Self-publishing, Open Textbooks and Open Practices at The University of Manchester

I spoke to Lucy May, Scholarly Communications Librarian (@UoMLib_Lucy), and Helen Dobson, Scholarly Communications Manager (@h_j_dobson), based at The University of Manchester, about open access publishing at the University and the interest they’d received from students in self-publishing journals. 

The University of Manchester Library has explored its relation to publishing over the past few years through a number of university projects, which have resulted in collaborative outputs involving both Manchester University Press (MuP) and other university departments.  In Spring 2018 MuP launched Manchester HIVE, a one-stop-shop to e-resources available via the University and host of Manchester Open Library (MoL) content.

Previously both the library and MuP had supported MoL which provided a platform for open access journals produced at the University, including the James Baldwin Review.

Textbooks and Open Textbook Publishing

Lucy and Helen were not aware of open textbooks being created by academics at Manchester although there are an increasing number of instances of open sharing of content with whereby publishing is built into courses. Typically these courses will encourage open sharing through students being required to create their own blogs and post course assignments and material there. Over the last three years, the University of Manchester Library has developed an open approach to course unit delivery involving the online writing platform, Medium. Learners develop a range of skills by exploring topics and contributing to unit materials, which form an online publication. Medium has been described by other educators as a critical thinking platform, and colleagues feel that this is an innovative way to openly share course content and student curated content. All of the teaching materials for the Digital Society course (offered as part of the University of Manchester’s University College for Interdisciplinary Learning – UCIL) are held in Medium. In addition students contribute to the development of the unit materials with their comments and thoughts throughout the duration the course.  Their assessed coursework also takes the format of blog posts, which enables students to become published writers for Manchester’s online ‘Digital Society’ publication which now comprises over 100 stories.

Identified challenges to expanding the use, development and engagement with open textbooks include time, competing priorities and whether universities recognise and validate the authorship and creation of open resources. Dominic Broadhurst, Academic Engagement Manager in the Library, described how more innovative approaches to creating resources such as collaboration both within one university and/or across a range of institutions, or remixing existing chapters of open textbooks with other multi-media to create new resources might help address some of these issues. At Manchester the Library works on an ongoing basis to help surface interest, ideas and solutions at a national and local level through engagement with both JISC and librarians at other universities as well as colleagues at Manchester through its e-textbook programme.

Rather than creating textbooks in house the Library has concentrated on launching its eTextbook Programme, delivered as part of its Reading List service. Agreements on price are reached directly with publishers to provide students with their own individual copy of an interactive eTextbook which is accessed via the VLE.  This helps to alleviate the cost burden to students as well as ensuring smarter pricing models for the Library and economies of scale for the institution. As open access publishing becomes more integrated into academia (for example, the REF 2021 requirement that all papers submitted are available in the open) library catalogues such as Primo, which is used at Manchester, now include pre-prints and OA materials. As Helen noted:

“…for the first time really we are saying to students if you come to our library catalogue you will find some open access content that doesn’t look like published content; because we will be pointing you to repositories where you may just find an author accepted manuscript. And that’s good enough. And we’ve never said that before, officially.”

Sharing Student Research

Helen and Lucy noted that there were various levels and types of interest in self-publishing work from students at Manchester. In particular, the undergraduate medical student community were highlighted as being particularly active. One cohort of students had instigated and founded a journal, the Manchester Medical Journal (MMJ). For this group of students, their interest in developing a journal was based on a number of factors:

“…Partly they felt that their research was worth more than just being something they handed into their lecturer and that was never being seen again, so they genuinely believed it was worth sharing. They genuinely wanted to improve the quality of research produced by other students by putting it through a peer review process…”

Additionally, the journal also provided an opportunity to improve employability. Junior doctors need to both complete their degree and show they have additional skills such as publishing research. Having a journal to showcase their written work was seen as providing a “practice run” before submission to PubMed and other medical journals. With advice from Manchester University Press, the library and self-organisation MMJ was launched in 2016. To ensure sustainability of the journal the students involved trained their peers to run the journal before they graduated.

From the university’s perspective a student journal can offer “added value” to students thinking about studying there; giving both the opportunity for publication as well as for developing “transferable skills” such as knowledge and experience of publishing. However, often university support for setting up journals is limited or not seen as a priority: Universities would prefer researchers to publish in established journals rather than setting up their own, and undergraduate-level papers may not be at the standard where publication would be beneficial.  Moreover, supporting such endeavours can potentially involve a lot of resource and raises issues about sustainability beyond an initially enthusiastic cohort. With this in mind The University of Manchester Library  has worked in partnership with Manchester University Press to develop a number of resources to help those who are interested in self-publishing and what it involves:

Thinking about publishing a journal? 

There are a number of questions to consider if you are thinking about self-publishing a journal. Helen and Lucy had the following advice for those with little support and emphasised that often starting and maintaining a journal can be more of commitment than first anticipated. Questions to consider:

  • First, is there an existing journal that you can contribute to? What’s your motivation for starting a new publication?
  • How will you ensure the journal is sustainable? If you’re a student, who will run the journal once you’ve finished your studies? You will need to “future proof” it and possibly cascade information/train others to take over.
  • What platform are you going to host the publication on?
  • Will it cost to host the journal and what other costs are associated with running it? Where will the funding come from?
  • How often will you publish the journal? Will you use an ‘issue’ format or publish new content as it is ready?
  • Will the journal have an ISSN and/or DOI?
  • How will people find out about your journal?
  • Who will be involved in making the journal happen? Who will promote it? Find images and content for it?
  • Do you want readers to comment/engage with content? If so, you may wish to monitor and moderate this.
  • What kind of quality checks will there be on submissions? How will you facilitate the review process and encourage people to peer review?
  • Who do you envisage will engage with and read your journal? How will you make the journal appealing to your intended audience?
  • How will you evaluate the success of the journal?
  • Who are your readership and how do they use the journal content? Need quality measures of engagement (not just number of page views).

Finally, in addition and if you are considering publishing Open Access, how will you license the content?

Find out more

Read more about the library’s role in university publishing in the following articles:

This case study was authored by Beck Pitt, Lucy May, Helen Dobson, Dominic Broadhurst and colleagues at The University of Manchester. 

Photo credits: Manchester: John Rylands Library by kaysgeog is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 publish #01 by MediaMolecule is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 and John_Rylands-B5948 by Steve Cottrell is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 



Add your Biographical Info and they will appear here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.