Introducing the Illinois Open Publishing Network: Digital Publishing from the University of Illinois Library

The face of scholarly publishing is changing and libraries are taking on the role of publisher for many scholarly publications, including those that don’t fit the mold of traditional presses. Initiatives at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are working to address strides in digital publishing, increasing momentum for open access research, and the need for sustainable publishing models. This year alone, The Illinois Open Publishing Network (IOPN) has released five new open-access multi-modal scholarly publications. IOPN represents a network of publications and publishing initiatives hosted at the University Library, working towards high-quality open-access scholarship in digital media. IOPN assists authors with a host of publishing services—copyright, peer review, and even providing assistance in learning the publishing tools themselves and strategizing their publications in what for many is a new mode of writing.

In 2017, IOPN started production with Bruce Michaelson’s translation of Georges Clemenceau’s Claude Monet: The Water-Lilies and other writings on Art under its imprint Windsor & Downs Press. More recently, the imprint has released Illinois 150: The 21st Century Research University and the Public Good, a commemoration of the Illinois 150 conference, held at the Urbana campus in 2018 on the occasion of the University’s 150th anniversary. The conference covered six themes connecting research on sustainable living. The volume includes reflective essays by students, conference abstracts, and access to session recordings for University students and faculty. Windsor & Down’s newest publication, The Sweet Public Domain: Celebrating Copyright Expiration with the Honey Bunch Series (Feb 15, 2020), Edited by Sara Benson with production editing by Kaylen Dwyer. The project started with Benson and Scholarly Communication and Publishing graduate assistant, Paige Keuster, on the occasion of the first public domain day since 1999, releasing all works published in 1923 to the public domain on January 1, 2019. In celebration, Keuster selected the girls’ series books Honey Bunch (1923-1953) for digitization, finding a copy in the Urbana-Champaign Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The first five volumes have now been digitized, reformatted, and included as part of the edition, along with essays on the series and copyright.

IOPN’s second imprint, Publishing Without Walls (PWW), stems from a four-year Mellon grant in partnership with the University Library, the School of Information Sciences, the department of African American Studies, and the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities. The research project both looks at the challenges facing authors creating digital publications and provides support for authors, culminating in a publication with the PWW series for IOPN. It currently includes two series. AFRO PWW applies digital humanities methods to the study of black culture, and hopes to develop new ways of understanding Black Studies while also increasing engagement through digital presentation. HWW PWW publishes work related to projects funded by the Humanities Without Walls initiative at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities.

Screenshot of Rambsy's "#TheJayZMixtape" (2018), which shows Jay-Z's albums at the top, a list of contributors to each album on the right and a map on the left showing where those contributors are from

The first of many to come, Kenton Rambsy’s #TheJayZMixtape (2018) takes readers through the artist’s personal history while exploring the interconnectedness of his narrative techniques, musical collaborations, and relationship to black history. Using text mining and interactive visualizations Rambsy, professor of African American literature and digital humanities at the University of Texas Arlington curated the “Jay-Z Dataset,” which will provide rich ground for future scholarship. Last year, Rambsy joined with Peace Ossom-Williamson and a group of students from UT-Arlington, analyzing narrative geography in a collection of essays titled Lost in the City: An Exploration of Edward P. Jones’s Short Fiction (2019). Using what they call Jones’s style of “literary geo-tagging,” the authors show the gentrification and displacement of the African American population in Jones’s Washington, D. C. Embedded data visualizations invite readers to interact with issues of race, space, and gender as they intersect in All Aunt Hagar’s Children and Lost in the City.

Screenshot of Rambsy and Ossom-Williamson's "Lost in the City: An Exploration of Edward P. Jones's Short Fiction," with various graphs that depict "literary geo-tag" gentrification and siplaement of the African American population in Jones's Washington D.C.

Similarly concerned with the growing problem of urban inequality and displacement, Constructing Solidarities for a Humane Urbanism (2019) looks at movements to combat these issues in Chicago and Cape Town, revealing the transnational connections between these conflicts and movements. Drawing from the symposium held in September 2017, funded by the yearlong Insurgent Midwest Project, the publication brings together the overlapping identities of the activist and the academic, identifying key movements, resources, and facilitating spaces for conversation toward more humane urban development and urbanism.

A living publication, iBlack Studies: An Interdiscplinary, Integrative and Interactive Approach (2019) by editor marilyn m. thomas-houston, introduces readers to the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary field of Black Studies. Combing the use of all IOPN’s supported platforms—Scalar, Omeka, and Pressbooks—iBlack Studies serves as a hub for open-access, born-digital research including field notes, audio/visual material, datasets, and conference proceedings.

PWW’s newest publication, Love and Suspense in Paris Noir (2019) by Tyechia Thompson, takes readers through Jake Lamar’s novel Rendezvous Eighteenth alongside experiences of early black expatriate authors. Mark Reid from the University of Florida wrote that Thompson “embeds links to research that complements the author that she studies…[Her] digital essay reveals the multi-ethnic and geographically alert awareness. There is a crucial need for this type of academic digital essay in which authors write in an easily lucid manner.” Organized to allow readers to choose their own path, Thompson invites readers on an itinerant journey where they can critically engage with Lamar’s life, work, and Paris through video, audio, and navigation.

Access to all the publications by IOPN are available through the catalogs for Publishing Without Walls and Windsors & Downs Press.

Scholars interested in pursuing open-access, multi-media publications should request a consultation to begin the process and explore options. Dan Tracy, Head of Scholarly Communication and Publishing, will contact prospective authors. Proposals for stand-alone publications may come from scholars at Illinois or elsewhere. IOPN also provides publishing services for journals with at least one editorial board member at the University of Illinois when the journal publication agreement is established.

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