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4000 items milestone: Featured researcher: Dr Tomasz Kamusella, School of History

Tomasz is a frequent depositor in our research information system, Pure and, as an author of foreign language publications, often helps Library staff interpret their copyright. In the last of our blogs to mark 4000 items in Research@StAndrews:FullText he agreed to a brief interview about his research and to share his views on Open Access in scholarly communication.

Dr Tomasz Kamusella

What is your research area?

My research is interdisciplinary with a focus on social reality in modern Central and Eastern Europe, its history and the mechanisms of its politics and language. I publish roughly 50:50 in English and Polish with translations of my work from these languages into German and Japanese and some translations from English to Russian.  So my work has a deep multilingual emphasis.  St Andrews is very strong in this area.  For example, it is home to one of the best centres in Arabic and Persian studies. 

How is Open Access relevant to your research?

Well, I am uploading to Pure, but do not apply for money.   During my Fellowship in the Kluge Center for Scholars at the Library of Congress in 2003-2004, where I researched for my book The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe, scholars had discussions with James Hadley Billington, Librarian of Congress about the value of digital scholarship. Without my Fellowship and library access a lot of electronic and print resources would not have been available for this research project of mine. They had all kinds of books from Central Europe in their collection, which in the region are dispersed among numerous libraries in different countries. Personally, I am fearful of electronic books - paper books tend to survive. I have no problem with accessing print, but I have problems with e-books and, if possible, I usually end up printing them out!  The size of fonts in modern scholarly books seems to be getting smaller, but I can enlarge these on pdf printouts. But the practice does not seem ecologically viable. I wish publishers would produce books to the same quality as they did in Britain half a century ago, or still do in continental Europe or China.

I understand about Open Access, but I don’t think it’s working in the US, Europe, Russia or elsewhere in the English-speaking world. I understand that it’s important for post-2014 REF admissibility, but I’m really confused, as there seems to be no clear message on the issue.

I don't know about the financial side of it.  Journal publishers seem to be coming up with all sorts of financial constructs - it's as much confusing as the myriad of train fare tariffs in Britain.  In the West prices are astronomical. I would rather buy monographs although, again, they are expensive in the English speaking academic publishing world. Outside of this sphere of influence they tend to be much cheaper and of better quality as books (i.e. printed with the use of a good-sized font on white high-quality paper and sewn rather than glued), for instance, in Austria, Slovakia or Estonia. 

What about impact and reaching a wider audience?

I’m afraid it’s another sign of the “business-ification” of scholarly publishing. Universities are becoming another business operation. It’s the end of Universities as we know them!  Seriously though, we are in danger of forgetting about the broader public good and students’ contribution to it throughout their entire life after graduation.  Now it’s all about short-term profit and loss, which is a mistake. I am not aware of any enterprises thriving for five or eight centuries, as many European universities do. Should academia succumb to this logic, not a single university operating nowadays will make it to the 22nd century.

I am sympathetic to Open Access in its role of democratising access to knowledge. When we were asked about book digitisation at the Library of Congress, most agreed that the Library, as in many ways a depository of human knowledge, has a responsibility of making it available to the world. The free-over-the-internet dimension emerged as a very important instrument of enabling people from poorer countries with less supplied libraries to have equal access to scholarship.  It is all about equality of opportunities.

Platforms (bundles) are overpriced in the English-speaking world. It's just a rip-off. I don't understand the variety of tariffs and end users are confused and worried about choosing something that is not optimal. Similar platforms carrying journals in a variety languages, produced outside the Anglophone world, are often available, at least in the sphere of the humanities and social sciences, for a fraction of the US or British price, as is the case of CEEOL - Central and Eastern European Online Library (www.ceeol.com), available from our Library.

I have not heard of the various licences that might be available, such as Creative Commons.  I just want to do my research. Copyright is not so jealously guarded outside of North America and Western Europe. There is often no formal copyright transfer taking place.  Journals are primarily run as disseminators of knowledge. But it's changing rapidly - for instance now there are contracts and word limits in most Polish-language journals, the standardisation stifling variety and creativity. In this respect the Library’s help* with copyright issues and making my research papers – published or not – available via Pure is most welcome and appreciated. 

What are your personal views on Open Access?

Suspicion. I do peer review for free, as do my colleagues at other institutions. We do it for the sake of the public good. What do publishers do apart from setting and printing? An external editor of my work would also work for free and likewise I provide the same service. The Anglo-Saxon model has had a spill over effect and this might cause firewalls to be raised. I like the idea of Pure and Open Access; however, OA could end up as quite fractured and paradoxically reduce access, as I believe is the case with e-books.

We are in the European Union today, but most of my students’ knowledge stops at the Elbe, as if it were still the Cold war that ended a quarter of a century ago. It's structural, but we are dealing with two thirds of Europe. In comparison with holdings on Western Europe and the Soviet Union or Russia, there is rather little in our Library’s collections on the eastern half of the European Union. And it’s mostly written in English, German or French, not in the languages of the new EU member states. Rarely does a student realize that the EU is a union of 28 members, and the organisation has 24 official languages. Another example – until recently there was next to nothing about Belarus, a country of ten million inhabitants in the middle of Europe. If the University aspires to providing expertise to enterprises and politicians on the eastern half of the EU and the Union’s eastern neighbours, awareness of the multilingual aspects is essential for sensible research on the area as it is today. A lot of the research material isn't in English. Ideally, languages necessary for research purposes should be acquired strategically to a necessary level, which mainly is the low threshold of ‘for reading purposes.’ When you have access to e-texts in different languages you can easily triangulate their meaning via the languages you know with the use of such tools like Google Translate. When you have this menu of languages in Pure it should have all the languages of the EU. It's important for metadata. It's not of much help if it says “Other”. Unicode has keyboard layout provisions for over 600 languages in which books are published with the employment of numerous scripts. In the case of the EU, its official languages are written in the Union’s three official scripts (Greek, Cyrillic and Latin), and information on them is also very important for metadata and Open Access. I hope information on scripts and the possibility of using them when giving titles of texts will become available in Pure, too.

So, I don’t see Open Access just in terms of business models and compliance.  There are multilingual and structural barriers to research that is unrestricted to access and reuse that we also need to consider, as well as the implications for academic freedom.


The Library Open Access and Research Publications Support (OARPS) team would like to thank Tomasz for his time and sharing his views on Open Access.

*To find out how to deposit your own work in Pure, contact the team open-access-support@st-andrews.ac.uk!


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