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Open Access in Russia – a point of connection?

The Russian National Library, St Petersburg. Image credit: Obuolys at the English language Wikipedia

Since the success of Information and Empire: Mechanisms of Communication in Russia 1600-1850 edited by Simon Franklin and Katherine Bowers, and our growing number of titles that focus on Russia-related topics, we have become interested in the growing use of OPB’s titles and Open Access resources more generally in Russia. Here’s what we found.

When it comes to internet usage, Russia keeps itself to itself. This is partly enforced by state censorship, the Russian government increasingly exploiting the Internet’s surveillance potential. New legislation in 2016, one of the so-called ‘Yarovaya Laws’, decreed internet providers must now record the content of users’ online communications, alongside the customary date, time and duration. These Data Retention Laws mean Western websites like LinkedIn are blocked – supposedly to protect the data of Russian citizens, but more likely to sweep it under the Kremlin’s thumb. Russian society is also fairly isolated from the West, due to the legacy of barriers both linguistic and ideological, and this is reflected in the popular rejection of Facebook in favour of a Russian equivalent. This Cyrillic doppelganger is called ‘VKontakte’ and is easily the most popular website in the country. So popular in fact, that one anthropologist described it as the only internet resource used by the ‘silent majority’ of Russians, with purely local friendship groups making it feel ‘as if the internet did not extend more than 40km in any direction’.[1]

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the number of Russian browsers who have engaged with our English and academic titles is quite small. The Anglo-American sphere comprises 45% of our readership, while the world’s largest country barely makes 1%. The majority are situated in the major centres of St. Petersburg and Moscow, becoming scarcer the further we go toward the Bering Straits. In a 2009 article published in Psychology Science Quarterly, Open Access participation was described as ‘somewhat questionable’ due to a range of factors, including language barriers and theoretical differences between Russian academia and the West in certain subjects (indicating a lack of Russian-language Open Access resources). Other factors included the lesser importance placed on publishing for career progression in Russia, and the difficulty Russian academics have in acquiring the fees that Open Access publishers often charge.[2] But this may be changing. Despite the government crackdowns, English-language online resources are increasingly accessible to Russian academia. A quick Google of the top three Russian Universities – Moscow, Novosibirsk and St. Petersburg – reveals an abundance of links to free English-language databases and websites. Google itself also offers its fair share of accessible resources for those who can read English. The gradual rise in the total number of OBP readers from Russia between 2013 and 2018 (from 218 to 1300 by the end of last year, an increase of almost 500%) may also be a symptom of this situation.

What is being read? We made a chart of the top ten titles that gained the most attention (see below). Unsurprisingly most of these books are to do with Russian history, reflecting a universal interest in seeing what the rest of the world is saying about your country. Book eight in the list, the Dictionary of the British/English Spelling System by Greg Brooks, might be evidence of a desire to break down the language barrier. Economics also features prominently. There are one or two intriguing anomalies – at sixth and seventh are Cultural Heritage Ethics edited by Constantine Standis, and Digital Humanities Pedagogy edited by Brett D. Hirsch, with neither book discussing Russia at all. Tenth is A Time Travel Dialogue, in which John Carroll discusses the continuing possibilities of that area of science. Indeed, of all engagements with this book by country, Russia comes up as fifth largest, beating predominantly English-speaking countries like Australia and South Africa. Information and Empire has received the greatest proportion of Russian readership, at 32%, and, unusually, the greatest percentage of readers worldwide (we would usually expect to see the US or UK in this position).

Titles 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 (to March) Grand Total
A People Passing Rude: British Responses to Russian Culture 94 97 106 122 80 69 15 583
Women in Nineteenth-Century Russia: Lives and Culture 6 21 50 159 152 144 23 555
In the Lands of the Romanovs: An Annotated Bibliography of First-hand English-language Accounts of the Russian Empire (1613-1917) 66 73 49 174 29 391
Frontier Encounters: Knowledge and Practice at the Russian, Chinese and Mongolian Border 64 88 57 63 40 29 2 343
Economic Fables 26 222 45 20 4 11 2 330
Cultural Heritage Ethics: Between Theory and Practice 262 24 16 4 4 310
Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics 54 15 90 113 31 6 309
Information and Empire: Mechanisms of Communication in Russia, 1600-1854 215 68 283
Dictionary of the British English Spelling System 45 46 56 147
Is Behavioural Economics Doomed?: The Ordinary versus the Extraordinary 14 10 24 15 46 4 113
A Time Travel Dialogue 96 5 11 112
Grand Total (incl. All Titles) 218 659 772 1165 1103 1300 264 5481

Source: Google Analytics

The big question is, who is accessing these books? We saw an increase in the number of readers we received from September 2017, which can be traced to a Russian commercial eBook publisher, ‘eboox’, adding us to their list of international free book databases. This site is available both to Android and iOS users, so this is one way in which our books are easily accessible in Russia and are being read by a small (growing!) portion of the Russian population. The amount of academic readers, and its proportion in relation to public readership, cannot be determined. There is no way of knowing who accesses us via Google Books, which locks up such data. That the universities have not added us to their links of Open Access publications means it is less likely that students are using our books as research tools. But it is not improbable that the high traffic within St. Petersburg or Moscow, which contain two of the country’s most famous universities, points to rising academic interest as much as urban.

Despite an increasingly stormy political horizon, we have been pleasantly surprised by Russian engagement with our extensive range of publications on their country, despite barriers of language, culture and access. Long may the connection continue.

 

 

[1] Jeremy Morris, ‘Actually Existing Internet Use in the Russian Margins: Net Utopianism in the Shadow of the “Silent Majorities”‘, Regions, 2:2 (2013), 183.

[2] Boris B. Velichovsky, ‘Open Access Publishing – A Challenge for Russian Psychology’, Psychology Science Quarterly 51:1 (2009), 147-159, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d959/551cb535aaae2421d5aedb20b3c33253dd24.pdf

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