It was early in June 2017 when I had my first opportunity to visit our Ann Arbor premises. Knowledge Unlatched Research had been kindly given a base at the University of Michigan Library and I was looking forward to meetings with Charles Watkinson, Associate Librarian for Publishing and Director of the University Press, as well as a KU Research board member, and Bryan Skib, Associate Librarian for Collections, who’d been so helpful in shaping KU, but whom I’d never met. Joining me too were Lucy Montgomery and Alkim Ozaygen from the KU Research team in Australia. It promised to be an exciting and creative four days of intense work in the beautiful setting of the University under strong but not yet cruel sunshine.
Charles organized a stellar programme which included meetings with JSTOR, ProQuest, HathiTrust and lots of librarians – all of kindred spirit.
JSTOR’s OA platform for books had been launched nine months earlier and we got the chance to talk to their techies about the data emerging from their experience with user access. We skyped with Lara Speicher from UCL Press and put flesh onto an idea for a research project which we’ve now undertaken with four presses, UCL, Michigan, Cornell and California, called ‘Exploring Usage of Open Access Books via the JSTOR Platform’. We learnt how ProQuest was now looking at four of its divisions where the OA issues around books were being addressed and were deeply impressed with the workings of the HathiTrust. We gave a seminar in the library and were gratified to see a large group of librarians come along.
Before all the intense work I flew in early and was fortunate to spend a Sunday with Charles, his wife Heather and their two delightful children Alexander and Victoria. We went to Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village which I strongly recommend if you want to get a sense of how powerful a man Henry Ford was, and how significant the car industry was to America in the 20th century.
Greenfield was Ford’s playground. Wherever he went he saw houses that he coveted and then bought and moved to Greenfield. And so I found myself having tea in the garden of a Cotswold Cottage having a conversation about politics with Alexander (age five). He asked what socialism was. I thought about this and summed it up as follows, ‘There are some people who are very poor, you’ve seen them, beggars on the street who have nothing, and others who are very rich' – “like Trump” Alexander chimed in. ‘Yes, like Trump’, I said, and then went on, ‘There are some people who would like the poor to have a bit more and the rich to have a bit less. How we get there is hard, but some people think that organizing society differently so that money is spread more equally can be achieved under a form of government called socialism.’ Alexander thought about this and then proudly announced that he was a socialist!
To some there are parallels here with what KU is all about. Making access to knowledge more equal has been the driving force. But, as we all know, getting there is hard and flipping business models into something new and sustainable to achieve lofty goals was never going to be easy. Knowledge Unlatched Research is pleased to be making a small contribution to better understanding of how books are used and how in the digital age we can harness the power of knowledge and make it available to all.
I left America on the evening of the 8th of June after watching the Comey hearing in front of the US Congressional Intelligence Committee. That was good news for democracy, as was the UK election that took place on the same day. By accessing the Internet in flight I knew I was coming home to a hung parliament. Messy, yes, but democratic – most definitely. It was a good week indeed.