Go on OJS

Composition Forum has started using Open Journal Systems, with the recent publication of our Spring 2011 issue. I’ve sent a few “articles” through the system with CF managing editor Michelle Ballif, and spent quite a bit of time reading the technical references and working through the code base, so I think it will work for us. Of course, the best way to find out is to use it for real. We aren’t delivering content with it yet; that will come after we get submissions and review up and running. What questions we have now circulate around that process, which may be a bit more extensive and formal than necessary for us. Technically, it looks sound; upgrades and other maintenance functions can be easily performed from the command line, like this:

wget http://pkp.sfu.ca/ojs/download/patch/ojs-2.3.3-3_to_2.3.4.patch.gz
gunzip ojs-2.3.3-3_to_2.3.4.patch.gz
patch -p1 < ojs-2.3.3-3_to_2.3.4.patch
php tools/upgrade.php upgrade
php tools/upgrade.php check

which I did recently.  The coders working on the project are attentive to problems, regularly answering questions in support forums, even those which amount to, “I can’t get OJS to work on Red Hat 7, please help!” (Like any open source project, OJS attracts its share of users with minimal budgets and thus minimal access to up-to-date servers.) Right now, I’m not worried about the way it looks–a common and well-justified complaint–I can tweak that later with some CSS hacking, and perhaps return something to the project with interface design improvements.

Not long ago I went to Illinois Wesleyan to hear a talk by OJS project lead John Willinsky. He focused more on open access than OJS, mentioning the software only a few times. Willinsky spent a lot of time discussing the practical side of open access, which I appreciated. This was, in large part, response to a question raised during the introductions. One of the officers of the Midwest Sociological Society attended, asking (I’m paraphrasing): “Is open access going to erase the $270,000 we get from journal subscriptions?” A good question. After the talk, I looked, and discovered MSS provides a $10K stipend and $2,500 travel budget to the editor of its journal The Sociological Quarterly. That’s peanuts compared to the budgets of medical journals, but for a small outfit like Composition Forum . . . we could do a lot with that money. So while, like Willinsky, I’m completely committed to open access from an ethical perspective, I’m eager to find ways to adopt OA models while preserving revenue streams–and without going toward the author fee model. Particularly for the humanities, that’s not a sustainable way forward. Willinsky spent the most time describing a model where libraries would work directly with scholarly societies to form cooperatives which perform the same tasks currently performed by commercial publishers and database middlemen. Money which now goes to profits and data munging would be replaced by direct access to data and smarter reuse of existing library labor and infrastructure. Willinsky sketched this possibility out very quickly. In retrospect, I wish he’d spent more time on it.

I found out about Willinsky’s talk from Cheryl Ball, who is doing some OJS-related work of her own. Cheryl and the rest of the Kairos team recived an NEH grant to write plugins and modifications to the OJS codebase so it can handle Kairos-style webtexts. We had ulunch after the talk, and discussed that project and other stuff. I agree that sort of work is the way forward, and a large part of the reason I’m working with OJS: even though it may be overkill for a small journal like Composition Forum, my current approach to making the journal–wrangling HTML from Word files via custom scripts, followed by more custom scripts to deliver it–isn’t any better. Especially where metadata is concerned. Hopefully, as we use OJS, we can realize a more generalizeable solution.

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