JDCC09: Sarah Porter: International collaborations

In a global academic culture of sharing resources and expertise, collaboration is an essential part of many higher education projects.

Each of the 3 speakers had vastly different experiences, but there were a few common threads that ran through all the talks:

  • The importance of clear and frequent communication
  • A need for mutual respect and trust in all parties
  • Fair distribution of resources and responsibilities

Sarah Porter began this Plenary Session on the ‘urge and surge of international collaborations’ by introducing the three speakers:

Michael Popham, Shakespeare Quartos Archive project, University of Oxford
Susan Whitfield, International Dunhuang Project (IDP), British Library
Saskia de Vries,  (Open Access Publishing in European Networks)

Shakespeare Quartos Archive project

shakespeareMichael began by explaining his project, which involved creating a virtual collection of early Shakespeare texts. The project was a collaborative effort with a US partner plus Octavo and the British Library.

The texts aren’t actually Shakespeare’s original manuscripts – instead they are records of plays which were most likely printed by actors or audience members. For this reason there is a huge variation in our records of Shakespeare’s work.

Octavo produced the images of the manuscripts, and then they needed to be managed so that British Library could mount them.

The Shakespeare Quartos Archive project sent 32 copies of Hamlet to India, where they were typed up as accurately as possible, proofread and enriched with XML markup. This searchable data was then placed under the images.

In terms of collaboration, the team found wikis useful, but documented conference calls were most effective.

International Dunhuang Project

IDPThe IDP relates to the Silk Road, which is now western China. The area is mainly desert, and this desert has preserved ancient cities from the 1st millennium AD.

Dunhuang is a Buddhist cave temple site. It was rediscovered in 1900, and 40,000 manuscripts were found. The manuscripts have never been studied as a library, as the materials were dispersed around the world.

International collaboration was always essential to the project, and there are lot of sensitive areas to consider, particularly as the original archaeologists are still considered imperialist thieves by some.

The IDP formed in 1994 with 3 aims:

  • Conservation
  • Cataloguing
  • Digitisation

There are currently 8 full time partners and 20 collaborating institutions.

The project could only start after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism, as the project depended on dialogue with Russia and China.

Lessons learnt about collaboration:

  • There needs to be shared goals
  • There should be benefits for all sides
  • There must be respect, trust and flexibility

“International collaborations are like marriages – we’re in it for the long term. We have to work at it,” said Susan, with a wry smile.

A key aspect of the project is that it is based on collaboration and not colonialistion. The project must always adapt to local conditions, and there must always be a native language speaker.

In terms of how the teams work together, Susan explained that conference calls and wikis were useful, but face to face communication was essential. They visit all partners at least once a year.

A key part of the project is about passing on skills and sharing knowledge. Everything is in local languages. never just English. Full members host their website locally, and this creates a sense of shared ownership and responsibility.

General issues faced by the project:

  • Quality control
  • Finding suitable staff
  • Keeping up with technology
  • Archiving
  • Funding

OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in European Networks)

OAPENSaskia spoke about OAPEN and its work with open access monographs. Open access makes sense in this context because it increases visibility and allows the text to reach a worldwide audience. This is good for authors and users, and funders also see a greater return on investment.

It’s not a new idea – the national academies press have been putting up pdfs of their work for 20 years.

OAPEN provides open access publishing for academic books in humanities and social sciences.

A great number of publishers have joined – and that includes commercial publishers as well as academic.

Looking forward, Saskia saw a hybrid model of online and print, where online texts would be free, and print would be sold. She strongly thinks that the funders of the research should pay for the publication, as the research and dissemination of results belong together. so research funders should fund publication.

Q & A

Ahmed Abu-Zayed, University of Exeter: “Is the platform expandable for other institutions?”
Michael Popham: “Yes, it’s all open source.”

David Baker, JISC: “What changes are being made to the scholarly peer review process as part of this?”
Saskia de Vries: “All the network publishers have to adhere to our standards of peer review.”

Delegate: “What about monographs that can’t be printed? What about people who want online versions?”
Saskia de Vries: “In 10 years time most of the content will be online and not printed.”

Sarah Porter: “If you could change one thing in the world related to your projects, what would it be?”
Susan Whitfield: “Money. Actually no, restrictions on finding funds make tighter models. Cheaper airfares maybe.”
Michael Popham: “There are still basic communication and outreach issues. There is probably information we could have shared with others.”
Saskia de Vries: “Language is a very big problem for our project. It’s one of the reasons why the EU gives us money. When work is in Polish or Hungarian it’s difficult to reach wider audiences.

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