Turning Open Access Academic Books into BIPOC Art Galleries

One of the best parts about my job as a ScholComm Librarian is working with amazing students on meaningful publishing projects. As part of a team working on a Dept of Ed funded grant with our National Resource Center for Asian Languages, I had the wonderful privilege of collaborating with a team of BFA and MFA illustrators to make Vietnamese language books in support of bilingual K-12 education in Orange County. One of our illustrators, a young, gifted and Black artist by the name of Leah Simone Metters, brought tremendous energy, creativity and leadership to the project.

Now that my Open Science book experiment on the First Gospel (Qn) is almost a year old, over 1000 pages, more than 325,000 words, has over 2500 unique downloads, and is the basis for an upcoming peer-reviewed presentation in the Digital Humanities section of the Society of Biblical Literature this November, it felt like the right time to take the book to the next level of professional publishing. So I decided to commission book cover art, and I could think of no artist better suited to realize my vision for the book than Leah.

The inspiration for the main illustration is a late 15th century Spanish woodcut cover for the Life and Fables of Aesop. Given that the First Gospel pictures Jesus of Nazareth as a Jewish Aesop from beginning to end, this was an ideal model. Some of the scenes on the Aesop book cover have clear parallels in the story of Jesus, particularly that Aesop was thrown off a cliff at Delphi while Jesus in Luke 4.29-30 is nearly thrown off a cliff at Delphi Nazareth (h/t to Maggie Froelich and Tom Phillips for establishing this parallel in their New Testament Studies journal article).

Given that LODLIBs can be regularly updated, not only was I able to publish this commissioned artwork quickly upon completion, but I can also now turn my book into a digital property and platform where BIPOC artwork is invited, included, and celebrated. In honor of Pride month, BIPOC artists from the LGBTQ+ community are especially welcomed. Any and all contributing artists retain full copyright ownership of their work. The only condition of inclusion in my LODLIB is that a non-exclusive license is granted so that the art can be displayed within the CC-BY-NC-ND licensed digital book.

I hope that this use of my scholarly platform and racial-economic privilege to fund the work and respect the rights of BIPOC artists and BIPOC ownership of artwork is a significant example of anti-racism and systemic economic justice in this time so fraught with systemic racism and monopolistic economics in academic publishing.