Janeway: A Twenty-First Century Open Access Publishing Platform

Martin Paul Eve takes us behind the scenes to describe the development of Janeway, Birkbeck College's platform for scholarly communication that is used by universities in multiple countries and reveals the origin of the name of the platform.

Janeway  is an open-source, open-access, modern scholarly communications platform built with usability and speed in mind. For an early look aat Janeway, look at the article Andy Byers and I wrote for Insights in 2018, “Janeway: A Scholarly Communications Platform”. Based in the Centre for Technology and Publishing at the University of London’s Birkbeck College, we decided, four years ago, that we wanted control of our workflows. We thus entered into respectful competition with other providers in this space, most notably Open Journal Systems.

The project is openly licensed and developed, meaning that others can use it for free as they see fit (although the AGPL license does mean that if you download the code and customize it for your own use, you will have to contribute your changes back). We also run a hosting service, though, for those who don’t wish to run their own instances. This has proved popular with university presses, such as Iowa State University Digital Press. Janeway is also used by Huddersfield University Press, ID Pro, UCL Press Michigan Publishing, the University of Essex and the University of West London. It will soon be in use by California Digital Library to support preprints projects.

Janeway is written in python using the Django framework. This makes it relatively easy for a worldwide community of developers to work on—and to adapt—the project. And adaptability and re-use was one of our core goals. Hence, although Janeway was originally developed as a journal publishing solution for the Open Library of Humanities, a good example of a repurposing is the team at Carnegie Mellon University who adapted Janeway into ETHOS: the Encyclopedia of the History of Sciencehttps://lps.library.cmu.edu/ETHOS 

Interoperability is key in the current scholarly communications environment. We know that library publishers do not want to find themselves locked into one specific solution with one particular vendor. To date, our work on interoperability has mostly focused on a comprehensive import suite. We want, obviously, to make it as easy as possible for people on other platforms to move to Janeway. However, our recent work with the Next Generation Library Publishing (NGLP) project has encouraged us to think more holistically about import/export. Janeway has a range of standardised output formats, including the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting and JATS XML exports.

But we have also worked with NGLP and Cast Iron Coding to develop a unified interface, the “Web Delivery Platform”, that manages to standardise the interface between several systems. This gives us the advantage of a customised backend workflow with a harmonised frontend. In theory, users could move between systems for their manuscript submission systems without changing the end-user experience of published material.

We also understand the importance of values-aligned service provision. Too often, library publishers and others have found themselves working with an entity that they thought shared their values, only to find that organisation has been bought by a large, for-profit entity. Our Janeway hosting service is operated out of a UK university: a charity bound to serve the public good of education. Indeed, Birkbeck College has a 200-year history of providing education to those who were traditionally excluded. In many ways, we were the original ‘open access’.

It is worth noting that Janeway is specifically designed for open-access publishing. We believe that the greatest good from research comes when it is free to all, without paywalls. If others want to build a paywall system for Janeway, they are welcome to do so under the terms of the open-source license. We, however, will never do so. We also will not accept any incoming code requests that add paywall features.

Where next? We hope, in the next phase of NGLP, to expand our hosting offering but also our interoperability. On the technical front, working with other providers who share our goals, we seek to create a standard object description language that will allow platforms to communicate with one another and to transfer objects between platforms. On the sustainability front, the more clients using the software, the more revenue we have to continue our development work. We are a small team but we welcome contributions either financial or technical that will further the project. Most importantly, though, we’re always open to the community. If any of the above appeals and you think you can help – or are interested in hearing more – do please get in touch.

And last… about the name. We like strong female science fiction leads. Whether or not we’re future proof for the twenty-fourth century is perhaps a different matter...

Martin Paul Eve is Strategic Lead in Digital Education, Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing, Birkbeck, University of London