Interview with UC Davis professor Gina Bloom, first U-M Press author to receive a TOME award

by Charles Watkinson on July 17, 2018

Scholars across the United States are currently working with their parent institutions and select university presses to make distinguished books globally free to read through the TOME, Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem, initiative. Under the auspices of the Association of American Universities, Association of Research Libraries, and Association of University Presses, TOME funding institutions and publishers are working together on a sustainable model that increases the reach and impact of the most important humanities and social sciences books while also supporting the non-profit publishing infrastructure that enables them.

University of California, Davis, professor Dr. Gina Bloom is one of the first recipients of a TOME award. Because of the award Gina’s publisher, University of Michigan Press, received financial support from UC Davis Library that enabled open access publication of her book Gaming the Stage: Playable Media and the Rise of English Commercial Theater. This has just been released by the Press as part of its world-renowned theater and performing studies list curated by senior executive editor LeAnn Fields, winner of the 2017 Excellence in Editing Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. Gaming the Stage explores the intersections of theatrical performances and games in Early Modern England and shows how theater and gaming continue to influence each other today. It crosses the disciplinary boundary between theater studies and game studies to suggest new ways of approaching both fields.

The book is available free to read and download from U-M Press’s Fulcrum platform for digital scholarship: https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.9831118

Rice Majors, Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Resources at UC Davis Library, has applauded the publication and provides some background on why the Library is supporting the initiative: “We are delighted to have provided financial support for the open access publication of Professor Gina Bloom’s new book, Gaming the Stage, via the TOME initiative – the first Davis faculty member to have leveraged TOME and thus make their book available to researchers everywhere. UC Davis is committed to making the research output of its scholarly community available to the broadest possible audience and open access methods of publishing like this are a critical component of this commitment. In addition to the TOME initiative, the UC Davis Library also provides financial support for the open access publishing of journal articles as we seek to transform the world of scholarly communication to open access models.”

To commemorate the book’s publication, Charles Watkinson, Director of University of Michigan Press, asked Gina Bloom to talk a bit about what motivated her to publish her work open access, her experience with the TOME initiative, and the hopes and fears she has in making her book free to read online.

Charles: “Why were you interested in making an electronic version of your book open access? What are the outcomes you hope for?”

Gina: “There were two main reasons I wanted an open access version of my book. One is that my book moves across a range of fields, some of which do not overlap much: game studies, media studies, early modern drama, theater history, and performance studies; it also tries to reach general readers interested in games. Given the ways academic books are publicized (e.g., through conferences and catalogs), it seems very unlikely that these different audiences would hear about the book. And even then, they might hesitate buying it sight unseen. Even a paperback is a steep investment if you’re unsure about a book’s relevance for your interests. Open access gives people a chance to browse any book about which they are curious. So one of my hopes is that the open access version will help me reach new and diverse audiences.

My other interest in open access is socially driven: I am lucky to work at a university with a great library, but I know many, many scholars who cannot do their research because they do not have a library borrowing card. Even scholars who have jobs at colleges with brick and mortar libraries can’t always get the materials they need because their schools don’t subscribe to particular databases that hold these materials. Given the changing landscape of higher education—with increased numbers of independent scholars and contingent academic laborers—it is more important than ever to grapple with the inequities in access to research materials. To my mind, open access is the best way forward.”

Charles: “How did you learn about the TOME initiative? What did the process of getting the OA ebook funded consist of?”

Gina: “I received an email from the UC Davis Library announcing that the program was getting started. I noticed that my press, the University of Michigan Press, had signed on as a partner, and so I asked my editor LeAnn Fields whether this was a possibility for my book. I was thrilled to find the press enthusiastic about open access and willing to do whatever was needed to push the project through. Since I already had a book proposal in hand, the application was incredibly easy. Once my initial application was approved, the university library’s Scholarly Communication office provided me with a contract that I passed on to the press to be signed. The Scholarly Communication office was extremely helpful in answering my questions, and my contact there stayed in touch with my editor as well.”

Charles: “Do you have concerns about publishing an OA ebook version? If so, could you share some of them?”

Gina: “My main concern, if you can call it that, is that the funding for TOME is coming only from certain universities. I am so lucky that UC Davis is committed to open access publishing, but it seems ironic that open access is not accessible to everyone trying to publish their work. I hope this will change as people see the benefits of open access publishing. My only other concern is that libraries won’t put a physical copy of my book on their shelves because it can be accessed digitally for free. Lots of readers discover books when they browse certain sections of a library. Presumably, though, the number of readers who find my book by browsing digitally will offset this possible loss. I want to add that I’m not so worried, as I imagine some might be, about losing royalties if the book doesn’t sell copies. Academic books, even those that appeal to general readers, don’t end up generating such astonishing royalties anyway. Readers are much more important to me than royalties.”

Charles: “What would be a good measure of success for you in terms of the impact of your book? What kinds of information would you like to see us as a publisher deliver to you as the book becomes known and used?”

Gina: “Like any academic, I want my work to be read and used/cited by others. In particular, I want to change the conversation in game studies, by convincing people in that field that theater matters. And I want to change the conversation in theater studies, by convincing people in that field that games matter. Evidence that people in different disciplines and communities are reading and citing my book would help me measure its impact. I’d be especially curious to know whether the people who cite my book found it first through the open access version. But at the very least, it would be great to know which chapters get viewed the most, how long people spend with particular chapters if viewing online, and, of course, how many people download the book.”

Charles: “How do you see the future of open access ebooks developing in your disciplinary community? Is this a growing trend or do you feel that you are an outlier/pioneer?”

Gina: “In the field of early modern studies, I think I am more of a pioneer. I don’t know of too many open access books in that field. But in the field of game and media studies, and in certain subfields of theater studies, this is definitely a growing trend. In fact, my interest in media studies was largely the reason I knew about open access publishing and the issues at stake. I have some colleagues who are so dedicated to open access that they will only publish their work in open.”

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