Guest Post: Lucy Barnes on The OABN and Humanities Commons: Finding Community

By Lucy Barnes (Senior Editor and Outreach Coordinator at Open Book Publishers, and one of three coordinators of the OABN)

In early 2020, a group of people interested in open access books were trying to foster a community. Geographically dispersed, they sometimes came together at conferences and other events where lively conversations ensued, but they wanted a place to continue these discussions remotely. A Slack channel had been set up for the purpose, but it was used only very sporadically and members of OAPEN, SPARC Europe, OPERAS and ScholarLed were looking for a home for what they had begun to call the Open Access Books Network (OABN).

It had to be easy to use, welcoming to scholars and publishers (and indeed scholar-publishers), low cost, and ideally open source. We wanted to encourage discussion, but also to share resources and best practices and perhaps to coordinate and host virtual events.

Humanities Commons was perfect. Its tagline “open access, open source, open to all” expressed exactly the welcoming and open-access ethos that we wanted the OABN to have. Its emphasis on creating a digital space for scholars that was not commercially owned, and that was not trying to track, monetise, or otherwise take advantage of its users, chimed strongly with the way that the coordinating organisations of the OABN thought about and practised open access publishing. Moreover the ‘Groups’ function of Humanities Commons was rich with possibilities, given the activities we wanted the OABN to foster: a message board for easy discussion, a ‘Files’ section to share research and reports and the CORE repository to store new publications; a calendar to list events; a collaborative writing tool for creating resources together; and a website and blog for a more public-facing presence beyond Humanities Commons itself.

We set up the Open Access Books Network group on Humanities Commons in the early spring of 2020, and global events soon meant that a digital space to meet remotely was even more sorely needed. After some time spent in planning and preparation, we officially launched the OABN in September 2020 with a programme of ‘BoOkmArks’ events and some more informal ‘Open Cafe’ discussions, conducted on Zoom. These drew people to the Network, and our members steadily grew in number (the total at the time of writing is 307).

Humanities Commons has become the central hub for our activities: we have a presence on other platforms, such as YouTube and Twitter, we still use tools such as Zoom for live events, and we have a growing mailing list, but our Humanities Commons group is our online ‘base’. Members use the discussion board for questions or announcements, and we sometimes incorporate it into our events, such as a series of online workshops we conducted this year to discuss funder policies for OA books, which produced video recordings, pages of noted discussion between the hundreds of attendees, and a final synthesis of the conversations all shared on our message boards. Our event recordings are all listed on our Humanities Commons website, which is also a good ‘front door’ to direct people to when we give presentations introducing the OABN, while our ‘Files’ section has become a trove of reports on recent developments in OA books. Meanwhile we have received great support and a warm, friendly welcome from the Humanities Commons founders and staff, particularly Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Bonnie Russell, who have championed the OABN as it has grown on Humanities Commons.

On the occasion of Humanities Commons’ fifth birthday, at the OABN we will be raising three cheers for this vital platform and community, and for all it has enabled us and so many others to do. We are delighted to see that others are recognising its importance and offering funding and support for its continued activities, and we look forward to seeing what the coming years bring!