounding projects that currently exist as primary materials–archives, databases, visualizations, interactive UI’s–for interpretive work. This work will also need a home. And building such a home is a task we’re still very much hoping to take on.

So what is Anvil’s responsibility regarding the author’s digital project?
As Jack rightly summarizes, one of our “primary responsibilit[ies] is to manage the peer review process” for DH publishing projects.  No small task for sure. And putting in place a clear workflow and clear evaluation guidelines—from the submissions process to final editing and review—is where the lion’s share of our time is spent currently. We also aim to make these workflows as transparent as possible to the wider community and will be blogging about how we see each step taking place, what tools we’ll be using, and a public debrief once we’ve seen a project through the pipeline.

Our other responsibilities might be best answered by addressing a separate question:

Who is responsible for copyediting the final publication? Or marketing it? Or entering it in library catalogs?
We are. Full stop. Anvil is committed to applying these core services to our digital projects. We’ll be enlisting the help of authors and institutional partners to speed up the process of editing, marketing, and broad-channel distribution. But in the end it will be our responsibility to ensure that this spectrum of activities is conducted quickly, transparently, and effectively.

Will Anvil publications undergo traditional blind-peer review, open peer review, or a hybrid of these models — and who decides?
A good question. Having had some experience working with Writing History in the Digital Age at MPublishing and U-M Press, I’d give a full-throated endorsement to the hybrid model (open review + signed and sealed editorial board reporting)…especially with someone as energetic and engaged as Jack at the helm. The truth, of course, is that many junior scholars demand peer review that is familiar and easily certifiable by a tenure committee. And the form of review most identified with scholarly clout is the blind kind. So we’ll want to be flexible as we approach individual projects and individual author needs. Nonetheless, our commitment is to transparency. Whether or not we implement a hybrid review model (which seems likely), a blind (or purblind?) one, or a menu of options that prospective authors could choose from, we’ll present those decisions openly.

If Anvil works are open-access, who owns the copyright?
As Fred writes in his comments to the post, “We’ll have to license on a per-work basis, working with the authors, but want always to be CC licensed. We tried a one-size-fits-all model at Rice U Press, and ran into significant problems. Authors will always retain their copyright, though, no matter what the arrangement. I do want to stress that in licensing and contract matters, we want to work with (rather than on or over) authors.”

In addition to ensuring that authors retain copyright, we will also be pursuing non-exclusive agreements to publish digital versions of Anvil works under the aegis of open access, Creative Commons licensing. The particulars of these agreements are still being hammered out…and will most likely require actual negotiations before we find a licensing solution that works best for everyone.

If Anvil receives a submission from an author and wishes to enter into a publishing agreement, what exactly would the contract say?
Here Jack recommends that we post a sample contract to our site to avoid any confusion about the roles that Anvil will play and those we expect authors to take on. I like this idea a lot and hope in the next few weeks to present just such a sample contract. We want to be clear about what partnering with Anvil will mean both for authors and for their institutional sponsors. And we’ll continue to clarify–in spaces like this–our prospective value-add not only to the DH community, but also to higher-ed authority structures writ large.