British Art Studies, a new online journal, as introduced by Tom Scutt at the ARLIS AGM at the Paul Mellon Centre, April 2016.
The Paul Mellon Centre has recently begun to venture in to open-access digital publishing. Paul Spencer-Longhurst’s Richard Wilson Online went live in October of 2014 and this has been followed by two issues of the online journal British Art Studies, the soon-to-be-released online catalogue raisonné of Francis Towne, and now plans for digital publications focusing on The Country House and the history of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.
British Art Studies is a joint venture in digital publishing between the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, and the Paul Mellon Centre. The first issue went live in November 2015, and the second issue was released at the beginning of April. We publish scholarly articles about British art, architecture and visual culture.
The shift to online publishing represents a major paradigm shift for us as an institution. Transitioning to the online environment is not simply a matter of substituting screen for printed page; rather, the it requires us to rethink internal roles and production processes, and to consider how digital publications will be used and perceived by their target audience of scholars, as well as how best to preserve them for posterity.
The journal was recently awarded the “People’s Choice” Galleries, Libraries, Archive and Museums Innovation award by the Museums and the Web community. The awards committee noted that “This project addresses one of the central problems of academia today. It’s not a sexy problem, but it is a dangerous and important one.”
The problem that the committee are referring to – I think – is access. Access in terms of making original research available beyond the specialist repository, but also in reducing financial barriers to publication for authors. When publishing an article requires that those authors pay thousands of pounds out of pocket for image licensing, and then the resulting journal costs hundreds annually in subscription fees from libraries, where is the incentive to maintain that vitality on either end?
Discoverability is a major issue for online publications of this nature. The common path to identification of an academic title in print would likely be a library catalogue or a research database. This isn’t necessarily the case for digital publications: rather, a study by Laura Mann about users of the Getty Foundation’s OSCI projects suggests that Google is the key to the discoverability of online scholarly catalogues. Google was by far the greatest source of traffic to the SFMoMA’s Rauschenberg Research Project and The Walker Art Gallery’s Living Collections Catalogue: more than 45 percent of all traffic, on average, comes to the catalogues through Google.
However, I would like to argue that it is important that these publications are embedded in the academic ecosystem. They need to be listed in research databases that scholars use. The OSCI catalogues are partially listed in key academic databases such as WorldCat and ProQuest, but the professors, curators, and graduate students that the survey company spoke to didn’t expect to find them there. Instead, scholars expect to find online scholarly catalogues in their university library catalogue.
We are conscious that, so far, submissions to the journal have mostly come from researchers based in Britain and the United States; similarly, the materials and subjects addressed in these submissions have predominantly been located within the British Isles. We are pro-actively seeking to expand the field of British art for future issues, by representing a broader community of scholars and a wider realm of subject matter.
Our summer issue on British Sculpture Abroad, which will be published in July, begins this process. It will include essays by individuals who do not identify themselves as “British art” experts, and who have come into contact with British sculpture through exhibitions outside Britain, and several of the essays will be translated into English from other languages.
So, in conclusion I want to plead with the ARLIS community to support digital publishing ventures. In order for them to be recognized and respected we need you to help make them available to researchers.
Please do take the time to visit britishartstudies.ac.uk and explore the first two issues.
Tom Scutt, Digital Manager, Paul Mellon Centre.