Vancouver, August 2015: PKP Scholarly Publishing Conference

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PKP – the Public Knowledge Project – is a non-profit research initiative that focuses on how publicly funded research can be made freely available through open access policies. One of PKP’s projects is Open Monograph Press (OMP), an open source software that let us set up our web site and back-office management swiftly and with only minimal costs. The 5th PKP conference took place from August 11-14 in Vancouver, Canada. Here are my impressions.

Heading off for Canada

OMP is a stroke of luck for Language Science Press since it was launched exactly when we were looking for an online publication software for monographs. This being said, it is still young, the “little sister” in the PKP software family with the journal software, OJS, already being more mature. With OMP’s release in 2013 and the number of worldwide installs hardly exceeding 30, Language Science Press is an early adopter, which implies chances (influencing the development), risks (teething troubles, dependence on further developments) and also the possibility to support PKP with feedback and insights into the demands of a publisher.

So when heading off for Canada, I was looking forward to discussions with other OMP publishers, developers and providers – to get a better idea of where OMP is going and how we can add our share to make it a handy tool for open access publishing. As I just started initiating an informal OMP user network, getting to know the people in person was particularly valuable for me.

Conference days

PKP enriched its conference with a variety of different event formats. The main conference days were preceded by workshops and software sprint sessions, during the conference itself committee meetings took place and community consultations were offered. To allow for more speakers, lightning talks were scheduled.

In the sprints, different people came together for two days, discussing and working on projects they decided on in an initial voting. My proposal to work on annotation software was – to my regret – one of the topics that did not make it in the voting.
I chose to join the user experience group instead – an aspect of OMP that may be termed as a teething trouble. While other groups seemed to be well prepared for their topics and started working immediately, the user experience group lost some time agreeing on a common goal. Another problem was the time overlap with workshops, our group noticeably declined in numbers on the second day. For me, this group still was a gain because I had the chance to discuss the OJS/OMP surface in detail with people who also have a daily routine in publishing. We ended up with an analysis of the stumbling blocks in the user navigation and we hope it will give PKP useful insights into the user perspective.

Other sprint groups worked on gitbook, XML, statistics, ORCID and packaging, and it was amazing to see what can be achieved with a format like that. The results were as diverse as the groups – software code ready for use, code as a starting point for new projects, concepts and data.

The third day of the conference was the day of talks, amongst them a single track of 27 lightning talks – each of five minutes, in blocks of about 7, with time for questions and discussion at the end of each block. It was very intense, often illuminating and very diverse, with topics involving altmetrics, networking, translations, big data and user case studies. Having been skeptical about 5-minutes-talks before that day, I was rather convinced of them afterwards. It is a means of presenting a wide range of people and topics, clearly structured and up to the point. And it encourages people to engage in face to face discussions after the talk, about those of the topics they are most interested in.

In my lightning talk, I first presented the publishing workflow of Language Science Press and our struggles to fit in into the software, hoping to stress the need for more flexibility in that aspect. Additionally, I presented how Language Science Press uses hypothes.is in combination with OMP to let readers, proofreaders, reviewers and other people annotate and discuss the books online.

The videos, slides and other documents of the talks are present on the conference website https://pkp.sfu.ca/pkp2015/pages/view/speakers, so anyone can get an impression of that conference day.

New major release

On the last day of the conference, a new OJS version was officially released. This new release will have a major positive impact on our work because OJS is more similar to OMP now, with the consequence that many of the changes and plugins developed for OJS will also be available for OMP, or will be easier to port to OMP. One of those new features is the separation of the back-office interface from the reader interface – a feature that will make work easier for us and our series editors. Having talked to the designers and programmers of the new version gave me a profound idea of where OMP is going in the next years (e.g. the new back-office design, a more frugal surface) and how our programming resources are best invested (e.g. plugins for both OMP and OJS, focusing on tasks PKP will not deal with yet).

Visiting the PKP conference did not only give me impulses for new ideas, it also has direct impact on the daily work I do for Language Science Press. PKP is doing a great job in promoting open access publishing and a valuable partner for us to work with.

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