Book sprint project ‘CoScience’ – open science in practice
With its book sprint project ‘CoScience – Collective research and publishing on the internet’ (‘CoScience – Gemeinsam forschen und publizieren mit dem Netz’) at CeBit 2014, the Open Science Lab of the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB ) demonstrated the opportunities web applications are opening up today for collaborative academic work. We spoke to Lambert Heller, director of the Open Science Lab.
In 2013, Lambert Heller founded the Open Science Lab at the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB). As an author and lecturer, he is interested in the question of how libraries (and other similar institutions) can better support collaborative, open forms of academic work.
Question: Mr Heller, your book sprint project ‘CoScience – Gemeinsam forschen und publizieren mit dem Netz’ (‘CoScience – Collective research and publishing on the internet’) builds on the idea of open science. At both the IT trade fair CeBit, and the re:publica 2014 event it was greeted with considerable interest. Did that surprise you?
Lambert Heller: To be honest, it did a bit. We knew, of course, that in some areas book sprints have been well-liked for many years as a tried-and-tested and versatile method for writing books; for instance, software handbooks. But before our experiment, there was no way of knowing if scientists would also be interested in developing an educational resource by this means.
Question: What exactly is a book sprint, and how does it work?
Lambert Heller: You invite ten to 15 people to gather at one place for three to five days – all of them experts on the subject of the book you are planning. You sit down as a group and collectively draw up a table of contents. Then you get to work! Lots of things are developed in smaller teams, writing more or less simultaneously on each chapter. The sprint organisers propose details like style and consistent spelling, but ultimately everything, including reciprocal checks and editing, depends on the authors involved.
About our interviewee
Constant online updates after the book sprint
Question: Is this kind of process suitable for all academic disciplines, or rather just for natural sciences and technical subjects?
Lambert Heller: Good question! The easier it is to structure a topic and cover it in relatively independent chapters, the more appropriate this method is. But basically, I don’t see any limits to it. You’d have to try it out with some researchers who are open to testing its usefulness. That’s how it worked for the book sprint ‘CoScience’.
Question: Are there any international models?
Lambert Heller: Adam Hyde first devised the book sprint method. Without his inspiration, it’s hard to imagine our project happening. But we also had influences from elsewhere. Several of the CoScience authors – myself included – had previously already collaborated on a book called Opening Science. This book, which was released in English by the respected scientific publisher Springer, may have taken us a few years to write, but it’s a ‘living book’ nonetheless, being continually updated online.
Public history for earlier versions of each and every chapter
Question: In terms of their careers, it’s important for academics that their individual research contributions can be traced without any uncertainty. Is it possible to guarantee this in an open science project planned as a book sprint?
Lambert Heller: Yes, that’s an important detail. It’s an area in which we differ from typical crowdsourcing projects like Wikipedia, but also compared to other book sprints. For CoScience, as a rule, several people in the authorial team (and even some outside it) worked together on each chapter. All the contributors are named at the start of the respective chapters. In each case, the primary authors remain responsible for maintaining their texts in the long term.
So there’s no reason such a chapter should not be included in the co-author’s own list of publications. On the contrary; unlike traditional publications, with CoScience you can browse through the public history of each chapter’s versions, in order to see who contributed what, and when.
EU funding to continue the project
Question: The CoScience handbook has now been published in print. Does that mean the project is now over?
Lambert Heller: We have already had three requests to reuse our platform. For instance, a countrywide network of Romance languages experts is currently using the platform to write a handbook on the Middle Ages and Renaissance in Romania. They’re taking a year to do this, so it’s not (just) a sprint – though that’s already a tight schedule for a project of this scale!
Also, we’re still constantly expanding CoScience. The EU has just granted us EUR 10,000 to produce a series of interactive video lectures, building on CoScience. In our eyes, that’s the perfect way to continue this kind of project!
Open Science Lab: Booksprint #CoScience @ CeBIT 2014
Book sprints and open science - Comment below!
Are book sprints according to open science principles a good option for academic publications? What do you think about this kind of collaborative writing and publishing? Can you name any examples from your own country? Share your opinion in the comments below.