A shift in research communication

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Anna Clarkson

Anna Clarkson, editorial director for education and behavioural sciences at Taylor & Francis, details a reconstruction of the publishing process

Tell us a little about your background and qualifications…  and how did you end up at Taylor & Francis?

My first job in publishing was at a large schoolbook publisher, where I worked on the primary science and literacy programmes. Following this, I did a brief stint working on trade books for a local design company where my role was to edit and write for highly illustrated gardening, cookery, and ‘coffee table’ books. It was an enjoyable foray into trade publishing, but it wasn’t long before I felt an irresistible pull back to education publishing and an opportunity to join Taylor & Francis came up. I started as the commissioning editor for the Education list under the Falmer Press imprint and then under the Routledge imprint after Taylor & Francis acquired the company in the late 1990s.

I’ve been with Taylor & Francis for more years than I care to admit; let’s just say it’s been well over 20 years! When I began at Taylor & Francis, I was the sole education editor; there are now 17 education editors and the list has grown exponentially. My remit has also grown, and I am now editorial director for the education and behavioural Sciences book programmes, as well as for digital products, with a very talented team based in the UK, US, Singapore, Australia, and India. A few years ago, I was asked to work in our New York office in Manhattan, which was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about our biggest market and to immerse myself in a different country for a couple of years. I’ve also had the greatest of pleasures working with hundreds of education researchers and scholars over the years and I still enjoy every opportunity I get to spend time with this hugely impressive community.

What was your role in Open Plus Books?

The first time I started thinking about this new book publishing concept was while I was listening to Rebecca Lawrence, managing director of F1000, talk about F1000’s trailblazing open research publishing model. As she described its unique functionality, my mind started buzzing about how if we could publish research articles on the platform, could we publish books on it too and make use of the speed and flexibility of the process. In a world where knowledge is constantly evolving and in applied disciplines where policy, codes, or standards frequently change, the ability to re-version, update, and publish iteratively using F1000’s open research publishing model seemed to offer a really exciting opportunity to rethink the static book and offer something more dynamic.

It turned out that Rebecca had been thinking the same thing, so I brought together a team of colleagues from across Taylor & Francis Books and F1000 and we started to work out how we might do it. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it felt a bit like we were deconstructing and then reconstructing the book publishing process. We published the pilot Open Plus Book in May, and it’s been exciting to see the response to it from researchers, colleagues, and partner organisations. 

This was the second time that I’ve had the pleasure of leading a cross-divisional team to deliver a new initiative. The first was Sustainable Development Goals Online, an online library of content and teaching and learning materials curated to meet the United Nations’ call to action to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect the planet.

What’s the biggest issue facing the scholarly communications industry at present?

When I first read this question, several issues immediately came to mind, including the crucial role publishers play in trusted knowledge and the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE& I) in publishing. I truly believe that diversity and diversity of thought is a strength and that bringing together a wide range of voices is not only hugely beneficial to our customers and communities, but also to our colleagues, and ultimately to humanity. 

I also believe that publishers have a responsibility – and opportunity – to use our platform to ensure everyone benefits from and contributes to a rich scholarly communications ecosystem. At Taylor & Francis, we have a long history of publishing from a diverse scholarly community in the US and the UK, and we are actively expanding that diversity: 10 per cent of our books frontlist now features Indian authors, commissioned and published by our team in New Delhi, and we are focused on widening this diversity by bringing more voices from authors in Japan, China, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East into our publishing programme.

Our publishing programme also displays our longstanding commitment to engage critically on issues related to social justice; to publishing the best (and sometimes the most controversial) in the critical cultural, political, and educational tradition; and to representing a broad range of voices and views from black scholars, female scholars, and LGBTQ scholars. Last year, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, we were able to quickly curate two sites giving free access to a selection of our publishing in this area. One focuses on social justice. The other, created by the Education team in collaboration with some of our authors, is Educating for Black Lives, which features readings and multimedia resources that confront racial inequities in educational and community settings. In both cases it was extremely hard to select which books and chapters to feature as we have such a breadth and depth of publishing in this area.

There is of course still much more to do. Of many initiatives underway, we are actively encouraging editors to look critically at their existing author base and identify where there is a lack of diversity; we are reviewing commissioning practices for improved inclusivity; we are updating our author guidelines to offer guidance on using inclusive, bias-free language and encourage diversity in the selection of, for example, contributors, peer reviewers, images, and case studies; and we are committed to creating a more accessible publishing landscape by providing  alternative text for images, improved web design, and alternative format requests for customers who have print or visual disabilities and impairments.

Furthermore, we have recently established a dedicated DE& I team and network which works directly with the executive leadership team and wider business on strategy development, including governance, policies, process, and action plans. This is integral to realising our values and commitments to DE& I both internally for colleagues and externally for the communities we work with through a deliberate, methodical approach. At an industry level, publishers, including Taylor & Francis, are examining how they address DE& I collectively through two key initiatives which have been created in the past year: The Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications brings together publishers to look at how we can create a more diverse workforce; the Joint commitment for action on inclusion and diversity in publishing (rsc.org), spearheaded by the Royal Society of Chemistry, is focused on examining our processes so they support greater diversity in what we publish. 

Fast-forward 10 years – how do you think the industry will have changed?

We are seeing shifts in how researchers communicate which I think are going to prove foundational to how the industry develops over the next 10 years. Some of these developments may catalyse new approaches to publishing and sharing content that embrace digital innovation in a way that moves us well beyond the digital journals and ebooks we see today.

Researchers are also sharing more of their research process and outputs in the forms of pre-registered reports, data availability statements, and by publishing their data alongside their books and journal articles. For this reason, we launched a data sharing policy for books in April this year – the first publisher to do so – to sit alongside our tiered journal data policies. We expect this policy to evolve further as data, models, simulations, video, VR/AR, and other rich digital assets become increasingly interwoven into scholarly communication and reproducible research.

It goes without saying that we are also seeing this as part of a wider move to open research, and this is a catalyst for new models of publishing. F1000 has always been a pioneer in this area and we now have an opportunity to work together to innovate new models that work for the huge range of subject communities we serve. Open Plus Books is one of the first examples of this: a model that combines the Taylor & Francis Books publishing experience with F1000 technology and enables authors or book editors to publish a book (or chapter) open access first on an open research platform within just a few days of submission, where it can be amended, updated, and extended before the book is published in print. The open nature of the platform also allows for feedback from the community to help authors improve the material through various iterations. There will be more to come that we hope will build a dynamic, researcher-centric publishing industry 10 years from now. 

Do you have any hobbies or interests you want to tell us about?

I have a broad range of interests in the arts, literature, and sport, and I love learning about new things. Many years ago, I decided that I would try to do at least two things every year that I didn’t want to do to ensure I keep an open mind to opportunities and get out of my comfort zone from time to time – just as long as it doesn’t involve heights!

I also enjoy travelling and always try to make a point of visiting local museums and art galleries. The pandemic-related restrictions to travel over the last 18 months have made me sit still more and instead of going to galleries to look at art I’ve had time to pick up my paintbrushes again and create some (though beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder!). 

Interview by Tim Gillett