Punctum Books’ Open Access Model Makes Knowledge Available to Everyone

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Image Courtesy of The Bottom Line Archive

Jessica Reincke

Students and faculty gathered in Davidson Library to hear the co-directors of Punctum Books, Dr. Eileen Joy and Dr. Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei, discuss career paths in the humanities and the importance of open access publishing.

In the event titled “Care of the Self, Open Access, and Alternative Career Paths in the (More) Public Humanities,” Joy defined open access publishing as a practice involving “any work that is published in a form that is completely, 100 percent open to read anywhere in the world.”

The University of California currently supports open access publishing and wants to make open access the norm so that knowledge can be more open to more communities of researchers and learners across the globe.

Joy and van Gerven Oei kicked off the event by describing the different life paths that led them to meet each other and create their own independent, academic press.

Joy began her story by explaining that when she became a scholar, she wanted to do work that was nontraditional. She wrote an article about two cataloguers, structured like a dialogue in a detective story, but it was rejected due to journals not seeing the value in her work. When an editor at the British Library Journal did decide to publish her work, they told her that she needed to cut the creative parts.

After her next article was rejected for similar reasons, Joy said that she thought to herself, “Something has gone terribly wrong with academic publishing.” This realization led Joy to seek out academic publishers who were open access.

Joy described how, in her search, she realized that there had to be other writers like her — writers who wanted to publish creative work but were unable to find presses willing to work with them.

She recognized the need for a press that would foster this kind of creativity, and in 2011, Joy created Punctum Books (stylized as punctum books) with Nicola Masciandaro, whom she explains left the project a year later due to having other priorities.

Van Gerven Oei then described the experiences that he underwent around the same time, as he noticed his colleagues were having a difficult time publishing their creative work. He recalls his reaction being, “Why don’t I publish their work?”

This led him to create his own publishing house, which he named using the word publishing house translated into the language of the works being published. Van Gerven Oei explains how it important it was to him to create a space in which all languages, real or fictional, could be published — without being forced to translate into English.

Joy then declared to the crowd how amazed she was when she came across van Gerven Oei’s publishing house, and the love and respect she had for the creative work he was doing. In 2015, the two joined forced and became co-directors of punctum books.

In order to survive in open access publishing without the aid of government funding, punctum books has joined forces with other open access presses. The ScholarLed organization currently has five presses, but punctum is the only press that is fully independent.

Due to the University of California’s support of open access, punctum books is running its operations partially out of the UCSB library. Punctum books and the University of California encourage students to become a part of the movement for open access through actions like interning with punctum books in the winter and spring quarters.

The event was concluded with a brief Q&A, in which Joy and van Gerven Oei encouraged students to consider careers in open access publishing. They explained that the publishing industry is changing, and state that one reason students should consider publishing over a Ph.D. track is that “it is such a powerful tool to give people to put their work out in the world.”

Joy called for changes in the publishing system and explained that while major publishers will say it costs $37,000 dollars to publish a book, punctum books publishes book for about $3,500 dollars through the use of labor from people that care and are invested in this kind of work.

Van Gerven Oei closed the event with this declaration against other publishing industries’ assertion that there is no money for open access: “The longer we exist, the weaker their argument becomes.”

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