Greg Tananbaum, President of The Berkeley Electronic Press knows good scholarly content when he sees it. He also knows good tools for creating, managing and exposing that content to the academic community because The Berkeley Electronic Press (bepress) created that software.
Founded by three widely published Berkeley professors, bepress is the publisher of 27 peer-reviewed electronic journals. More importantly, the software to create those journals and the repositories to store and provide access to them are also licensed to publishers and universities worldwide. Fifty institutions including Cornell University, the University of California system, and U Penn use the bepress software (co-marketed since 2004 with ProQuest as Digital Commons) to run their institutional repositories.
GF: What’s unique about bepress in the world of scholarly publishing? Certainly, this capacity exists in a number of other companies.
GT: Because of our status as both a publisher of our own primary journals and our work as a software provider for institutional repositories, we have a rather unique view of many of the important issues facing scholarly publishing today. We see, for example, how the best elements of the traditional journal publishing system can be combined with the more recent phenomenon of open access. This has led us to champion quasi-open access for our own peer-reviewed journals.
We also observe how the world of peer-reviewed literature is coming into closer orbit to the world of grey literature such as working papers. Universities are informally stepping into the role of publishers as they seek to capture and disseminate the depth and breadth of their institutions’ intellectual output. These efforts commingle content of all types, and so the technology that runs them must be very flexible. We facilitate these university projects by providing software that is robust enough to run the journal back offices of licensees such as Blackwell and Elsevier, while at the same time ensuring that the software is simple and pleasant enough for faculty to actually use.
GF: If I am a faculty member or university library, what is the value of bepress for me, for my institution, and for my field?
GT: We provide a turnkey solution, support, hosting, training, ongoing development, and post-sales outreach. Because our technology is both flexible and easy to use, we have seen that the uptake – measured as content posted into an institutional repository – is substantially higher for our Digital Commons sites than for schools using the open source alternatives. The biggest challenge facing schools running institutional repositories today is how to fill them. Given our deep understanding of how the professoriate operates, we are able to give them a user experience that facilitates their ongoing participation. A specific example might help. Each month, Digital Commons authors receive an email telling them how many full-text downloads their posted materials have logged. The message also includes tips to help them publicize their materials, as well as instructions on how to post more content. We help make the authors stakeholders in their repositories, thus ensuring their ongoing participation.
GF: You recently jointed the Blackboard Developer Network, how do you see Blackboard faculty using bepress journal and repository content in their courses?
GT: Blackboard reaches millions of educators and students worldwide. There are thousands upon thousands of instructors who each year must consider what materials to include in their syllabi and teaching materials. The bepress journal and repository content, which we collectively call ResearchNow, contains close to 100,000 papers. This number is growing every day. It is cutting- edge, timely research. Building a bridge to put these instructors in contact with these 100,000 papers was important to us. We want, as the authors and the sponsoring institutions want, for content to be as widely disseminated as possible. The ResearchNow Content Building Block provides this bridge. Now, professors and teachers can easily search ResearchNow directly from within Blackboard online courses. From the search results, instructors can select specific materials and embed links to them within their Blackboard course web site. The benefits for students, instructors, authors, and institutions are clear.
GF: Are all your journals open? If so, what is the economic model that makes this capacity worthwhile to an academic department or to a group of faculty members?
GT: As I mentioned before, our peer-reviewed journals follow a quasi-open access model. Quasi-open access offers a middle ground between the existing poles of free open access and fee-based subscription access.
Quasi-open access balances the need for cost recovery against authors’ and editors’ desire for maximum readership and distribution. Those without subscriptions can access any article by filling out a short form that allows us to inform their library of their interest in reading our journals. When libraries are convinced of sufficient interest in the journal, they subscribe. Afterwards access for all faculty, staff, and students at that institution is immediate and there are no more forms to fill out.
Why do libraries subscribe to Berkeley Electronic Press journals? One simple reason is that if one’s community uses the journals, paying for them is the right thing to do. Beyond these moral obligations, our data indicate that readers completing the guest access forms represent somewhere between one-tenth and one-quarter of an institution’s likely readership. They are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to institutional interest.
GF: Selected Works allows individual faculty to publish their bibliographies on the Web. Does this create an opportunity for faculty, or create confusion about whether that faculty member is part of a discipline across all campuses or part of one institution?
GT: I don’t believe it creates confusion. When a faculty member establishes a selected works site, he is, in effect, creating his home base on the web. He can post his writings, his CV, his contact information and picture, and so on. Again, the key here is that our software is easy and pleasant to use. As more and more professors create these sites, tools for readers to sort and search by institution and by discipline will emerge. Faculty members are tied to both their school and their subject. Content is tied to its school and its subject. We try to create multiple paths of discovery in acknowledgement of this.
Here is another example. Penn Law Professor Nathaniel Persily writes a paper on court-drawn redistricting plans. He posts that paper once to Penn’s legal working paper series, run by bepress software. That paper can be discovered by a researcher within Penn’s institutional repository, within the discipline-specific bepress Legal Repository, within a different legal repository that the Northeast Law Library Consortium (NELLCO) has created, and within ResearchNow. All links resolve back to the same single paper. Readers are going to come at content from all different directions. It’s our job to make that as easy as possible for them.
GF: Scholarly publishing always sounds very ivory tower, inaccessible to teaching faculty either in using the content in courses or creating their own content? Myth or reality?
GT: Reality. Content should be more accessible to teaching faculty. The authors certainly wish that were so. They don’t write simply for the prestige of being published in journal X. We know this is true because faculty are embracing tools like the institutional repository and selected works sites as a means of increasing their scholarship’s reach. This is why we are so high on the ReseachNow Content Building Block. It connects the ivory tower to the rest of the academy in a new and exciting way.